Day 7-8:

The next two days in Dalian were more relaxing days because the days had less activities than usual on the agenda. We took the trip across the city to Dalian Nationalities University where we met up with a Chinese student who has previously studied abroad at Benedictine University. It was nice watching Aurora reconnect with classmates and professors that she had not seen in a while- life long friends that she had acquired from studying abroad. She gave us a tour of their campus, which was enormous in size, was a very modern facility. Aurora picked our lunch location for that day and made her own recommendations as to what she liked to eat. She acted as the tour guide that day since the university was in walking distance of the hotel and we had an opportunity to look into her life and not just follow an itinerary. It was fun seeing the sights that appealed to a Chinese college student and seeing what she thought we would enjoy.

As I said, Dalian is a coastal town and being located right on the water makes it an essential city for shipping and trade. The next day we went to a large port in Dalian and were able to learn about the logistics and operations of how products and goods are moved in and out of the country using the water. Being a business major this was a very interesting location to visit because it showed a facet of how business is conducted in another country. In order to do business internationally, it is essential to be able to get your products to that country. Going to the port was a look at how to go about shrinking a world and taking business outside of your own nation. We also got to your a facility that had a mini model of all of Dalian set up. It showed where it was now, and where it would be in the next 10 years. China is growing, expanding, and becoming more advanced at a rapid rate, and it was interesting to see how much change would occur in such a short amount of time.

As a business student, it is important for me to be aware of how business is conducted in other countries and also how industries are expanding around the world. Business is no longer just done at the corner store, and it is important to be aware of where it is now and where it will be in the future. As a future businesswoman myself, this kind if insight into another culture will help me immensely throughout my future endeavors.

Day 6:

Our train pulled into Dalian at about 7 am where we then met with our new driver and guide on the train station. It was too early to check into our hotel, so despite being a little smelly and tired from traveling, we continued onto our journey. Dalian is a coastal city, so the weather is cooler and more windy than Beijing had been. It was also a different atmosphere then Beijing, because it was a smaller city with less commotion and congestion.

The first stop we made in Dalian was to go to Labour Park, where there was a massive statute of tigers right on the water. City legend has it that a woman cannot stand in front of the statue to take a picture by herself or she will become “fierce” in personality. From there we walked over the water on a bridge meant to test the comparability of lovers. I appreciated how many urban myths this city seemed to have on the different locations we were visiting. From there we made our way close to the coast to Xinghai Square. Here it reminded me a lot of a resort/boardwalk town because of the amusements and vendors located right against the water. They also had a large construction that looked like a giant half pipe, that could be climbed in order to get a great view of the ocean.

From there we had lunch at a local restaurant. I really enjoy the fact that when we are out as a group out your guides order the meals for us so that we are able to get recommendations from people who actually live and eat in that area. It’s even better because dining in China is “family style” so anything ordered is just placed on a lazy Susan and spun for everyone to try and enjoy. It allows everyone in the group to try a variety or things they would not have ordinarily and allows us to maximize the amount that we taste. There has yet to be a meal I have had in China in which I have not left full and satisfied. American Chinese food when I return simply will no longer cut it.

After lunch we walk around the Russian Pocket of Dalian. Our tour guide explained to us that bartering and purchasing things in Dalian is different than we had become accustomed to in Beijing. The people in Dalian were less likely to drop the prices as significantly and would also show in there facial expressions whether or not you had received a good deal in price. While I did not purchase anything on Russian Street it was interesting to learn about how even among cities the people have different customs and idiosyncrasies that set them apart.

We then check into our hotel, that we will only be spending one night in. The rest of our time in Dalian will be spent closer to Dalian Nationalities University, another university we will be visiting on our trip. As much as I loved Beijing, I love the coastal atmosphere of Dalian and the fact that it is a much smaller city. I’m excited to be able to explore more of the city in the short amount of time we are here. I can’t believe how fast the trip is moving, and considering we are only here for two weeks, we certainly fill every day to capacity with activities. There has yet to be a dull moment on this trip yet and I am thankful for every moment and experience here.

