“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

How true this quote is. After being home a month now, I have had plenty of time to reflect on my travels and enjoy the little things I missed while being abroad. Although I saw the beauty in our experiences before my head hit my pillow, I truly do value the life I have in America a whole lot more. There are numerous differences between our two cultures that I had to adjust to along with similarities that connect us and made me feel more at home.

One of the cultural differences I noticed while abroad was related to the influence that relationships have. It is a part of the culture to build relationships that decisions can be based on and business deals can be made.  Your connections can get your foot in the door in America but in China if you know the right people you can be set for life. Along with those relationships comes a great sense of hospitality so those relationships can be built on a good foundation. Other major differences in culture I noticed were in the areas of health, religion, family life, education, and of course food. That is a lot to cover so I want to focus on the aspect of education.

In China there is an immense amount of pressure placed on students to succeed which takes care of classroom management issues you may have. I believe students are well behaved due to the drive by outside forces to excel. You still encounter behavior problems but far fewer than I’ve seen in classrooms in America. When we visited the classrooms in China students were hardly distracted when we entered the room. I know I have been in classrooms at home where kids would have been asking the teacher a million questions and it would be a struggle to regain their attention after a guest entered the room.

Another factor, they have to help cater to behavioral issues and classroom management, is the position of a classroom monitor. The classroom monitor is a student selected by their peers to help lead the classroom. This student is the one called on to welcome visitors into their class or if the class is noisy they step in to quiet them down. There is a small group of students who support the classroom monitor and teacher. Serving as additional leaders, they help manage the class. I really liked this concept and think it would be a good one to implement in my classroom. I would alter a few things, such as rotating jobs periodically, but I think when students are put in a leadership role or given an important task great things will happen. Not only can it help manage student behavior but it can help teach important skills such as responsibility, leadership, and team work.  

Another difference I noticed in the schools dealt with the dress code. Not the dress code of the students but of the teachers. I saw some pretty short skirts and shorts that would never be allowed in the schools in America. The clothes were a little too revealing at times. Only a couple of teachers dressed in the expected traditional attire of business apparel. There seemed to be more of a relaxed approach to the dress code.  On the opposite end, teachers are very competitive and focused when it comes to teaching. Many participate in teaching competitions. To my understanding teachers can submit lessons into a teaching skill competition to be evaluated based on the lessons merits and shortcomings. They carry out the lesson in front of an expert and winners are selected based on the results. There is a lot of glory that goes with having the highest marks. I think the teachers are always striving for excellence and looking for ways to improve. With so many students they have to be on top of their game and have a bag full of tricks at all times.

This brings us to another major difference I noticed: the class sizes were huge! With some on the verge on 65 students, there was a lot for one teacher to manage. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much technology present but they certainly made up for it with books. Each student in the high school had books piled high on their desks and tubs next to the desks for the overflow. These books helped the students study for the harder content. Students spend many extra hours a day studying, once they reach middle school age and on into high school. The content seems to be more in depth and foreign languages, such as English, is taught starting in 3rd or 5th grade for public schools and as early as kindergarten for private schools. English is one of the core classes students participate in.

Even though there were many differences in the schools there was also a vast amount of similarities. Students dressed in western style clothes or uniforms like I would have seen in the States at Joshua Academy. I was surprised to see teachers use similar techniques to the ones we are being taught. It was like reinforcement to what I have been learning in my classes at USI. I saw teachers using cues for classroom management such as shaking a tambourine during a preschool class and clapping or holding up a hand for elementary students signaling time to be quiet and listen. A couple of the teachers used the I, We, We, You approach. I even saw a classroom game of Jeopardy being played. Just like schools in America there was more variety in the activities with the younger grades compared to the high school. And unfortunately, one major similarity is that the main way for assessment is through exams and testing.

Another relationship, in the teaching strategies and styles, is that teachers don’t rely on just one. They are flexible and use many strategies and teaching styles. Teachers are explicit in their instruction, teaching knowledge directly, but they have also adopted some heuristic techniques where they lead the students in the right direction without telling them the answer. They give clues inspiring students to think by themselves. This is a strategy I really like as it gives students a deeper understanding of the content.  

