Aug 20, 2010
I have always been fascinated by the various cultures around the world, Chinese in particular. Sometime during the beginning of April, just by sheer luck, my mother found out through Governor’s School for International Studies about the intensive Chinese Bridge Summer Camp program in China. When she explained to me how I could have a once in a life time experience, I sent my elaborated application with a required essay and a recommendation letter with immense speed. After all, how many times would I be chosen to travel to China? Imagine, if he/she was chosen, except for the airfare and visa fees everything was covered by the office of the Hanban! It was almost the end of April and when I didn’t hear any response, I thought I didn’t have any luck and decided to just focus on preparing for Governor’s School of International Studies, which is a free five weeks summer program for 10th and 11th grade merit students, organized by the University of Memphis, Tennesse. But finally in May, I was just elated, when I received an acceptance email from the Confucius Institute to let me know that I was one of the fortunate among thirty three high school students from Tennessee to experience a journey of a lifetime.
Between the Governor School of International Studies and the trip to China, I just had 8 days of breathing space to enjoy my summer vacation. The trip was filled with excitement from the very beginning. Upon arriving in the Beijing airport to the beautiful hotel accommodation provided Hanban, I could already tell that the atmosphere itself was absolutely different from that of the United States. The smell, the people, surrounding, everything was like some other planet altogether. While riding the bus to the hotel, I noticed there were barely any people on the street, and that surprised me- Isn’t Beijing the capital of China? Isn’t China ranked number one in having the largest population?
The first three days of my itinerary were filled with seeing the tourist spots of Beijing. We were able to experience so much: visiting the Science and Technology Museum, followed by Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and we were even lucky enough to see a live acrobatic show. It was a small disappointment for an athlete like me to learn about the changes made in the itinerary. Due to a tight schedule, we were not able to visit the National Aquatic Center and the Bird’s nest Olympic Stadium; instead we had to feel satisfied seeing them from a distant bridge. But the greatest part for me was definitely climbing all the way to the top of the Great Wall of China- in that blazing heat? Nothing could have been better because even the wisest man of all states, “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” (Chairman Mao).
On the other hand, while at all of these places, we were treated literally like celebrities. Many of the Chinese citizens wanted to pose with a peace sign and take a picture with us with their camera, and at the very end of each photo they would hug us good-bye and say: “I love you!” it was truly amusing and showed me how kind and interested the Chinese are in Americans. One family even trusted one of my friends to hold their baby to take a picture with her! I was delighted to see group of tourist from India.
After Beijing, we took a short plane ride to the Shan Dong province to do a little work: learn some of the Chinese language and see a different part of China. In Shan Dong, we were hosted by the Shouguang Century School. I had always heard that Chinese is one of the most difficult languages one can ever try to learn. The basic key: memorization. There wasn’t really any other way! However, after learning Chinese for two hours a day, there was always the cultural experience class that I could look forward to, we could pick one of the following each day: pottery, Chinese painting, toy making, calligraphy, martial arts, or Chinese music. In addition to that, we had two hours of Taiji lessons which many times helped to relax and it definitely helped with the jet lag, as well. Our group enjoyed visiting Qufu-the hometown of Confucius, Linhai Forestry Park, and Weifang Kite Museum. When I read in my agenda about that we were going to visit Vegetable fair and the Exhibition Hall of Agriculture, I did not know what to expect from it. But, it was an amazing exhibition which had ancient history of agriculture to technologically advanced innovation areas where we learned a whole lot about agricultural products. The displays made out of variety of fruits and vegetables were remarkable.
Once again, the teachers and the other workers at the Shounguang Century School were just wonderful. I befriended the ladies at the reception area of our dorm, who were in charge of making sure no one got in or out of the facility at night, as well as telling us if our parents called. Even though, language was the biggest barrier, we figured out a way to converse with actions. Sometimes they used their cell phones which had a Chinese to English translator to communicate with me as well, but that was still hard because it could only do one word at a time. The phone for the whole dorm was set at the reception area, so as soon as my parents would say over the phone to the workers, “Could we speak to MAR-SHAAA?” the ladies would start yelling, “MASHA! MASHAAAAA!” and running as fast as they could with enthusiasm to try and find me. Sometimes, I would wait for my mom’s telephone call, so I painted their nails; their kindness made an everlasting impression on me, especially their hospitality.
Food in China was honestly a different issue. I found the Chinese food in China was way healthier than what we eat in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. It was less greasy, assorted vegetables was offered with every meal and didn’t get a taste of loaded MSG. It was great feeling at the beginning to eat everything healthy, but approximately five days into the trip, reality struck many of us: wait, why isn’t there salt in this food? Where is the sweet tea? I eat Indian food at home. However, anyone that knows me will be able to say that I love trying a variety of ethnic food, but Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Thereafter, I basically started living on pop tarts that I had brought along, which obviously did not last very long.
Luckily, towards the end of our trip, everyone was designated to visit a native Chinese family (two per family) where we spent about eight hours. From the very start, my partner and I were cascaded with their customary hospitality. We were also one of the lucky ones because the family we visited happened to have a family friend that was trying to major in English, so language was not a barrier for us unlike some of the others on the trip. When asked where I would like to eat, even though I am not a fan of any of the American fast food restaurants, I immediately said McDonald’s. I needed to eat something other than Chinese, and I knew where this was going when they asked me. Thus, we had a “snack” at McDonald’s. I had never tasted anything so heavenly in my mouth before. Nonetheless, I would have to say visiting a host family experience was pretty much tied with the day I climbed the Great Wall.
By and large, going for the Chinese Bridge Camp in China with a great group was truly a once in life time experience. Visiting China provided me with a greater knowledge about the country as a whole and her people. The program has broadened my horizon about the Chinese culture. I do not believe all these things would have been possible, without the meticulous planning by the people at the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis and the Chaperones who traveled with us and made sure everything went smoothly during our visit. I will treasure the memories I have collected from the trip forever.
*To find more information on Confucius Institute’s (University of Memphis) China Bridge Summer Camp in China program, go to http://www.memphis.edu/cium/cium_events/2010bridgesummercamp.php
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