Reflections: Ponaganset HS Students travel to 2018 Global Unified Exchange

Earlier this year, students from Ponaganset High School and Regis Jesuit High School had the opportunity to travel to China for Special Olympics East Asia’s Youth Summit for an Inclusive Youth Leadership opportunity. Below you will find the reflections of this experience from four students from Ponaganset High School.

Students from both Ponaganset HS and Regis Jesuit HS posing for a group picture!

Vanessa Tocco


My name is Vanessa Tocco. I leave for China tomorrow morning in about 11 hours from now. I am so excited for this trip. I am excited to meet other friends from China who are participating in the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program. In Rhode Island, I love spending time with my friends playing sports. I am hoping that I will meet friends from China who loves sports too.

I am also excited for flying on the airplane for a long time. I am hoping I remember to bring everything I need. But most of all, I am looking forward to meeting new friends. I want to try new foods too.


I am having so so much fun in China with all my friends. The prettiest part was seeing the big purple tower. It was so beautiful and big. There were lots and lots of buildings and in the water there was a boat. Rocky is my new friend and she is the best. She helped us all get to fun and pretty places. My new friends are Rocky, Will, Taylor, Steven and Stan. The teacher from the school we visited was nice to me all the time. Her classroom and her heart was so so so so good to me. I liked talking on the microphone it was fun. Eating all the food was fun and tasted good. I’m having the best vacation ever with all my new friends.


When I first arrived to China it was September 9, 2018. It was so so so much fun and the sights were so much fun. I really liked looking at all he buildings when we were walking. The tall purple one was my favorite. I was having such a blast. I met so many new people. Rocky,Will and Taylor are my new good friends. I loved trying all the different foods. It was a great celebration because we were celebrating for Special Olympics. We worked on lots of projects. I liked talking to everyone. We also loved breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also did some shopping for souvenirs. It was a long flight, but I looked forward to the flight home. I had the best trip ever! China was awesome!

Students from Ponaganset High School and Regis Jesuit High School met with Jazon who manages Healthy Athletes for Special Olympics East Asia staff. Vanessa is on the far right.

Jenna Oburika


Tomorrow I will be leaving for a once in a lifetime opportunity to China. In China I, along with my best friends, will be attending the Special Olympics East Asia Youth Summit. As of right now I am feeling a little nervous about traveling sixteen hours away, however I am incredibly optimistic about this trip. Growing up in the small state of Rhode Island I have never really had the opportunity of experiencing a different culture on this scale. I am very excited to listen to and learn the way that other schools in other parts of the world do things. I am very excited to be able to participate in this whole life changing experience.


So far on this trip to China I have met so many new people from many different places. Yesterday I was able to interview Jason, the head of healthy athletes in East Asia. I also had the pleasure of seeing the president of Special Olympics East Asia and I was able to try a moon cake. Today has been one of my favorite days. Today everybody took a trip to one of the Special Education Schools in China. There the students taught us new skills in floor ball as well as teaching us a different style of art. Despite speaking a different language, we were still able to communicate by working together and being shown what to do. Being able to communicate in ways other than actually talking was an amazing learning experience for me. One of my favorite parts of the day was that we also were given a tour of the school. The tour was so amazing because we were able to compare and contrast some of the things that are done in China and that are done in the US. It was also an amazing way to learn about the schools. So far, this trip has been so incredible and I can’t wait to see what the rest will bring. I also am very upset to see this trip come to an end, as this trip has made me feel nothing but happy.

Ponaganset High School seniors Carpi Martinelli, Kate DeCotis and Jenna Obuirka


Attending the Special Olympics East Asia Youth Summit had opened my eyes to so many different things. This trip allowed me to experience other cultures first hand and meet all kind of people. The love and acceptance I felt going in every single day is a feeling I do not think I will ever be able to experience ever again. The summit had an atmosphere of complete positivity and acceptance that I really think made every single person feel important, loved, and special in their own way. Visiting the Special Education School in China was by far my favorite part of the Summit. I think touring the school was such a good experience because of the fact that a lot of it was so different from the US. Due to the differences I was able to learn so much and and get a new perspective on things. One thing that really stuck in my head about the whole summit was the emphasis on how we as a society can not expect any individual or groups of people to change who they are to fit into society but must change society to fit everyone as they are. This Summit has given me new perspectives on society and has taught me so much.

Kate DeCotis


I am so excited to be going on another trip for Special Olympics. This will be my second time on a plane and my first time sleeping overnight on a plane. Also my first time traveling to another country. I already know how to use chopsticks. I like Chinese food. My favorite is egg foo young. I am going to China with my three best friends. They are Jenna, Capri and Vanessa. Jenna is bringing a penguin sleep mask and I am bringing a lamb sleeping mask. I am excited to make new friends in China. I will introduce myself and tell them my name. I want to find out if we have some things in common. I hope they speak a little English because it will be hard to know what they are saying. I made special bracelets to give to some of the kids I meet in China. I designed a special one just for Special Olympics. They are red, white and black. They have a pretty, red glass bead too. I hope they like them.


I love spending time with my best friends and all my new friends in China. We hang out at restaurants long bus rides we laugh a lot. My favorite part has been meeting a bunch of new friends and trying new foods. I got to ride the subway for the first time. It went really fast and crowded. I sat on a bench but some of my friends stood up and had to hold on to the hanging bar to be safe. Beth and I were joking around on the bus rides and subway. All my friends laughed all the time. I really like talking to new people. Aaron, Steven and Dori are really nice to me.

Post- Event

I liked flying on the big plane over to China. I liked the food and I liked watching movies. It was really fun to be with my friends but the flight was way too long. I was so happy to make new friends in China. Even though we did not speak the same language, we could still be friends. My favorite parts of the trip were using chopsticks, seeing all the different looking buildings and getting to know people better. I tried a lot of new foods. I really liked joking around with my teachers!

Students from Special Olympics North America and Special Olympics East Asia working together on a project

Capri Martinelli


I am so excited to be taking part in the new experience to China! There are many different goals that I hope to get out of the trip. I hope to learn about other experiences, meet new friends, experience new cultures and have so much fun. I am nervous because I have never been on a plane for so long and so that will be nerve racking for me. I am nervous to experience a completely different culture that I am used to but also excited to see what it will be like. I am so honored to be chosen for this exchange and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity with some of my best friends. I can’t wait to see what this summit has in store!


Today is the second to last day of the trip. I have had so much fun so far and I do not want it to end. Today was the best day of the whole trip. We came to a special education school today and played games with the kids, had a tour, and presented. The kids were the most adorable children I have ever seen. The language barrier was not a problem at all throughout this trip, even though you would think it would be. A smile, high-five and hug are the same in every language. This week, I have felt so much love through everyone I have met. It has been a feeling I have never felt and I do not want to go away. I have made so many new friends with all different backgrounds and all different cultures and I would not trade it for the world. I am going to miss everyone so much. I am so lucky to have been given this opportunity.

For more information on inclusive youth leadership opportunities click here!

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