Two Newport-Mesa Unified graduates are leaving Tuesday morning to study Mandarin after winning a full-ride scholarship from the Chinese government.
Paolo and Amy Holder will be the first in their family to learn Chinese after their great-grandfather left China for Panama.
"I can't overstate how excited I am," said Amy, 19, who graduated from Orange Coast Middle College High School, on Monday afternoon. That school no longer exists.
During their nine-month stay, the siblings will also learn about their ancestors' culture at Nanjing University, thanks to a scholarship that not only covers their tuition and dorm costs, but also medical insurance and provides an allowance, said their mother, Sol De Leon.
She and her husband, Dennis Bress, are traveling with the two to China for two weeks.
"It's the best-kept secret, I think," De Leon said of the scholarship.
Amy, who has spent two years studying at Florida State University's Panama campus, originally applied to another Chinese university, which suggested she and her brother apply for the scholarship. Paolo, 21, an alumnus of Corona del Mar High School, graduated from UC Santa Barbara in June.
Amy said she has always found the Chinese culture beautiful, especially its religions.
Amy and Paolo, who are part Chinese, were born in Panama and immigrated to the United States in elementary school, De Leon said.
The opportunity will allow her children to continue the traditions and heritage of her family and pass them to their own children and grandchildren, said De Leon, who returned to China in October — 93 years after her grandfather left.
"It is incredible — somehow mysterious," she said. "Like it is taking them back to where our story began."