Final Journals


               I have enjoyed this trip immensely, and I hope and think that it has changed me for the better, as a student, as a traveler, and as a person. I think that I have grown understanding for people of China that I couldn’t have gotten from some book or some video. This is the one and only way to really get to know China as a country and as a people.
                While I was here, I tried very hard to pay attention to the little things, like how people show their religion on a daily basis, or how they reacted to certain things a teacher said. As I did this I realized that from an outside quick glance, China and America are completely different countries with different customs, and different people. I mean, I thought it was like that too. We talk different, we look different, we have different infrastructure, we have different forms of government, and we have different ecological crises. We are different. But we are the same.
                Because we spent most of our time at a school, 10 hours a day actually, the majority of the things I noticed we from kids. And I noticed that, when knew what they were saying, they acted the same way we do. They laughed if someone made a bad mistake, they hated having to go somewhere else, and they complained about school to each other, both in and out of school.
                In my family I noticed the same tight-knit bond between families in America, I noticed the same ability to joke about each other, and to not be afraid to show emotion in front of each other. Is this not what the average American family does?  How is this different from America?
                In my time in markets, and experiencing modern Chinese society I noticed shop owners fighting over just one dollar. These people were passionate about the things they were selling; they were not scared of loosing a sale. They kept their dignity, the way any self-respecting person would, and I was impressed, even if it meant me loosing out on something I really wanted. This is what we consider to be the American way. Fighting for what you believe in. Not backing down from a fight. That belief is what America was built on, yet that belief is what China thrives on.
                This experience has changed me. It has changed my view on things, and it has changed how I feel about the world. I thought that when I came here all the stereotypes I knew would be proven right. I thought that there would only be differences between China and America.  But I was wrong.  China and America couldn’t be more different on the outside, yes. But on the inside, where things count, they couldn’t be more similar, and that is what I have taken away from this opportunity of a lifetime. We are all the same.
                Zach 2015

            
This trip has been an amazing experience that I will never forget; from the moment I left my family in America to the moment I left my family in China, I couldn’t have asked for a richer, more eye-opening experience. Along the way I encountered many cultural differences, physical differences, and most of all differences in the way we live our lives.
            There were many cultural differences such as hygiene. In China, people tend to shower in the evening as opposed to the morning, as many people do in America. This is because they don’t often change the sheets on their beds so they want to be clean before they get into bed. They also just don’t shower as often as Americans do. In America I shower once a day; here in China I would shower once every two days. Another cultural difference is the driving. All laws of the road seem to go out the window as soon as you get on it. Turn signals are not necessary by any means, and most red lights are optional. Most drivers will also put their lives on the line to move up one or two cars in a line. The last major cultural difference was of course the school; whether it was the work, workload, physical school, or the teachers, it was all so different. To start, the school was like a prison; fenced in all the way around with a guarded electric gate. The only way out was to have one of the guards, whom were armed with batons, to let you out. Then there was the work. It was actually a lot like America, they had Biology, Chemistry, Geometry, Physics, etc., it was all the same. However the workload was crazy. My host sibling would come home from school, rest for usually less than an hour, and work for hours. After he finished, it was usually time for him to go to bed. Lastly the teachers, the teachers were extremely young compared to Wayland. It seemed like all of them were under 30 or 35. From what I observed in the classrooms it seemed like the students responded well to that. They respected their teachers, which became apparent on the first day when before every class they bow to their teachers, but also considered them to be friends judging by the types of relationships they seem to have with them in and out of class. It was extremely interesting to see and encounter these differences first hand and I feel like I am going back to America with a much better understanding of the Chinese culture.
