My experience in Beijing during the trip was a mixture of elation, discovery, and satisfaction. It was a worthy and important trip filled with friendship building not only between WKU participants, but also more importantly between our new Chinese friends and us.
When reflecting on an intense experience such as the recent trip to Beijing, images come to mind that are not only the most memorable but also the most important information to keep for years. The single most important accomplishment of our group was the friendships established with our new Chinese friends. From the director of the program at NCEPU whom we interacted with in a professional and friendly manner to our wonderful student hosts with whom we became lifelong friends, I hope, the person-to-person interactions were wildly successful.
While individuals established their own personal relationships, we all benefited from learning that we are not different from each other despite our cultural, political, and language separations. We all value our families above all else and we all enjoy the others’ companionship and fellowship.
Chinese families cherish their families intensely and we saw evidence of their devotion everywhere we traveled. Families were together sharing the experience of visiting the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, or anywhere else we roamed. It was wonderful to observe how the Chinese young people especially cherished their parents and grandparents. We frequently saw three or four generations within the same family sharing meals or simply spending time together.
It was also important for us to be immersed as much as we could within the city and people. I especially appreciated not being housed near an area with high tourist traffic. We walked across the street from campus and found ourselves in the ‘real Beijing’ in which common people ate, shopped, and lived their lives. Riding the subway during a busy time of day, experiencing public busses, seeing the people go about their lives was incredibly rewarding and interesting.
For many of us, it was our first experience at being a tiny minority in an ocean of people who did not speak our language. It forced us to learn some functional Chinese language in order to make basic communications and that was a great experience. Some in our group embraced their Chinese language skills more than others and forcing a few to attempt communication was a very good thing.
I took my daughter on this trip because I wanted her to see the future. She has had two years of Chinese language in her high school and it was the trip of her young lifetime. She befriended the college students, both American and Chinese, and has found inspiration to pursue studies through the Chinese Flagship program at WKU. Let me provide a small but meaningful exchange between her and I early in our trip as we departed the Great Wall. I said, ‘Say goodbye to the Great Wall’ and she said, ‘Oh, I’ll be back. This in only goodbye for now’. For me, that was all I needed to hear to know that the trip was a huge success. Thank you to the WKU Confucius Institute and the Hanban Institute for providing a glimpse into the future and to allow a small group of people from a rural state to make lifetime memories. XieXie.