As the students from Beijing's Experimental High School stepped into the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach, they wandered toward one of the big open doors and felt a warm breeze blow into the room.
It gave them a chance to enjoy what they believe is the biggest difference between Newport Beach and Beijing, the Chinese capital that is notorious for its smog.
"I feel that the air is less polluted here," said Experimental High School student Yuanbo Li. "And the systems for managing air, water and waste are very well-organized."
The visit to the Environmental Nature Center on Wednesday was one of many field trips the students have taken during their three-week stay in Southern California.
The trip is focused on exploring environmental programs and "green" buildings.
Before going to Newport Beach, the group had toured locations such as the San Diego Water Authority, Waste Management Orange County and water-purification plants.
"Environmental issues are the most serious issues we face in China, I think," student Zelda Wu said. "It's very good to have this chance to see the process of how places make their environment clean, because we don't have enough knowledge on how to make these things better. Although we can always watch the news or look it up on the Internet, to see it is different."
The 25 10th-graders were selected for the trip by their teachers at Experimental High School, which is attached to Beijing Normal University.
It is the first overseas trip for all the students. During their visit, they are staying with host families from Horizon High School in San Diego.
While planning the trip, the Chinese high school reached out to the Orange County chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council in early January to try to schedule student visits to different sites.
The chapter organized the trip to the Environmental Nature Center, which included a tour of the facility, presentations about sustainability in Newport Beach and a welcome from Mayor Diane Dixon, who spoke of the importance of keeping air and water clean.
The students smiled and applauded as Dixon greeted the group with her best "Ni hao" — "Hello" in Mandarin.
The doors leading to a patio area were left open, allowing the clean air to float through during the presentations.
The nature center was among the visitors' last stops in Orange County before they return to Beijing next week.