            China physically is similar to America in many ways, but there are some major differences. The most noticeable is probably the air quality. Due to the pollution there is usually a layer of smog over the entire city and the severity fluctuates. On some days you can’t see clearly across the width of a soccer field, however on some days, after it rains, the sky turns blue, and the weather is almost always perfect. I didn’t really notice the difference in air quality until I ran for the first time. The air kind of stung the inside of my nose and I became short of breath faster than I would in America. Seeing how it is here makes me realize what a serious problem pollution is. It also encourages me to help out and make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen where I live. Another physical difference is the geography. Beijing is a relatively flat city, until you reach the outer sections of the city, where mountains seem to pop out of nowhere from flat ground. Judging by our train ride to Xi’an, it seemed to be the same for the rest of the country as well. Random geographical features appear at random, whether it is entire mountain ranges, man-made terraces or fields, or lakes and ponds. Which is so different from America, which seems to build up to things like mountain ranges, or gradually descend to valleys and lakes. I find that interesting because it makes travelling fun when you never know what to expect. The last physical difference is the way the city is situated, with the tall buildings surrounding the shorter buildings in the center. It makes the city seem much less crowded and populated considering how many people live in the city. When you have all of the larger buildings in the center like in cities like Boston, it makes that area seem much more cramped. In many ways Beijing is very much like American cities, but so very different in others.
            The way a typical Chinese teenager goes about their daily life is extremely different from the way a typical American teenager does. The first difference would be the morning time. While an American teen might get up, shower, eat breakfast, and jump on the bus to school, a typical Chinese teen would get up, probably eat leftovers from last nights dinner, and then take a bus, train, or car to school. Chinese teens almost never shower in the morning and they usually eat the leftovers from dinner. That’s one thing I noticed when I lived there. They only had one or two “breakfast” foods that were specifically for breakfast, while in America we have many breakfast specific foods. Then, the way teens travel to school is very different as well. In China there are no school buses so people take any form of transportation that is easiest. Out of the group I went with people took cars, buses, or walked to school. The next difference is the school day of course. The school day in China is extremely long, while in America it is around seven hours. After school most Chinese kids go home and eat a snack and then do their work for most of the night. This is also different from America in some ways. American kids might have activities or sports after school, the Chinese kids, at the school we went to, had a few clubs that were very quick and no sports teams. American kids however do have a lot of work once they get to high school, but not as much as the teenagers I experienced had. The last difference would be the weekends; American teens use this time to hang out with friends, sleep, and relax, while Chinese teens do some of this, but also constantly do work. Really, the lives of Chinese teens compared to American teens are entirely different from the moment they wake up, to the moment they go to bed. 
             This trip to China has forever enriched my life. I left one person, completely unaware of the world around my protected life in Wayland Massachusetts, and returned a more perceptive person, aware of what the world around me is like. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing experience, and I am so happy to have had this opportunity.
            Chris 2015

            As I write this journal now I have a different point of view of my trip than I will in a couple of years from now. I think that what I have learned I will see throughout my life. I will better understand my trip the more I have time to think about it. I think that this trip has changed me in certain ways. It has caused me to be very observant. It has opened my world making it much smaller, knowing I have hundreds of friends in China. It has greatly improved my confidence in speaking.
            Well, when I first arrived in China the exhilaration was in my searching for new things. There were no new cars. There were the same Audis, BMWs, and Volkswagens… The driving was the same. I noticed some of the habits of my family. They just talked fluently and had humor in everything they said. I loved just listening and awkwardly laughing. So far I had not noticed many new things. I felt like I could easily adapt and relate to anything that they did. This was my general view throughout my journey and eventually everything that they did was easy common behavior to me. Sometimes though, I had set my own rules. For example, I washed my dishes after every meal. I would say I am going in to do my homework. Or I would go to sleep at certain time.
            I did a lot of observing in school. I listened to a lot of Chinese within the classes and noticed how they talked. I usually never had a clue to what they were saying but I tried to understand the pace of the speaking. When we did morning exercises we would listen to the instructor teach the school. We all just followed what the students did. This was the same in any class. We all did not know what the teacher wanted so we had to follow our host siblings. We really followed the students the whole time we were there.
            I really enjoyed going out at night and shopping for gifts and seeing what things there were to buy. I specifically think that my Mandarin became better when I went to the night markets at night. I learned how to bargain from Lucy and really got into the culture and items that I was buying. I realized that this enjoyment made me want to speak the language with the shop owners. When I was out I would communicate with people on travel or on shopping or eating. These were the main things that I became mainly fluent in. I eventually knew how to say the basis of these topics. For example, “How much is it? Where are the Chinese knots? What is this? Is this meat?”
