Springfield, Ohio - If you'd like to learn about the culture, the people and the beauty of China, just ask one of the 31 Wittenberg University students lucky enough to experience a trip of a lifetime during an 11-day tour of East Asia. The students, most of whom are members of the men's and women's basketball teams, had the opportunity to travel the Far East as part of a $1.9 million grant from the Freeman Foundation given to Wittenberg earlier this year to support the prestigious East Asian Studies (EAS) program.
"One cannot genuinely understand nor appreciate America without allowing themselves to be subject to such a different culture," said Paul Redman, a sophomore from Huber Heights, Ohio.
Stanley Mickel, professor of languages and tour organizer, decided to have the group visit parts of the country that would show them contrasting features of modern and traditional China. They visited the cities of Shanghai, Guilin, Xian and Beijing. Shanghai and Guilin are in Southern China where rice is the traditional staple food while Xian and Beijing are in northern China where wheat, and to a lesser degree, millet are the traditional staples. Shanghai is a financial and industrial center while Guilin is the tourist center and famous for its natural beauty.
"I wanted the students to experience as much of real China as they could in the 11 days of the tour, so I arranged for us to stay in Chinese-run hotels in all four cities, rather than stay in Westernized hotels such as a Sheraton," Mickel said. "They also had the chance to discover the shops and attractions in the neighborhoods around the hotels."
"Lifestyle seemed much cheaper than the U.S.," said Van Richardson, a junior from Lebanon, Ohio. "Unlike here, no prices seemed to be set, and you could bargain for items. I was a little concerned about how we might be treated, but the natural generosity of the Chinese toward Americans became clear."
B.J. Harris, class of 2003, from Riverside, Ohio, spoke of being awed by the Great Wall of China and how photos just don't do it justice. The large apartment complexes, instead of houses also made an impression on him.
"The Chinese dress up and always look nice," he said. "The people were so respectful and polite, and it really made a good impression on us. It definitely opened my eyes."
Mickel explained that the Freeman Advisory Committee at Wittenberg decided the first group of students to travel to China should be a group that was already cohesive and used to working together. A sports team seemed ideal. Because the teams chosen play basketball, two sets of games were played in Shanghai and Beijing. The Tigers won both games against the Shanghai College of Physical Education and the Beijing Physical Education University, establishing a stellar record overseas. Before the games, the Tigers exchanged gifts with the Chinese, so shirts, key chains and bumper stickers sporting the Wittenberg logo are now in Beijing and Shanghai. The Tiger men also scored a banner from the Beijing team.
"Playing against the women in Beijing was like playing against guys in that they were very athletic, and the game got very physical. We beat them by just two points, 63-61," said Katie Rolf, a senior from Ft. Wayne, Ind. "The atmosphere was quite different than what we're used to because the gyms were small and there were no bleachers, so the fans stood around the sides of the court. The Chinese loved it when the boys dunked the ball.
"I must say that I've realized what an awesome place America is, and I feel extremely blessed to have been born here," Rolf added. I think this trip helped me realize we need to be more aware of common routines that we take for granted here in the U.S."
Wittenberg Students interested in being considered for a similar trip next year should contact Linda Lewis, associate professor of sociology and director of the EAS, (937) 327-7055.