For many Chinese children, the New Year promises new clothes, new shoes and brand-new money in little red packets.

They eat a feast with family on the last day of the lunar calendar, and they enjoy fireworks and traditional television programming as they turn over a new leaf for the new year.

But one group of Chinese students rang in the new year a little differently in 2006. On a three-week trip to Astoria, they celebrated the traditional holiday, which fell on Jan. 29 this year, with dancing, card games and music at an overnight camp in Washington.

However, they still got new shoes.

For the past two weeks, 10 exchange students from Beijing have learned about the United States while sharing their culture with children on Oregon's North Coast.

They've shopped in Seattle, visited local schools and cheered at Portland Trail Blazers games.

The 15- and 16-year-olds said learning about other cultures is increasingly important, as people across the world become more mobile.

"We can see the differences between China and America, and learn more things from here, make foreign friends and practice our English," said 16-year-old Li Zhi Qin, noting the importance of academic exchange programs. "The world will get smaller and smaller with people in more countries, and they need a (common) language to talk."

And with Beijing preparing to host a multitude of countries in the 2008 Summer Olympics, "We need to practice our English so we can give service to every country," he said.

Li Zhi Qin - in China, the family name (in his case, Li) comes first - and his classmates chose American names to use during their three-week stay. He goes by Edison, while other students are called Simon, Sharon, Angel and Po Po.

Each day, the students spend about three hours studying at Astoria Middle School. The full-immersion classes aren't much different from the way they study at a private school in Beijing, said Wang Bangze, 16, also known as James. The students take all of their courses in English, except for Chinese, he said.

However, there are plenty of differences between Astoria and Beijing, the capital city of the People's Republic of China.

The students recently took a stomach-churning car ride down the steep slope of Eighth Street - a vast departure from Beijing's relatively flat terrain, James and Edison said.

In addition, traffic is worse in Beijing, they said, and so is pollution.

"Beijing is not as clean as here," Edison said. "We have a lot of people from other provinces who go to Beijing to find jobs and make money, but some people can't get jobs so they live in the street."

An estimated 8 million people live in Beijing, a metropolitan area of about 6,900 square miles. Fewer than 10,000 people live in Astoria, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The enormous and expanding population led the Chinese government to establish a rule limiting couples to having one child, which is why most of the students visiting Astoria are from single-child households, said Gina Clark, who is supervising the students.

While there are exceptions to the one-child rule, such as those for ethnic minorities, the law imposes high fines for city dwellers who give birth to a second child.

Edison said they're worth it; he has a little sister.

But with more people come more cars, James said.

"Maybe that's one of the reasons Beijing has more pollution than here," he said, adding the area also houses many steel factories.

Most of the exchange students attend Beijing Huijia Private School, where they live in dormitories Monday through Friday. They take 11 classes a day, including a self-study night course for doing homework. That class doesn't end until 9:30 p.m., Edison said.

"I think the most different between school here and our school is activities," he said. "The quantity is different," with less of a focus on academics in the United States.

In Astoria, the students have enjoyed extracurricular activities, including a dance at the middle school, and they shared aspects of their culture with other children, showing John Jacob Astor Elementary School students how to write their names in Chinese.

These experiences will help them create "America Through My Eyes" projects, scrapbooks that include homework assignments, notes and photos to document their trips, their supervisor said.

"We've kept them busy," Clark said. "We go somewhere almost every day to tour, and they have shared their culture, too."

North Coast host families have helped to make the experiences special, she said, and the students have been overwhelmingly cooperative.

"All of these students have been so kind to us as well," she said. "The best gift ever is their happy personalities, which has made my job very easy."

On Wednesday, shoe boxes covered the floor of a building at Astoria Middle School, where the teenagers will use them for an upcoming Valentine's Day celebration.

They were left over from the students' Chinese New Year trip. On the way home from Washington, the group stopped at Seattle's Nike store.

The students averaged three pairs each to wear in the new year.

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