Postcard from Abroad: Beijing

TLEP trip to China is life-altering

By Stormy Weiss

As college students, many of us seek out majors we love and experiences that will shape us in the future. Luckily enough Tourism, Leisure and Event Planning (TLEP) students have such a wide array of options to choose from throughout the program at Bowling Green State University.  

We are not limited to one small part, but instead three different main options. Whether we want to be event planners, hospitality staff, activity directors or travel agents, the possibilities are endless. Our major aims to do so many things such as bring people together, help others experience the world and keep an open mind at all times. As a college student, and as a person, travel is an extremely beneficial part of learning and changes us in so many ways.

As s group of TLEP students last summer we were given the opportunity to experience what Beijing had to offer us. Before we left we had several meetings that were beneficial information sessions, but I am not sure if meetings will ever prepare anyone for such a life changing journey. This 10- day trip was filled with so many activities and experience that will never receive enough justice by only being read.  

Our lovely friends at Beijing Union University (BUU) gave us accommodation and welcomed us with open arms. We were lucky enough to stay in a residence hall that housed international students from all over the world who have similar interests as us. During those 10 days, we visited multiple tourist attractions such as the Temple of Heaven, Forbidden Palace, Silk Street Market, China National Convention Center, Beijing National Aquatics Center, Beijing Zoo and, of course, the Great Wall of China. Not only were we able to experience these beautiful destinations, but we also toured 5-star hotels, learned calligraphy, sat in on BUU's event planning class, took a traditional tea class, and visited local markets.

Each of these activities provided some type of learning experience that will forever follow each of us in the future. Our time in Beijing was meant to give us a better international perspective on our major, but in the end gave us more than we could have ever hoped for.  

While we attended classes and experienced so many different things, we really got insight on how our daily lives differ. It was such a beautiful realization to see how positive most of these changes were and how it affected each day. There were a handful of culture shocks that each of us experienced, even some of our new friends were in shock when it came to our actions. As open-minded individuals, we often found out how these differences were actually positive changes from what we are so familiar with.  

For instance, most foreigners will probably mention something about traffic and driving, but what about all of the people walking and riding bikes? The fact that so many people in Beijing do not own cars and tend to walk, take public transportation, or ride bikes everywhere makes it a healthy change instead of how we usually live day to day, driving everywhere alone. It could be the size of Bowling Green, but we often do not spend a lot of time walking places or even taking public transportation. These simple differences were seen as good things, because so many of us spend this time alone in our cars. Social interaction is an important part of each day and of course walking or riding bikes is an overall benefit for not only our health, but the environment as well. Getting around Beijing is an adventure because it is such a large city. Due to the size, it is very busy which makes you become more alert about your surroundings and able to make quick decisions.  

Of course, traffic will differ in any country you visit, but most of us Americans do not realize that even body language and simple phrases also differ. As a group of Americans, we often expressed ourselves verbally and were extremely confused when we learned that at some instances, the Chinese did not. Instead many of our new friends and faculty did not need to speak in order to get their point across, it was shown by body language more often than not. This is something that was noticeable throughout our trip and in the end came down to the fact that this beautiful country and its people were more focused on simplicity and getting to the point. Many conversations were filled with meaning and ideas to ponder, not just what happened yesterday or who did what. Communication became an entirely new topic for us, we even downloaded the country's most popular app, WeChat. Assuming whoever is reading this is more than likely in America, their phone probably has Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Apple Pay, Skype, Twitter, iMessage, and whatever else they may need to get through the day. WeChat is practically all of our apps put together, which makes life so much easier. WeChat users can send photos, messages, call, video chat, pay for bills, make public posts, and much more just from this one amazing application. China takes communication to a whole new level, and it is free.Each of these activities provided some type of learning experience that will forever follow each of us in the future.

Even the food we ate each day, whether we realized it or not, had a special purpose. In the States we often are on the run and need to eat quickly, so we focus on convenience. Whereas in China they focus on the benefits it has to the body. To be fair, they did have McDonald's and Pizza Hut, but these were vastly different than what we experience here. Not only was the food good for you, but when we had dinner we usually sat at a large circular table with a Lazy Susan and we shared each dish. This was extremely beneficial for those of us who were not accustomed to sharing our food or being so social at dinner. Tap water was also not common, warm water on the other hand was something we became acquainted to as time went by. If warm water was a no go, then it was always bottled water that was the choice pick. Free of hard chemicals, easier for the body to digest and, overall, a healthier option.  

There were so many differences that really stood out to us, but there were small ones that some of us did reflect on from time to time. We visited a local park and instead of just seeing nice surroundings and locals, we found that a group danced in the park each night. It was like a community event and they welcomed us with open arms. There were certain preservations tactics used and some that we suggested which could be helpful in the far future.  

At the zoo, there were not as many materialistic options or environments, it was nature focused and consisted of different types of animals. We were given the opportunity to tour the China National Convention Center and the Water Cube, both of which had advanced technology, different methods of working, and even very distinct and beautiful features we rarely see in the States. Lastly, most may think it is a major difference, but it is actually one of the more positive changes experienced in many foreign countries.  

Restrooms are nothing short of lazy and extravagant in America. From sitting down, to using half a roll of toilet paper just because it is there, or the signs saying “We are not responsible for lost belongings.” In China, toilet paper was not a given in some bathrooms. Customers or visitors were meant to buy and bring their own where ever they went, which is technically better for environmental awareness. If a person has to buy their own paper, they are not going to go overboard and use it as freely as they would if it was a free amenity. This is often times annoying to carry around with you, but helps save the sewer systems from being overworked and does not cause nearly as much waste. Another benefit is the placement of the squat toilet; it does not strain one's body as our Western toilets tend to do. Plus, there is a lever to step on in order to flush, this way there is no reason to lift your leg up to the Western lever and struggle to push the handle.

Overall, none of us had the exact same thoughts or experiences, but I believe I speak for all of us when I say that it was a life-changing experience and we are so very thankful to have been able to take this amazing trip. It is not only the trip and activities that made this journey so life altering, but it is now possible for each of us to say we have friends and inspirational educators in China. We are given a finite amount of time that we are able to experience and college is full of opportunities to take hold of. Luckily enough, the members of our group did exactly that and not only grew as a group, but individually as well. We have firsthand experience that learning in a classroom will teach you, but it will never teach you what traveling to a foreign country and spending time with locals will. Similarities and differences are prominent during travels, but they make for open mindedness, new culture understandings and life lessons. As Henry Miller once said, “One's destination is not a place, but a new way of seeing things.”