With the lower levels, the kindergarten/preschool we visited reminded me of USI’s Childcare Center, except on a larger scale to accommodate more students. It had sensory tables, areas for dramatic play, art areas, reading area, blocks area, and much more. Each area was well supplied with the appropriate manipulatives and there were plenty of teachers around to assist. At this particular school a lot of college students come to do research projects and observe, so there is always a lot going on. Outside the building was plenty of opportunity for children to play. Whether it be in supervised areas like the rope climbing, walking path and pool section or in the free play area of the playground, there was much to do. I believe the students’ development is well supported by very educated teachers. Along with the similarities in the curriculum and layout, there are similarities present in the management styles. Charts are used to manage the flow of children from station to station. Just like USI’s childcare center, they only allow a certain number of students at a station at one time and manipulatives from that station stay in that area.

Now that I have had experience with the culture and schools of China I can take what I learned and share with future students. I would like to develop some sort of a culture corner or station to implement into my classroom. I could present a few basic words around the room in a foreign language and introduce cultural traditions and relate it to the curriculum. I want to help promote the learning of foreign languages at a young age because I think it is a very marketable skill and can open up the world to students. I also want to make global news and issues a part of my class so my students are more aware of what is going on in the world around them. As I mentioned earlier, I can also use some of the strategies I saw to make myself a better teacher. I will be more aware of cultural differences among my students. In addition, this trip makes me think more about the effects home life can have on a student’s education.

I can also take what I learned and apply it to my life. I learned I can survive on just the minimum. Now that I am home I am trying to cut back on the products I use such as running water when it isn’t necessary and wasting paper. Being in China made me realize how valuable those items truly are and how rare they can be for some. We are very lucky to have running water at our finger tips, toilet paper in every restroom (that can be flushed), laundry machines, wifi, an abundance of food, and other privileges we tend to take for granted. I am much more aware of the wide gap in economic status of the people and parallel government issues and public laws our two countries have. (I have to say I have never seen a child on the street, homeless with his parents asking for money. Seeing a child on the streets is heartbreaking especially when they are so helpless. In the States something would have been done for the child but it’s just how life is sometimes for them.)

While there are many differences in the cultures, I also found the beauty in the similarities. People are people no matter where you go; having similar needs, wants, and dreams. I found it very insightful that the friends I made have very similar thoughts and feelings. I have developed a pretty good relationship with some of our language partners who are also education majors. They worry about life after graduation and finding a job just as I do. They also think about boys and gossip like most American girls I know. They worry about safety when walking on the streets, try to find the best deals, value friendships and education, and know how to find good food. Staying connected with family and friends through technology and other means is also a priority for them. I was very surprised in how closely the things we value are related even though we live so far from each other. One thing our two countries share is the want to make our guests feel welcome. I always felt welcomed and comfortable around the people we met whether on campus, in a business, or on the street.

Someone asked me if I have the travel bug now and I have to say I think I've caught it! I want to go wherever I can while I am young and capable. I got the chance to see the rich culture and history of a wonderful country and take away many aspects for improvement in my life. Hopefully I can gain more relationships like the ones I have developed to continue to give me a broader understanding of various lifestyles and to help me continue to look at life from other points of view. I think everyone should have the opportunity to travel abroad and I can’t wait to continue to share my experiences.

After getting up early to head to the airport I was able to reflect a little on the trip. This trip has been very eye opening and eventful! I realized how important it is to keep an open mind when traveling because you never know what you may encounter. I was trust into all sorts of experiences. (I have to say my public speaking has improved!) All the sights we have seen and places we have traveled have shown me the vast history of the country and the flourishing culture. One day I hope to be able to share my findings with my students.

Among some of the other opportunities I really enjoyed, was meeting our language partners and developing friendships. After sharing our experiences and lifestyles we found we have a lot in common. It was good to see those similarities, as it makes the world seem more connected. Their perspectives on government, life, and relationships was interesting to hear. It helps me put myself in their shoes and try to see things a different way, especially political rules and cultural habits. 

Learning the culture and the language posed a great opportunity for me. Being submerged in it made it easier to remember everything and made the content even more current and applicable. I highly suggest, if you are trying to learn a new language, that you go to a country that speaks the language. I think if I stayed longer my Chinese would be pretty good! 

