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3 posts from October 2013

10/17/2013

A Student's Perspective: CIEE Beijing's excursion "Environment and Rural Governance in China"

During all of our programs, whether during the fall, spring, or summer, some of the most exciting times of the semester are excursions outside of Beijing.

For many students, coming to a city like Beijing is an accomplishment in itself - adapting to a new culture, a new language, and 20 million other inhabitants competing for space at every juncture! While Beijing is a keen representation of modern Chinese life, nearly half of China's 1.3 billion people live in the countryside.

This summer, students had the choice of choosing one of two trips, each with a different theme. Held in late June, the first trip went to the northeastern port city of Dalian, while the other trip took students to rural areas the Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Doan Tranh, a student from the University of Missouri - Columbia, was one of the participants on this trip and agreed to give a recap and some of her thoughts about what this excursion meant to her.

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In order for students to fully experience China as a complex and diverse country beyond the happenings of Beijing, CIEE has provided two very different weekend trips for us to choose from. The first option is a trip to the port city of Dalian to learn about its colonialism and modernization. The second option is an excursion to the countryside of Shanxi/Hebei to explore environmental issues on the rural landscape. Both are interesting but I decided on the latter.

The first day was spent traveling to Tianzhen county where we will stay the night. After we arrived and had lunch, we were off to a section of the Great Wall that fell into disrepair long ago. It lacked the magnificence of the Great Wall everyone knows of but it was quite interesting. Then back to the hotel, dinner, and a trip to a hot spring. It was my first ever soaking in a hot spring.

The second day we headed to the village of Zengjiacha. When we reached the village, groups were formed and each assigned to different families. This was such an amazing experience. The family that I lived with was exceedingly kind. Their hospitality, though, at times was overwhelming. I can't even count the times we have to politely refuse more food during meal times, not that we disliked the food but we physically just couldn't eat anymore. We also offered to help around the house but was repeatedly declined, although we did get to help with the weeding.

One thing that I found very awesome was how efficient the houses were at regulating temperature. Even when it was sweltering hot outside, the inside remained cool and comfortable. At night, the built-in heater under our sleeping arrangement was enough to keep us warm.

The third day was the hike. The whole hike was 10km and should take around 5 – 6 hours to finish. For someone who has no hiking experience, this was a crazy decision. Despite being completely exhausted and in quite a bit of pain after, I did enjoy it and the scenery was spectacular. I did have the option to not do the hike entirely or turn back at a certain point but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't.

The last day we stopped by a Catholic church and a Buddhist temple on the way back to Beijing. Shocked was my reaction when I saw the Catholic church. I expected something humble and quaint, not such a tall and embellished structure. We probably could have spotted it from miles away if the sky was clearer. The Buddhist temple was on the other side of the spectrum, dilapidated and in dire need of renovation. This little tour, however, does require more hiking up a mountain.

Besides getting to experience one day in a rural village, the objective of this trip is for us to gain awareness of the severity that environmental problems poses on these rural communities. It's one thing to hear about it and another to witness just how critical the situation is. If problems remains unresolved, the countryside will bear the brunt of the consequences. There isn't an easy or quick fix but it's better to be aware than ignorant of the issues.

Overall, this trip was far from comfortable and don't expect it to be but it was absolutely eye-opening and life-changing. I do urge people to give it a try and see for themselves.

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CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Hike IStudents walk across sheep trails during the hike!

CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Hike II

Doan, victorious (and tired!) after finishing the hike! CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Temple VisitDoan (pictured far right) on the final day of the excursion at the damaged Buddhist temple, which is now being slowly repaired by local volunteers.

A Home away from Home: CIEE Chile meets CIEE China

The entry below was written by a CIEE alumna who studied in Chile, and spent summer 2013 in Beijing. This is what happened when she reached out to the staff the CIEE Beijing Study Center. :)

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My name is Fan, and I’m a senior studying comparative literature (Spanish emphasis) and history (modern China emphasis) at the University of Southern California. Counterintuitively, I did not actually study abroad with CIEE Beijing. I did, however, have an incredible encounter with them this summer, the result of a good mix of what the Chinese call “yuanfen” (meaning “fate that brings people together”), globalization, and the CIEE Beijing office’s amazing hospitality and kindness.

I did study abroad with CIEE in the fall of 2012, but in Santiago, Chile. Because I study two different parts of the world and hope to connect the two in both my senior thesis and future career, I’ve spent the majority of this past year split between China and Latin America. Last summer I spent a month in Shanghai before heading off to Chile. This summer I decided to come back to China for an internship in Beijing.

I had such a wonderful and memorable experience with CIEE Santiago, that when I got to Beijing, I decided to contact the Beijing office for local volunteer opportunities. I didn’t quite know what they would make of my out-of-the-blue email, but John, Student Services Coordinator, immediately invited me to visit the CIEE office and even promised some “CIEE swag.”  

