AUGUST 25, 1997
A Semester Apart
by Sarah Beran
Three WHS Alumni Study in Beijing
As most college students are settling back into their dorm rooms and reacquainting themselves with the all night pizza deliveries and solitary nights spent in the library, three WHS alumni are preparing for four months of study in the People's Republic of China. Russell Needham of Washington State University, Lee Sutton of University of Puget Sound, and I (of Claremont McKenna College) arrived in Beijing on Aug. 23 after a fourteen hour flight across the Pacific. Our entire fall semester will be spent at the Beijing University of Physical Education, where we will take courses ranging from the economic and government of modern China to the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy.
Twenty one college students from around the world are participating in the Beijing study abroad program. We will stay in dormitories at the University, which is located in the northwest corner of Beijing, near other universities and the Summer Palaces. For centuries, the University's grounds were used for hunting and recreation by the emperors of China who resided nearby at the Forbidden Palace. Now, the grounds are used by China's international martial arts and Olympic teams.
The purpose of this trip is not only to sharpen language skills, but also to begin to understand the cultural and historical background of the enigma that is modern China. Our courses will be taught in English by the Chinese faculty. We will also take ten hours of Chinese in the classroom a week, plus five hours of private instruction. The program focuses on exposing the students to China. Thus, none of our meals are provided, forcing us to venture out into Beijing and mingle with the population. At the beginning of the semester, we will travel to northwest China where we will stay in a Buddhist monastery for a week. Students also visit a destination far from the average tourist's path later in the semester. In the past, the program has taken participants to Inner Mongolia and the sacred mountains of Wudangshan in Central China.
China is a diverse country, containing both desert and jungle, nomad and businessman. These trips allow us to experience the diversities for ourselves, rather than reading about them in a text book.
As the leading news sources are fond of pointing out, China is at a crossroads. She is the only remaining communist superpower and her Gross National Product (GNP) is rising at a rate that assures her a key role in the future of international trade and business. So far, the People's Republic of China has managed to keep a relatively strong hold on the communist ideology while continuing to promote modernization. With the acquisition of Hong Kong, China has been forced to deal with the West and the products of capitalism. both human and economics. We would do well to watch.