Christine Lau, a senior linguistics major from Arlington, Texas, took part in the Baylor in China program this summer. Christine will graduate in August 2012 and will remain in Waco to teach at a local elementary school.
Baylor in China
By Christine Lau
There are not enough words to describe our experience in China in its entirety. We were blessed to journey across the world with a total of eight Baylor undergraduate students and our professor, Dr. Xin Wang. We all wanted to see China with our own eyes and also learn through experience, so we all were enrolled in two classes during our five-week trip. Most of us were enrolled in CHI 2310 — Intermediate Chinese, as well as a conversation or Asian studies course of our choice. A course on social work was offered as well.
While we were in Beijing we had formal classes on the campus of Tsing Hua University, a very prestigious college in China. Class was held in the morning, then during the afternoon we usually went sightseeing or did our class assignments. For the rest of the trip, we had classes when time and space allowed while traveling. This meant our classes and quizzes were held in airports, game rooms on cruise ships, hotel rooms and lobbies.
Some of our assignments consisted of tasks we were to complete using our vocabulary and the lessons we were studying. For example, one of our assignments was to write a postcard to our family using all Chinese characters, then find a post office, get the correct postage and make sure the postcard was sent home. This was a perfect way of putting what we just learned into practice. And what better way than culture and language immersion?
We traveled across the great country of China, with a total of four in-country flights. We got to see the hustle and bustle of the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Xian, as well as experience the peace-filled, natural beauty side of the country through places such as Zhang Jia Jie and the Yangtze River.
As we roamed the city streets of China, we knew we were in a different world. We discovered we were constantly surrounded by people who placed such a high value on pale skin as an aspect of beauty that there are products to lighten the color of your skin. So, of course, as Americans who place emphasis on the complete opposite, we stuck out like sore thumbs. We ran into Chinese natives who have never seen a foreigner in their lives. We were sometimes the first non-Chinese people that these people had ever seen! It was incredible and interesting to think about when we come from such a “melting pot” nation.
The quantity of the people we would pass on the street daily astounded me. People in China tend to have quite a smaller personal “bubble” than people in America do, which does happen when China has a population density of roughly 365 people per square mile. In the U.S., we sit comfortably around 84 people per square mile. Often, we would find ourselves jammed against each other and every-sweaty-body else in the subways during rush hour. Quite a big shock to me, the girl who comes from the biggest suburb in America, to not have public transportation. I don’t think I’ve been in contact with so many people at once!
When we ate together we ate family-style, which is the custom in China. We sat at tables with a “lazy Susan” in the middle so we could pass the dishes in a clockwise manner to accommodate everyone. We got to experience interesting foods and found ourselves gorging on dumplings, a special Peking duck dinner, milk tea, locally grown vegetables, an occasional yummy risk of street food, unbelievable amounts of rice and tea and many, many other delicious things.
In Beijing, we saw the Great Wall and all its wonder and got to toboggan back down the mountain. In Xian, we got to bike on the city wall for more than six miles and see what some people regard as the eighth wonder of the world — the famous Terracotta Warriors.
In Zhang Jia Jie, we were in the presence of the very mountains that served as the main inspiration of the setting in the movie “Avatar.” In Chong Qing, we boarded a cruise ship that brought us through the Three Gorges, the largest construction project in the world, located on the famous Yangtze River.
Along the Yangtze, we were rowed down a stream by locals in boats that they used their own hands to make. And in Shanghai, we got to witness one of the world’s most magnificent skylines.
A famous Chinese proverb came to mind, and I thought it a good fit to end my recap of our journey of seeing the world while studying the language and culture we got to live firsthand. It goes like this:
dú wàn juàn shū bù rú xíng wàn lǐ lù
“It is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books.”
Thanks for reading! Our trip could not be summed up in any amount of words worthy for all we learned through seeing, studying, speaking and smelling China. We know that what we learned in class as well as in everyday life will shape our understanding and outlook on our studies and impact us for eternity.
Christine discusses her photos from China pictured above:
PHOTO NO. 1 — at top: “Our group outside the Terracotta Warriors exhibit in Xian, China.
PHOTO NO. 2: “Our tour group on a cruise excursion. We were rowed by locals in handmade boats down Shen Nong Stream, a tributary of the Yangtze River.”
PHOTO NO. 3 — at bottom: “The group with our professor at the Great Wall in Beijing, China.”