            I now have friends in China. I know my family and know my classmates. I really would love to come back and reunite with them someday. When I think that I was with my Chinese family hours before then thousands of miles later I am with my mom. My world is now smaller because I can connect with Chinese people. There are many Chinese people in the world and there is no barrier between us anymore. I find this pretty magical and a bit empowering to me.
            Overall these are some main Ideas that I took away from China. I really loved my experience and will never ever take for granted what I learned and what I was given. Thank you Ms. Fong and Ms. Simon for all of the hard work that I know you did to create such an experience.
            Logan  2015

          
                I have to say, this trip was so much more then I expected. Of course, I knew I would learn so much about Chinese culture and people, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about myself in the process. Also, once you arrive, it’s not hard to start noticing the differences between American culture and Chinese culture.
                Education is one of the biggest differences. In China, they start kindergarten at 2-3 years old. In that class, they do simple math, learn characters and pin yin, and begin learning Chinese history. Cathy also told me that they learn how to dress themselves in kindergarten, which I assume also comes along with manners and more Confucian messages. In America, the first few years of school focus on patterns, working together and with others, social skills and even basic art. Kids don’t begin learning the alphabet until first grade. Even from young ages, the kids in China have double the pressure on them as kids in America. As for testing, kids have to take a test in 6th grade and 9th grade to determine whether or not they can continue at a real high school. A little 6th grader decides what way their life will go by taking a single test. That in itself seems crazy to me. In the US, there are standardized tests every year that kids take from 3rd grade on, but nothing that would prevent us from getting a good education. If someone wants to get an education, they have full access to it up until college. In China, if you fail the 6th grade test you could go to other schools, but all of your options will lead you into things like tourism or catering; none of the jobs are high paying or if they are, not desirable. I feel as though in America, the opportunities for kids are so much higher then for kids in China. We can go to college and get a degree in whatever we want as long as we work hard for it. In China, even if you work hard, you have to be amazing to achieve the standard. Not academically speaking, I noticed that the Jing Shan School didn’t have an orchestra or band. The kids who go there must do private lessons, or fit time into their already full schedule for lessons. Most kids will never get a chance to play with others unless they are child prodigies; in which case they will be groomed into a top-notch performer. In the US, children can play an instrument they want to, and there is no pressure to be the best. I cannot imagine feeling the pressure that these kids do everyday over their school lives, it is unfair to make kids go through such stressful experiences so young.
                   Another thing I have noticed, is the superstitions towards the cold, medicine, and sickness. One of my first weekends here, Cathy and her mother got sick and stayed home from the group activities. When I offered Cathy Advil, she told me she couldn’t take it because it would make her stupid. I told her that I take Advil when I am feeling sick and she was shocked. When I tried to explain to her that doctors developed Advil and that it doesn’t hurt you at all, she was very hesitant in believing me and still didn’t take any. I have noticed that they really don’t trust western medicine at all. I'm not sure if it is because they trust their own more, or because they have heard rumors or warnings about them, or if they truly believe that the medicine can damage your brain. Along with medication, my host family also felt very differently about the cold. Every time I would wear a T-shirt at the beginning of the trip, they would warn me and say that if I got too cold I would get very sick and hurt my brain. Cathy would also make me wait before eating something that’s cold right after eating something that was hot. She said it would make me sick, and if I ever complained of having a stomachache, she would say it was because of something cold I ate. When Chris got food poisoning, Tom refused to say it was something Chris ate, and insisted that it was the cold water and ice cream. I found it a little unsettling sometimes that they rejected cold so much, but it was very interesting to see their opinions on health. I did really like having their special tea when I felt sick. I definitely believe in the natural remedies like herbs.
                Another big difference I was very aware of was the cameras. They are everywhere. For the people who live in Beijing, it is totally normal to know there are cameras, but to foreigners, it can be a little weird. The lack of police presence is completely balanced out by the knowledge that there are government people watching you, especially when you stick out like us. Sometimes, I understand why the cameras can be beneficial, crime is low, and people generally feel safe, but it can also be unsettling. I know that people think that the cameras are for keeping the public safe, but I think of them more as a way of controlling what people do. The government knows and monitors you if they think you are speaking out or rebelling. That alone makes me feel uncomfortable. In my opinion, the cameras are a way of control, but I can definitely see their good side, too.
