On the Road With the China Study Tour

BY STEVE GEE

HLS and KSG students take a group photo by the Great Wall of China.
Migrant schoolchildren surround 1L Chris Couvelier.

Ni hao. Ni hen piaoliang. Wo mei your name duo qian. Hi. You are very pretty. I don’t have that much money. For a week over spring break, these phrases were more or less the only way for the participants of the 2007 Harvard China Study Tour to communicate with the locals. Knowing this going in, it was already clear that this trip was going to be one for the ages.

A delegation of 42 students from Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government spent their spring break together in Beijing and Xi’an under the auspices of HLS’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) and KSG’s China Caucus. Besides the eight organizers, almost none of these explorers had ever been to China before. Unique among trips of this kind, the study tour presented “the real China,” allowing participants to discover first-hand the many faces of China, not just the well-worn angle portrayed in the American media.

Between a trip to a microfinance project in rural Hebei Province, visits to two of China’s largest science parks, and a meeting with part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Planning Committee, the itinerary managed to fit in all the major tourist attractions and then some. The whirlwind schedule had participants awakening earlier with each passing day, but the excitement of that day’s events invariably hushed any complaints.

As excited as these Harvard students were to be in China, China seemed equally as excited to have them as its guests. The group received many gifts and encountered many welcome signs. Perhaps most overwhelming was the enthusiasm of the middle school students at the Dandelion School, a school in Beijing serving the children of migrant workers. Upon the arrival of the tour buses, the children filling the playground rushed over to greet their visitors. The students quickly began conversations in surprisingly fluent English, and it wasn’t long before they had many of the group engaged in jump-rope, ping-pong, 4-on-4 basketball (which the Dandelion students won, despite being outmatched in size at every position), and even the Electric Slide. 1L Ryan Gauthier is even considering taking a year off law school to teach English there.

Of course, the inspiring Dandelion School was only one stop on a trip that easily interwove intellectual engagement and enjoyment of the country’s unique offerings. The Great Wall and the terracotta soldiers were fantastic, if touristy, parts of the trip. Other less frequented sites were just as unforgettable, like the side trip to Huashan, one of China’s five sacred mountains. As described by 3L Ben Barron, “Hiking to the west peak was incredible – it felt like reaching the top of China. The Daoist temples along the path and the thick fog gave the mountain a mystical feel.”

Speaking of tasting the many facets of China, it would not be appropriate to recount the trip without saying a little bit about the food. From the first meal of Peking duck to a last meal of KFC’s Peking fried chicken burrito, there was a lot of variety on the trip. A particularly adventuresome group in Xi’an followed the call of a restaurant owner as he enticed them to enter by holding a squirming bug between his fingers and mimicked popping it into his mouth. That night’s menu included a plate of those bugs, a healthy serving of dog, and the most intimate parts of a bull. With meals like that, it isn’t hard to imagine that it was at times difficult for the vegetarians on the trip to get a full stomach. Dina Awerbuch, a 2L took a positive outlook on the situation: “Despite the fact that I couldn’t eat much of the food, I still loved seeing Chinese hospitality at meals. As much effort was put into the presentation of food as its preparation.” Dina fondly recalls another special night in Xi’an. The group went to a restaurant that specializes in jiaozi or Chinese dumplings. “By the end of the evening, we had probably eaten twenty or thirty jiaozi apiece… [it’s] what I like to call The Night of Endless Jiaozi.'” For many, that was indeed a night to remember.

Since their return to campus, jet lag has not been the only factor preventing many of the travelers from returning to their old schedules. 2L Emily Lee explains, “We had more fun than I ever thought imaginable. It’s been really hard to come back to the States and hit the books because, since landing back in Boston, all I can think about is all my China memories and the laughs, the sights, the experiences.”

One method the foreign travelers have developed for coping with this syndrome is to transplant activities from China to the HLS campus. You might see a group of people on Jarvis Field playing a paddle game they have lovingly named Flump. Towards the end of April, you could participate in Tai Chi, much the same as one would in the Temple of Heaven Park. Please join in on these activities so that you too can enjoy a little taste of this trip to an East beyond the East Coast.

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