As soon as I stepped into the office, the CIEE staff warmly welcomed me. They also offered for me to nap on their classical Chinese furniture, mooch off of their wifi, and fill up my one liter CIEE Beijing water bottle (“CIEE swag”) at their office, even after joking that “our students drink too much water.” They also invited me to join in on their expert lecture series, in which I got to see presentations by KuoRay Mao (CIEE Resident Director) on development of Northwest China and Wesley Jacks on Chinese cinema.

Moreover, after hearing about my interest in NGOs, KuoRay offered to pass my resume to and put me in contact with several NGOs he was in touch with so that I could get a feel for the NGO environment in China. He also encouraged me in a number of post-graduation plans.

Through KuoRay, I also met Zhao Zhong, the director of Pacific Environment, who sat down patiently with me for over an hour to talk about the history of environmental NGOs in China. When I told him I hoped to research the interconnections between China and Latin America, he dropboxed me a long list of resources, ranging from magazine articles to his own research proposals.

When I sent that one email to the CIEE Beijing office, I could not even have imagined the warmth they would show me this past month. The CIEE Beijing staff immediately made me feel at home in Beijing (in fact, they actually told me “you have a home here”). Their enthusiasm in supporting me and making my time in Beijing as enriching as it could possibly be has given me a deeper appreciation for the CIEE family. They’ve shown me that CIEE is so much more than just regional study abroad programs in over 40 countries, but that it is an organization that truly that reflects the increasing interconnectedness of our world, a world in which a student who has found a home in Chile is welcomed to another home in Beijing, half the world away.

 

CIEE Chile in China Group Shot

From Right to Left, Dr. KuoRay Mao, Summer Resident Director, Ms. Yan Jing, Office Coordinator Ms. Fan, Mr. Hua Ye, CIEE Minzu University Program Assistant, and John Urban, Student Services Coordinator.

A Student's Perspective: Visiting the Beijing School for the Blind

If you have been following any of the CIEE Beijing program blogs, you may have read our post about visiting the Beijing School for the Blind.

Though students did not have an opportunity to volunteer during the summer term, CIEE Beijing was able to arrange a half-day excursion to the Beijing School for the Blind.

Instead of writing any more, we would like to hand over this blog to Zachary Folk. A rising junior at the University of Missouri - Columbia, here's what this special activity meant to him.

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The blind school was huge, and had plenty of resources for the students there.  We first observed an English class.  The students there were bright individuals who looked like they were having a lot of fun with the class.  Since a bunch of foreign students were visiting their class, the teacher created a quiz game about America for the students.  During this game, we got to see the students answer questions about what is considered American food, such as pizza, chicken wings, hamburgers, and some questions about the largest American holiday, Christmas.

After the quiz on America, they asked us questions about America in English and we asked them questions about China in Chinese.  After that, we all split up to talk a little bit 1 on 1 with the students. I talked to this one student and asked him questions with the limited amount of Chinese that I knew, and he answered back in the English he knew.  He was a typical boy who was very interested in America. My friend Robby asked him if he had a girlfriend at all, and he said he didn’t have time for a girlfriend and would rather study, which I found pretty funny. His ability to study English so well, even with his disability, was astounding to me.

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The school's director explains how they teach students to cook for themselves.

During the tour, we met a little boy who was playing a Suona (a copper or brass-bodied reed instrument). He played with more skill than I could play my saxophone when I was in my high school’s jazz band, and he couldn’t be any older than 7 years old.  He told us that he had been playing for only a year, which is even crazier considering how great he was. I could listen to him play all day, but we had to continue the rest of the tour.  We saw many more rooms that helped the kids learn and adapt to their disability, such as a music therapy room and eye exam room, and we ultimately arrived in their library, which I found to be the highlight of the tour.  In the library, students could use special computers that translated webpages into Chinese Braille so the students could read them.  It also had plenty of books in Chinese Braille that students could read, learn, and enjoy.

DSC08785

This special surface translates what is on the screen into readable Chinese Braille.

I had also noticed that during the tour there were bumps on the floor that students could use so they could get around easier.  I also noticed that most sidewalks in Beijing had these same bumps throughout the city, as well as many other amenities that could assist the blind in living normal lives. With the help of the blind school, it doesn’t surprise me that it is easy for people with blindness to live normal lives.  From our tour of the facility, we learned that many people do graduate and grow up to live normal and successful lives. This school has become a model for blind schools around the world. It is great to see that Beijing has put so much effort in assisting the blind, and I hope other cities around the world adopt this same policy. I wish I had more time during my short visit to Beijing to return to the school to possibly volunteer or see more what the school is like and how the students learn to live with their disability.

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During the spring and fall semesters, the school seeks CIEE students to volunteer as English teachers for the entire semester. Students participating in any CIEE Beijing programs who are willing to make a semester-long commitment are welcome to volunteer and give back to the Beijing community.