                All together, this trip to China was absolutely amazing, I believe that I know and value family and freedom so much more then I did before. Our lives in the US are amazing, and I think I will take that into consideration much more now. I now know what in my life is important, and what is unnecessary. The US gives its citizens so many options in life, which just makes our county even more unique. I really loved my time in Beijing, and I loved the people there even more. I hope I will have the opportunity to go back one day and immerse myself in the culture once again.
                Ella 2015


                I’ve made countless observations during the 5 weeks I’ve spent in China. Some were positive similarities, others not so positive differences. To begin I should write about some positive observations I’ve made here in China.
                A positive similarity China has to America is that everyone loves to eat. When I first arrived I was worried that people would see our group like the fat American stereotype. Countless times before I arrived in China my parents constantly told me not to be greedy, and eat too much. To my surprise In China everyone eats large amounts of food. I would say that most of the time people in China eat more than we do here in America. Everyone I’ve met in China had a basic love for food, and always recommended food that I should try next. Although all the food here is Chinese the food is very different between each province. It reminded me of how American cuisine is very diverse because it is a combination of different countries' cuisine. In this sense every province has its own little iconic dish.
                A less positive difference I’ve noticed between America and China would be the large amount of people I’ve seen either homeless or deformed. Granted that the US has its fair share of homeless people, but I’ve never seen so many people with physical deformities as I have in China. I don’t really know the exact reason why this happened, but my hunch is that these people must have been affected by the pollution. If that’s the case that means people who must be poorer only get access to contaminated necessities making them be born with serious medical conditions.
                Another difference that's not too horrible, but not very positive, is gender roles. In the family it’s very simple to see who gets the most attention. That of course is the male. Although more Chinese families are starting to shy away from male supremacy, I can still see parts where gender roles take place. An example would be in my family. Although my host mom didn’t cook she was responsible for doing all of the household chores while Allen just studied. In school I heard Cassie talking about how Whale’s family was very traditional. In short I heard that Whale said that her mother wasn’t important, and that her dad was the only important one. In America little to no people think like this. I think this might be some of old Confucian values staying alive even in this new age. Either way it’s not the most horrible thing ever because, not every one thinks like this. But at times the sexism is evident.
                A Big difference I noticed about China is their driving system. I myself am going to label this as a negative difference just as a personal tick. The driving in China is absolutely horrendous is every way possible. In fact I’ve learned what not to do when I eventually take my driving test. When driving in China people will do just about anything to get in front of a person. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I’ll never forget the time when I was riding in a car with my host dad. He drove in the middle of two lanes at an intersection creating so much traffic behind us. Another thing I’ve learned about Chinese driving is that there is a rank system between people. Apparently the more expensive a car you drive the more passage you get between people. If I drove a Mercedes in China I would automatically get more right of way. This way of thinking is due to the rank of richer people over the poor. Rich people can do what they want because they are more powerful, and those poorer have to suck it up or they will make life a living hell if you don’t abide by the rules.
                My last similarities/differences that I noticed in China was that school is very important. In America school is very important, but it never means life and death. In China school doesn’t literally mean life and death, but it could control what the rest of your life was going to be. In sixth and ninth grade all students need to take a test that decides if they get to continue going to that school. That’s enormous. If you fail you don’t get to continue, and you have to beg other schools to let you in even if you have great grades. If education stops there you’d have to go into the workforce, and earn a small salary. There’s also the Gao Kao. The Gao Kao is a huge test that you can only take once, and decides what the rest of your life is going to look like. It’s easily the scariest difference I’ve noticed between my life in America, and Allen’s life in China. In America we have the SAT test that does decide which college you go to, but can be taken over and over again if failed. Here in China we have a test taken only once that decides which colleges will take you. If you fail the test completely no colleges will even want you. I could never handle that pressure so I label it as a negative difference.
                Again these are just some of the many differences I’ve seen while here in China. These differences are not all bad, and not all good. But because of the exchange program I’ve noticed more that we as Americans have more similarities than I once thought. To put my thoughts in the simplest terms I love China, it was fun, but if I had to chose where to live I’d chose the US because it seems easier to live here.
                Kaire 2015


 
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