Day 5

Today involved a lot of traveling, as we left Beijing and made our way to the other locations. We woke up early in order to catch a bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin. The bullet train was so smooth you could not even tell how fast you were going. It was incredible the amount of distance you could cover by train in such a short amount of time. We only spent the day in Tianjin in order for us to visit Nankai University, the first of the schools we will be visiting for the consortium. We got a tour of the campus from students who were Chinese-English interpretation majors. Nankai University is considered a small school with its enrollment of 20.000 students. Going to a small school in America, like Gwynedd Mercy, has a completely different connotation than in China. Considering the population of the country though, it makes sense that their schools are so large. School is still in session for Nankai University so we were able to meet many students and faculty members.

After a campus tour we had lunch with our student guides and attempted to practice their English by asking them about life in China. I felt a little bad being the one having accommodations made, because I don’t speak their language. While it didn’t pose as much of an issue when talking to the students, I was in their country and they had to speak English for me. I was never good at learning languages, but next time I travel somewhere I would want to try know a few more basic phrases. Following lunch we actually attended a class taught by a Chinese professor. Luckily for us it was in English but it was about China, their current economy, and projections for the future. It was especially interesting to me because I had just finished a project in Macroeconomics on China’s GDP. I knew a lot of the information but was listening to it from another perspective, because the professor had a Chinese bias to his lecture. He emphasized primarily the positive aspects of China’s economy, and how they were in strong competition with the US. While many of the facts might have been completely accurate, it’s interesting to see the spin an American classroom will put on a subject, and how the same information will be provided differently by a Chinese professor. He did however have many criticisms of China’s economy, but for the most part emphasized how fast China’s economy is growing and they have the potential to surpass the United States as the largest superpower. There are of course two sides to every story, and many facts remain the same but some things are just based on cultural opinion.

After the school, we went down to a shopping plaza that while inside had an open air market feel to it. They had many interesting foods for sale native to china, as well as knick-knacks and candies. We finished shopping and grabbed dinner at a local restaurant. The last place we stopped before heading to the train station that night was the Italian Style Market, which was like an Italian pocket in Tianjin. It actually felt like we were transported out of China as we walked the streets covered with Italian bistros and shops. Lights were strung throughout the block, and the trees and had ones that looked like falling stars.

We only has a short amount of time to walk around because from there we needed to catch our overnight train to Dalian. The train we were talking only stopped for 6 minutes at this particular train station, so the 23 of us stampeded down the railroad track with all our luggage in tow. We made the train and we all fell asleep almost immediately out of exhaustion from the long day. By the time we wake up in the morning we will be in Dalian, the next city on the list to continue our adventure.

Day 4:

The art of Taichi is supposed to work on making your body an mind harmonious as you transfer energy throughout your body. As well as learning this, I also learned just how to use different muscles and just how uncoordinated I really am. We had the opportunity to take a (beginner!) Taichi lesson today in the Temple of Heaven Park. Beneath the shade with the Temple of Heaven in the backdrop all of us learned how to fluidly move our bodied and become balanced. At the very start out instructor showed us the exact routine we would follow at full speed and we all cracked up laughing, convinced our bodies would not be able to do the steps and out memory would not remember them anyway. And while our instructor did not speak perfect English, he taught by doing and showing and by the end each one of us was able to do what we had once thought impossible. One would think that in order to take a class you would need to be told with words what to do. But learning comes in many different ways, and we have a lot to learn from people who may act of speak in a way we don’t necessarily understand.

From there we walked around the Temple of Heaven, which was used in order to pray for the harvest in China. This is the first piece of ancient architecture that used blue in it’s color scheme because blue in the Chinese culture is meant to represent the heavens. I even had my first experience with bartering in the shopping area near the Temple of Heaven. In most places in China, the price they say is not necessarily the price they are willing to take so bartering is a common practice. Most times they are just interested in making a sale and will give you a good price is you talk them down. I am not necessarily good at bartering, considering I do not know the language, but I did feel a good bit of accomplishment upon making my purchase at a price I was happy with.

