Exploring the Far East

When a friend from class unexpectedly approached me and exclaimed, “”We should go to China!”” I thought there was no way he could be serious.

But he was. He told me about an organization called Legends of China, which didn’t sound very concrete. We went to the information session. The trip appeared to be some sort of peace relation conference. But we discovered the catch: They wanted you to sign up over the Internet with a credit card or send a check right away. I was afraid it was a scam, but for $985, an all-inclusive trip to China was definitely a good deal. I took a chance and after a little thought, I went for it and sent in the form.

I had never thought seriously about going to China (except to see the Great Wall). When I told people about my summer plans, their reactions showed they had some of the same fears that I had. When I signed up for the trip, it was right after the U.S. spy plane incident, and my Southern family had many preconceived ideas about the communist country. However, I was on a personal peace mission.

Once I arrived, I realized what the trip was really about. Legends of China was able to show us culture, as I had assumed it would, but mostly it was a tour group. Though I felt slightly misled, the trip did show me a lot about Chinese culture and society.

I began seeing cultural differences right away. It was hard not to notice that young girls in China are much more affectionate with each other than Americans are. After getting to know two of the locals our group met at a university, they started walking right next to me, with our shoulders touching. I was rather flattered that Lucy and Cher felt so comfortable with me, but in 95 degree weather I wanted some breathing space.

Along with seeing the usual tourist attractions, the Americans were able to visit a university and meet some of the students. University life in China has some similarities to American college life, but also many differences. One student, Van, told me that the amount of time a student spends studying is up to them, but that Chinese students are in class about eight hours a day, five days a week — much more time than Americans are used to.

The dorm life is also much different. Students are not allowed in the dorms of members of the opposite sex. Also, six people live in each room, and the rooms are small: only a little bit larger than 150 square feet to hold three bunks and usually one or two desks.

Erica Cazares, a student on the tour from Long Beach State University, asked Van what Chinese guys thought of American girls. He said politely, “”American girls are much stronger than Chinese girls.””

Cities in China are highly populated, and due to this density, I saw several traffic accidents, including bike-on-bike accidents. Something that was hard for us Americans to comprehend was the fact that in China, it seems to be that the bigger vehicle has the right of way.

My second night in China I saw a bicyclist get rear-ended by a car. The driver got out of his car and looked at his bumper, then drove off. Luckily for the bicyclist, the only damage was to his bike, because in China, the bicyclist would have been held responsible for any damages.

Overall, the trip was amazing. The country is beautiful and safe. I didn’t feel the need to keep everything under close watch as one does when traveling in Europe. The people were very nice and would often approach Americans, wanting to have their picture taken with us.

Loren Thompson, assistant vice chancellor of Student Educational Advancement at UCSD, initiated the school’s involvement with the program. He said of the trip, “”The greatest cultural difference was how extremely friendly the people were. Everywhere we went, if you smiled at someone, people were ready to smile back.””

A trip like this would be especially interesting for people who like history and different cultures. China is full of ancient traditions. For me, it was incredible to go through the cities, see the things that I had learned about and visit the places I studied that are now tourist attractions. For once, the things I heard about in my Making of the Modern World courses had a purpose.

I have heard about trips such as this advertised for UCSD students, such as one to Israel for students of the Jewish faith. I encourage everyone to look into these programs because they really are a great bargain. Altogether, the airfare, hotels (these really were four and five stars) and meals were included for less than the airfare alone would have been if we had booked it on our own. The experience was well worth the cost.

For Thompson, this is not the end of this program. “”UCSD is definitely going to work with Legends of China again,”” he said. Giving more students the opportunity to experience what I did and … find their own personal peace abroad.

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