Reflection by Margaret D.

China. Although a small word, there’s thousands of years of history, culture, and people behind it. To attempt to tackle the simple basis of what China stands for without witnessing the country itself first hand is an almost impossible task. So what can you do to prepare a strong yet open idea about what China is before you visit? In our IEL Asia class, 14 of us attempted to take on the concepts of China before visiting to give us a bank of knowledge for us to pull from in the countless foreign moments we were guaranteed to encounter. We read articles, did projects, and watch short films. We spent several classes discussing international relations and how to apply yourself in intellectual situations where you do not know the language or culture. We invited guest scholars into our classroom and even hosted a week conference with 12 Chinese students from our partner school. We talked about proper customs and how to behave properly in their completely different society. Our research was extensive and our preparation seemed complete.

However, regardless of how much we read, watch, and talked about, in a greater scheme, we weren’t prepared at all. Yes, we knew how to say hello in Chinese and to not drink the water but being placed in a culture completely different from your own, regardless of what you know about it, is a complete shock. One of the most notable differences we learned about in class between China and America is the two types of opposing governmental systems. While America is based off of ideals of freedom and the individual rights of democracy, China has a more regulated communist system that monitors which types of information the public can see. This means that many social media apps and websites are blocked. While we spent several class periods talking about the communist government, it wasn’t as prevalent as expected while in China. The whole world is educated about a government that you might not really experience while in China, which has a much more open and capitalist economy in the day to life than I expected. Overall, learning about China in a classroom and learning about China from first hand experience is liking learning about two different countries. Only when you combine what you’ve learned from each will you be able to piece together an understanding of the complexity of China.

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Reflection by Alex P.

For me China was the land of the unknown. For years I had been interested in Asian culture and history. Learning about the rise and fall of dynasties in Ancient China as an elementary schooler made me become obsessed with Chinese culture, and Asian culture as a whole, so when the opportunity came up to visit China I knew I had to take it.

Preparing for the trip to China was a lot different than I expected. I thought we would learn about the history of China, and a lot about ancient China, but instead we focused more on the recent history, and about the rise of China as an economic superpower.

When people ask me about China the first thing I tell them is it’s a place you will not understand until you go there. I thought I had a good understanding of China going into the trip, but when I landed and got off the plane I realized I knew nothing. There are a couple of things that caught me off guard about China. One thing was the government. Although the Government is a communist one party system, daily life is more complicated than that, especially in economics. The next thing I was surprised about was the overwhelming amount of safety I felt. I did not feel unsafe or worried at all the whole time I was on the trip. It seemed everywhere I turned there were police. The third thing that caught me off guard was the amount of growth, and by growth I mean housing developments, and business.

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