From there we went to Jingshan Park, which after many, many steps, we reached a temple on top of a large hill from which you could see a whole panoramic view of Beijing. Every location we had been visiting was all there, sprawled out before us. As our time in Beijing was coming to a close, and we would soon be making our way to another Chinese city, it was nice to review the journey thus far among the clouds. Our time in China has been moving so incredibly fast, so it was nice to sit back and reflect on while having an incredible view of all the places we were able to visit thus far. The Chinese culture is remarkably fast paced and chaotic at times, but they certainly have a way of showing and expressing beauty in unique ways that make you take a second look.

After that, we had the evening to ourselves, which is a rare occurrence given our busy itinerary. A group of us ended up going to dinner with one our professors, at a local place around the hotel. While the fancy, big group dinners had been nice, it was fun relaxing and getting to know a smaller group in a more intimate setting. I especially enjoyed the time with Professor Day being that I was not in class with him everyday like the other students. It’s a strange concept not meeting your professor until the class is practically over, but in general the online course worked much better than anticipated. After a good dinner we separated from Professor Day and went shopping near by. It is not the easiest without knowing their procedures or the language, but it’s amazing how good at problem solving one gets when it becomes necessity. There are ways to communicate that are universal, whether it be gestures, or numbers people will try their best to understand you and piece it together. So far, the people in China have been very patient with us and try to help us out in any way they can.

We make our way back to the hotel to pack our belongings and get ready to move on to the next city on the list. Beijing has been incredibly, and has surpassed any and all expectations I had prior to coming on the trip. I never expected to connect so well with the group I’m traveling with and enjoy the city as much as I did. I wish I could slow things down so that these memories would last longer, but for now I’ll settle for enjoying every second left of the trip.

Day 3

Today was different. While this trip has been a lot of fun, it has primarily been about what I could see, experience, and learn. But today was more important because today was not just about me or the group, but about helping others who have less than us. Going to a Mercy University, the idea of service is instilled in all it’s students. The Sisters of Mercy take an extra vow of service and are dedicated to helping the poor.

The trip we took today to the migrant village was made even more meaningful because of my connection to survive . The migrant village is located outside of Beijing, but is not a part of the city, therefore it’s residents are not able to receive many of the benefits that come with that. The people who live there do not make a lot of money or as well off as someone who lives in Beijing and so the conditions of living are less than desirable. A major issue is that the children in this village are not allowed to go to school in Beijing, and only attend a one-room schoolhouse run by an NGO, dedicated to making sure that the children of China get an education and attempt to break the cycle of poverty.

Our purpose for the day was to teach a short lesson at this schoolhouse and play with the children while we were there. The problem being that they did not speak English and we did not speak Chinese. One would assume this would be an issue, but the students we met that day were so eager to learn and interact that it did not even matter. While it was supposed to be our job to teach them a lesson, it turned out that they taught us even more. See, children are smarter than us- while it was obvious we were different they did not judge or shy away out of fear of the unknown. Instead, they jumped into teaching us games where language did not matter because laughter and having fun are universal. If only adults were able to maintain this sense of innocence, curiosity and willingness to engage new people, than many biases and cultural divides would not exist.

So after learning Chinese jump rope or their version of rock, paper, scissors we each presented them with a new pencil and notebook for school. One would think based on their reactions you’d think we had given them something worth a lot more. These children appreciated such a small thing that we take for granted in America and it taught us all to be more thankful for the blessings we have.

I know when we left each of us was sad to leave but came out of it with a changed perspective. From there we went to the 798 art district, which from a distance looked like a few alleys with graffiti on them. But upon getting closer, it was much different than I anticipated. The graffiti had been done by talented artists and among those pieces of art were legitimate galleries filled with interesting Chinese paintings and sculptures. While I am not an expert on art by any stretch, I can still appreciate some beautiful and interesting pieces when I come across them. They also had a lot of shops that didn’t have the usual trinkets touristy tchotchkes but had handcrafted items that were pieces of art in and of them themselves.

From there we moved on to dinner which was at an typical Chinese specialty known as Hot Pot. In Hot Pot, there is a pot of boiling water in the middle of the table, surrounded by meats an vegetables that you cook in the water. While it was not an easy task fishing out the items with chopsticks or knowing when it was ready it was still fun watching everyone in our group attempt to figure it out. I have yet to have a bad meal in China and this one was no exception and was especially interesting because it was a process I had never even heard of. American Chinese left me unprepared for how much I would enjoy the real thing.

