A Cross-Cultural Journey: Rivers Students Visit China

How can extracurricular activities augment classroom learning? This June, students of Mandarin, accompanied by faculty members Chloe Yang, Tim Clark, and Michael Girard, embarked on a journey to China to see for themselves.
The students got the chance to immerse themselves in Chinese culture, pushing beyond the comfort of familiar hotel rooms and museums and exploring famous sights such as the thrilling heights of the Great Wall of China and the Olympic stadium known as the Bird’s Nest. After each full day of activities, students took to the trip blog to document their experiences.

They explored the must-see spots, from Tiananmen Square to the 798 Art Zone. Describing his noteworthy experience at the famous Great Wall of China, student Oliver Boisvert ’22 wrote, “After reaching the base of the wall we got an astounding view of the surrounding landscape with mountains and trees seeming to reach out forever…. Walking on the wall was very difficult, as it was very steep. The views of the wall continued through the landscape as far as the eye could see. It was incredible!”

Students were impressed with the country’s stunning beauty, both manmade and natural. Daniel Weitz ’20 wrote, “The ancient architecture was humblingly beautiful; the bridges leaned over the water delicately; the stone rooms and wooden carvings ushered a feeling of piety. YaoLi was refreshingly quiet and tranquil despite the light drizzle, wandering chickens, and many people who occupied it.”

According to the blog, most mornings began with a homey “Western” breakfast filled with familiar eggs and pancakes, but the students’ taste buds ventured far from home, as they were introduced to Chinese supermarkets and cuisine. Of his experience enjoying a night out in Beijing, student Walt Regan-Loomis ’22 wrote, “The restaurant we went to had a hot pot style where, at tables of four, we dunked raw meat into boiling water with various spices to cook it. The food was delicious, and the entire experience was new, fun, and exciting.” The students met a village tea vendor who provided samples of her traditional green and black teas.

The students appreciated varied lifestyles lived by local people they had the privilege of meeting. After visiting a school in Jingdezhen, Weitz wrote, “We met a group of Chinese students who were extremely excited to see Americans (with blue eyes and red hair!). We took pictures together and laughed in our sometimes failed efforts to communicate. Their bewilderment and appreciation for us left us with a warm feeling of confidence.” The students found connections despite the language barrier. Sam Adams ’20 described his engagement with their Chinese counterparts: “They were into a lot of the same things I was interested in and very culturally aware. We ended the day with a super-fun basketball game and took plenty of pictures with the locals there. Not only have we learned about different historical sites, but we got the opportunity to learn about the true culture and lives of people our age in China.”

Throughout the 10-day journey, the students cheerfully endured grueling mountain climbs and early wake-up calls. Museums solidified their historical knowledge, as they saw first-hand how ancient art and architecture came to characterize a culture. And they gained a true appreciation of the connection between the past traditions and the present day. Max Stein ’20, writing about a day that included taking in Xi’an’s famed terracotta warriors, a visit to the site of Daming Palace, a dumpling feast, and a performance of traditional Tang-era song and dance, put it this way: “It was a long day, and one I doubt any of us will forget anytime soon.”

—Joelle Mentis ’18