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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.

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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.

07/25/2013

Summer 2013, Issue I

NewsletterBannerBeijing
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A student takes in some scenery during our excursion to the Great Wall.

New Sights, New Perspectives - Summer in Beijing, China

If you have experienced summer in Beijing, you know how hot and humid it can be, much like weather in the midwestern United States. This, however, has not stopped the CIEE students in Beijing from getting out there and enjoying all that Beijing (and China) have to offer!

Up to now, we've had a myriad of different activities and events for students to engage China, including two excursions: to Dalian and the countryside in Shanxi and Hebei provinces, theme meals, our Expert Lecture series, trips to the blind school, and more. We hope this newsletter will give you an idea of what we do here in Beijing!

Orientation Week

As featured in other blogs, we continued our tradition of taking a group photo on Peking University's Alumni Bridge (校友桥). After visiting Tiananmen Square and eating a welcome lunch of Peking Duck, we took this shot to start the semester!

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Students enjoy the idyllic northern portion of campus.

Excursions outside of Beijing

During the final days of June, CIEE led two separate excursions each with distinct themes that expose students to different parts of China, and Chinese society. One was to the port city of Dalian, and the other was to the countryside in the nearby by Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Dalian - "Urbanization and the Dream of Modernity"

This trip, led by Summer Resident Director Dr. KuoRay Mao, took students to the northeastern port city of Dalian.

Dalian was a small coastal outpost in late Qing dynasty before the area was colonized by Russia in 1897 and later Japan in 1905. The confluence of the Chinese, Russian, and Japanese cultures and the history of colonization have made Dalian a unique example of modernization in China. Since the late 1990s, as the fourth largest sea port in China, Dalian has transformed the base of its economic development and has become a hotspot for foreign direct investment, especially from Japanese and Korean companies. To understand Dalian’s colonial history and its recent cosmopolitan development, students explored modern city spaces, walked through plazas built by the Russians, observed the battlegrounds of the Russo-Japanese war,  rode the first railroad in China and saw Dalian's large port, among other activities!

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Dalian - Shipping Containers

Shipping Containers being moved about at the Port of Dalian.

Shanxi and Hebei - "Environment and Rural Governance in China"

While Dr. Mao was leading students through the ultra-modern Dalian, CIEE Beijing's Center Director, Dr. Patrick Lucas, led students off the beaten path to rural parts of China's Shanxi and Hebei provinces. The focus of this trip were those places outside the large cities—the rural countryside, its people, culture, governance, and the natural environment there. Of course, in China ‘countryside’ is a relative term, since the majority of the population live outside the big cities, and rural population can actually be surprisingly dense, with villages often very close together. In China there are intense pressures on the natural environment, as well as various social consequences and competitions for resources, which are issues of critical importance to China and to our understanding of China as students and seekers of understanding.

Though less than 150 miles away from Beijing, the differences in terms of material wealth are staggering. After spending the night in a village and helping weed the potato fields, the students realized, however, that this lack of "stuff" did not mean that the villagers did not live with dignity. In addition to living in the village, over three plus days we visited a tiny garrison town, and saw an interesting, unrepaired section of the Great Wall crossing flat farm fields. We also hiked sheep trails through the mountains, visited a tiny broken down Buddhist temple, and visited a local Catholic church.

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Countryside - Ascent

Students climb to get a soaring view of the unrepaired Great Wall seen below right.

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Countryside - Reflections on a mountaintop Temple

Students take in a view of the valley from the side of a broken down temple.

CIEE's Expert Lecture Series in Beijing

Every semester, CIEE arranges for lecturers to lecture on their topics of expertise. This summer, we had four lectures, highlighted below, given by CIEE staff and other experts.

"Chinese Film: Projecting and Protecting the Nation" by Wesley Jacks

On July 17, CIEE Beijing welcomed Wesley Jacks, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Film and Media, gave a lecture our students. Jacks completed his M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Communication Arts (Film) in 2008 and in spring 2012, he was an adjunct professor teaching Chinese film history at the CIEE Beijing Study Center. Thus, having him back for a lecture was just like old times, even if it was only for a few hours!

In his lecture, titled "Chinese Film: Projecting and Protecting the Nation" Jacks gave a brief synopsis of the history of Chinese film, all the way from the first projected film in China in 1896 to the controversy over the recently released Chinese film, titled "Tiny Times". He also discussed how the Chinese government has toed the line of allowing American and other foreign films to be displayed in China while protecting and building up the local industry. And indeed, as film is a powerful tool for disemmination of messages and ideas, he talked about the use of film by the government to promote or project certain ideals.

Though this was the final lecture in our "Expert Lecture Series" like all of the lectures, it was well-attended, and students asked a lot of questions.

Wesley Jacks - Lecture 02

Jacks used the 2002 wuxia film "Hero"  starring Jet Li, to illustrate some his arguments of Chinese films projecting certain ideologies.

"Cross-cultural Communication" and "Ecological Change in Modern China" by Dr. Patrick Lucas

Previous lectures this semester were given by CIEE Beijing Center Director, Patrick Lucas, Ph.D. He gave two lectures this semester titled, "Cross-cultural Communication and Understanding in China" and "Ecological Change in Modern China: Human Impacts and Human Survival". A trained anthropologist with nearly 20 years of professional experience in China, we offer these two lectures every semester. These two lectures give students tools to examine their surroundings, with in terms of communicating with individuals from another culture, and dealing with new ideas and the pressures of being an outsider.

The second lecture "Ecological Change in Modern China: Human Impacts and Human Survival" gave students an introduction to the perilous environmental Chinese situation faces amidst rapid development. This lecture was required to participate on the excurstion, titled "Environment and Rural Governance in China", as it was a preview of some phenomenon that we would experience firsthand when visiting the countryside. In his role as CIEE Beijing Center Director, Dr. Lucas oversees the study centers at both Minzu University and Peking University, teaching an area studies course every semester at Minzu University.

Aside from engaging students in experiential learning in the trip to the countryside, he also leads a ten day field study to southern China every semester for students participating in the Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability program at Minzu University.

Pat Lucas - Lecture

Dr. Lucas gives students some tools they can use to engage a new culture.

"Neoliberal Sunshine: The Development of Underdevelopment in Northwestern China" by Dr. KuoRay Mao

Earlier in July, our Summer Resident Director KuoRay Mao, Ph.D., gave a lecture on neoliberal development in Northwestern China. Having worked as a farmer in Gansu province for 18 months conducting research as a Fulbright scholar, Dr. Mao was able to pepper his lecture, titled "Neoliberal Sunshine: The Development of Underdevelopment in Northwest China" with interesting analyses on the political economy in China.  Dr. Mao's speech gave students a good understanding of some of the most pressing environmental issues -  which are existential issues - facing China today.

Finally...

Given the abrreviated summer schedule, our Expert Lecture Series has concluded. However, we are excited for next semester's lectures, available for students attending all of our Beijing-based programs.

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This newsletter was compiled by CIEE Beijing Center staff.  Stay tuned for Issue II at the end of the semester, as well as some other blog posts by some of our summer students about different experiences and activities from our 2013 summer term!