So far today has been the most meaningful because it was not just about me. We got to volunteer our time with the children at the schoolhouse and I know each one of us greatly benefited from it. As well as going somewhere that turned out to be much different than expectations reminded me that I should stop making snap judgement on places. Especially during traveling, that can deter a lot of people from trying new things or stepping outside of their comfort zone. Today was different, but in the best ways.

Day 2

Today the locations that we visited were of great importance and all within walking distance of our hotel. Due to the heavy security at some of the locations, I was unfortunately not allowed to bring my good camera, and was only able to capture certain parts of the sites we visited on my camera phone. However, despite not having a lot of great pictures to capture the memories, the places we visited today will forever be remembered by the members of the group due to the great significance to Chinese culture that they all have.

We began our day at the Mausoleum of Mao Zeodong, which is the final resting place of a beloved chairman of China that died in 1976. The security in order to get into the tomb involved many armed guards, passport checks, metal detectors, and pat downs before gaining entrance. This is a very important place to the Chinese people and had a very long line of people waiting to get in. The line is constantly moving though because no one is allowed to stop once inside the mausoleum or guards will push you along. They sold carnations once inside for people to leave there because the carnation is the flower of funerals, and they will kneel 3 times in front of his stature. This is a very solemn place that Chinese citizens take very seriously because of the empowering legacy that Mao left behind.

After that we proceeded to look around Tiananmen Square, which is a large city located right by the mausoleum. This city square is named after Tiananmen Gate which separates the Forbidden City from the rest of the the square. After walking around the square we were able to the forbidden city which holds the imperial palace. We learned that the imperial palace has 9,999 bedrooms so that enemies would never know where the emperor was sleeping. The number 9 in Chinese culture is very sacred and is a sign of royalty. Obviously we did not get to see all of the forbidden city but we were able to see the palace, court yards, and concubine quarters located within.

From their we went to have a dumpling lunch at a local Chinese Hutong NGO. Hutang’s are traditional Chinese villages that keep many of the same traditions of old China. After lunch, the owner of the house gave us a tour of the village and explained the importance of keeping things traditional, an pointed out the preservation of old architecture all around town.

We concluded by going to downtown Beijing around this lake area an had the option of paddle boating or bicycling around. I decided to bicycle and experience a common way that the Chinese get around. Driving around the crowded streets filled with vendors, rickshaws, cars, and people running about was crazy but incredibly fun. It was important though to not take your eyes off the road for a second or you’d lose the group, or run into something.

Day 2 has been another busy day, that by the time we all get back to the hotel, we are all incredibly exhausted. I cannot believe how many things we are able to fit into each day. Although we are tired, sun burnt, and have a couple of blisters; everything we have seen thus far has been an amazing and the days to come have me very excited!

Day 1:

These past two days have been a complete whirlwind between traveling here and starting our Day 1 adventure. Due to a fire at an Aurora radar facility, we ended up sitting on the Tarmac for 2 hours before taking off. Had we waited 1/2 an hour longer we would have left the plane and possibly rescheduled for the next day. However, despite the glitches, our plane took off and we had started our 13 hour flight across the world.

Despite being tired and jet lagged, we wasted no time the next morning to begin experiencing China as we headed off to the Great Wall. It took approximately an hour and a half to get there from our hotel, and we took a chair lift to get up the mountains to the wall. Seeing the Great Wall is something that no amount of photos can properly capture (although I certainly tried). At the spot on the wall that we were at, our guide let us know that taking it right would take us to a more challenging hike, and left would give us a lot more photo opportunities. Being an amateur photographer myself I could not pass up the opportunity for some awesome shots, while many decided to walk up the wall at an amazingly steep incline. As one of the 7 wonders of the world, seeing the extent of that massive wall sprawling for miles is something that a traveler will never forget. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, we all took a toboggan ride all the way down the side of the mountain to get off. It was such an incredible way to start off the whole trip, and yet that was only the beginning of the FIRST day!

