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January Interim: A Tale of Three Cities

January 29, 2015

It’s hard to believe that something as much fun as traveling halfway across the world to the cities of Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai can be considered a class credit, but I can say for certain that it was the best learning experience of my life. I am so grateful that GSSM offers January Interim for students to take “out of the ordinary” classes. From ballroom dancing or SCUBA diving to making origami or cooking, Interimis a time to try new things—and nothing is more offbeat than immersing yourself in the culture of China!

I was asked if our trip, led by Dr. Godwin, met my expectations. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect other than to drink lots of tea—whic h we did! Tea was served at every meal, and we even visited a Tea House to watch a Chinese Tea Ceremony. Our group of thirty-five had an action-packed week.

During our three days in Beijing, we learned the history of the Chinese dynasties while visiting the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall. The architecture of the ancient structures was unbelievably detailed and colorful. Climbing the Great Wall took a little concentration because all of the steps were intentionally built unevenly as an attempt to trip invading armies, but the mountain views were well worth the trek. Our group even got exposure to the lives of the local people: we took a rickshaw ride in the oldest neighborhood of Beijing, the Hutongs, and ate dinner at a local family’s home.

Xi’an was only a quick flight away from Beijing. Although very smoggy, Xi’an was also teeming with history. We got to race around the Xi’an city wall, try our own hand at Chinese calligraphy and visit the Terracotta Warrior Museum. Xi’an is famous for its noodles, which we tried lots of, in addition to unusual kinds of dumplings, including mushroom, bacon, and tofu.

My favorite city came last: Shanghai. Shanghai was much different from Xi’an and Beijing. We forgot the history lessons and were entranced by the labyrinth of skyscrapers. Shanghai is the most populous city in the world and has developed dramatically within the last three decades. Combined with frequent rainfall, everything appeared shiny and new. We got an aerial view of the city, filled with buildings  resembling varying geometric shapes, from the 100th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Building. We shopped for silk, spent time on one of the world’s longest shopping streets, where we met some tourists from South Korea, viewed the skyline at night on a boat ride, and took the metro to the Shanghai Museum.

After a thirteen-hour plane ride back to the States, almost missing our connecting flight, and acquiring a new addiction to traveling the world, I was glad to come back to GSSM with the experience of a lifetime. I can’t wait for next year’s trip!

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