From there we had lunch at a local restaurant, where we tried many things from trout to tofu. I appreciated the fact that the guide would order for us to expose us to many delicious things we would not ordinarily have selected on our own. From there, we went to the summer palace, where we learned about the Dragon Lady empress of China. After walking around the palace we took a dragon boat ride across the man made lake, and due to lack of seating inside the boat, I was luckily enough to be able to sit on the front of the boat with a couple of my classmates.

As if that wasn’t enough, a large group of us ended up going to a K-TV spot near our hotel after that. K-TV is group karaoke and is a big deal all over china. After a long day of exploring, it was fun to see everyone relax and unwind by being silly and singing songs together in our own room. From there, we got back to our hotel and were blown completely exhausted from the day that we had just had. It was shocking and amazing at how much we had done on only the first day. The itinerary for this trip is packed everyday with activities and it will be interesting to see where each new day takes us in these next two weeks. We will be able to experience so much in our short time here, and despite how tired we will be, I could not be more excited for the rest!

The Journey Begins

After many months of planning and preparation the trip is finally here! Yesterday Albert and I started the first part of our journey by flying to Chicago to join Benedictine University to finally meet the group we will be traveling around China with. We step off the plane both anxious and excited for everything yet to come. After all, we had yet to meet the students or the professor in the course we had been taking online, while they already knew each other from class.

We go down the escalator and see a sign saying “Welcome to Chicago Albert & Anna!” held by one of the Benedictine students named Ryan, who instantly made us feel included. The students from Alvernia University joined later on, and we were able to get better acquainted over lunch at a local hotspot Joy Ee Noodle House. We enjoyed some Asian cuisine while sharing some laughs with some new friends.

Today in Chicago we met the whole group we’d be traveling with at the trip orientation. We went over the very full itinerary for the two week trip, different travel tips, and went over culture shock with a simulation game called Bafa Bafa. The group was divided into two cultures with many different rules and customs. Once you learned and adapted to your own culture, people from your group would try to understand and interact with the other. It was a very powerful simulation to show how easy it is to project your comfort and norms on another culture. Bafa Bafa was meant to show that we must be patient and open minded as we travel and the differences in cultures are not a negative thing.

Everyone in the group was so friendly and inviting despite us being the newcomers which only added to the excitement of the trip tomorrow. After orientation we got to explore the local town of Naperville. It sits right on the DuPage river and it a quaint place to eat or shop. It allowed for Albert and I to get better acquainted with the Alvernia students, Monica and Kyle, who we would be rooming with in China. After a walk by the river, a nice dinner, and dessert at a local gelato joint, we head back to the university to pack up our luggage and get some rest before the 13 hour flight tomorrow morning.

It still has not completely set in that tomorrow we will be on our way across the world. The next time I will be blogging I will be in china and I could not be more exited!

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China Bound!

They say the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step- being that China is 6,754 miles away, I guess that explains why it has involved the hard work of many people, and multiple steps to get me to where I am now. On May 13, 2014  I have the privilege of joining fellow Gwynedd Mercy University student Albert Rementer, along with students from two other universities, on a once in a lifetime journey across the world. After a two day orientation in Chicago, we will be on our way for two weeks to visit Beijing, Dalian, and Xi’an. As we make this incredible journey across China I will be blogging and posting photos of the whole journey daily and hope you follow us on our adventures!

I am immensely excited to meet the students from Benedictine and Alvernia University who I will be traveling with. I will also be meeting Dr. Steven Day, Dr. Tim Goines, and Marc Davidson from Benedictine who are responsible for this whole trip (and never complained about my numerous E-mails filled with questions!). This entire experience would also not have been possible without Dr. Owens and Dean Pfleger who have worked tirelessly with Benedictine in order to send Albert and I on this amazing trip. Lastly, I would like to thank Ms. Dawn Caruano for all that she has done to coordinate the details: booking the flights, getting the visas squared away, and many other miscellaneous activities.

I can’t believe this trip is so close! Thank you to everyone who has provided support leading up to this point and to everyone who will be following our journey along the way! Next time you hear from me I will be in Chicago, Illinois and could not be more excited!

Wish me luck!