I've experienced some delicious food, made many new friends, been exposed to some traditions, traveled to several sites, and been a part of a pilot program dedicated to helping future students gain opportunities like I had here in Chongqing! I was very honored to be a part of such an important trip. I think it's valuable to step outside your comfort zone and experience new things and this trip provided me with numerous chances to do so. It gives me a better understanding of the world and shows me the importance of the events of the past and future. 

During the flight it was weird to hear so much English, and eat more "normal food!" I am slowly being weened back into American food and ways. I have already noticed many differences and I'm sure in the next month or so I will come across a lot as I readjust. It feels great to be home to see my family and friends and I'm already in contact with many of my friends from China. :) 

With a morning off, it was a great day to sleep a little later and search for shops and lunch. We were happy after we came across a great tasting noodle restaurant. If we were here longer I'm sure a lot of time would be spent there! In the afternoon new students were introduced to us and a trip to the school's Ethnic Culture Museum took place. The traditional clothing from many of the regions is very beautiful and normally very practical for the environment. Some had intriguing stories behind them. For instance, one had bubbly looking scales on it because these women used to be mermaids but they decided to become human and now missed their scales. As you can tell we heard some fascinating tales! 

Dinner tonight was great! It was our last dinner as a group so it fun to talk about our trip and joke around. We experienced fine cuisine including duck! It was a very good meal to end our trip on! 

Starting bright and early the traveling never stopped! We visited the Summer Palace and one of the imperial gardens first. At this location we were able to take a boat ride and see the Palace and 17 Arches Bridge. On the bridge elders fly kites and I met an 87 year old man who comes every day to fly his. The 9th arch on the bridge was designated for the emperor only and the farther out you got the less your rank. This was also true of the heights of the buildings we saw today; the higher the better. We also saw trees dating back over 500 years! An interesting story I heard while on the boat is that the emperor had to treat the people kindly because he was like a boat and they were the water. If he treated them right they would help him float!

The second stop was the ancient city, otherwise known as Chairmen street. This was a fantastic place to find bargains and lots of souvenirs! It was nothing but shops upon shops! And a street of food and more food. We only stayed on the main roads but by looking at a map I could see we barely covered any ground. The architecture of the shops was very beautiful and more like what I expected China to look like! 

Down the road from our shopping adventures, we went into the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall. This is a museum dedicated to showing Beijing's progress and houses a large model of the city. Across from the museum and ancient streets Tiananmen Square awaited us. This location is 44 hectors and can accommodate 1 million people at a time. It is a place where foreign leaders are welcomed. It was neat to see that, whatever leader is visiting at the time, their countries' flag will be flown. 

We entered the Emperor city next where lots of emperors have lived. Apparently both emperor and empress have their own building. Each building is very ornate and traditional. Dragon symbols represent the emperor and the Phoenix symbols represents the empress. We were able to walk on brick courtyard that was over 500 years old! That was a lot of history to be walking on! We also went through another imperial garden which was home to a Love tree. The Love tree is two trees intertwined repressing the connection of the emperor and empress. 

Our last stop was the Olympic square. The Water Cube and Bird's Nest are an awesome sight to see! It was cool to be in a place I'd seen on tv. We also saw the building the gymnastics were head in, the Olympic Ring tower, Seven Star Hotels, and other structures build just for the 2008 Beijing Olympics!

Since it was my Birthday today the girls made me a sign to carry around to each location to take pictures with. The group also sang Happy Birthday to me in Chinese. In front if the Water Cube I was able to fly a kite thanks to Lin Pang! To end my wonderful day we had an expensive meal and stopped by a cake shop to get some dessert. I got a piece of cake with chocolate, a strawberry, and a cherry on top! I will always remember this birthday because I was able to walk through so much history and where many accomplished and ordinary people have walked before! 

Things I learned today: 
- In the old days women would bind their feet so they looked smaller. Women with big feet couldn't marry so they went through a lot of pain to try and make their feet small. 

Leaving our new campus home in Chongqing was bittersweet. We left as the sun rose and flew to Beijing where we indulged in some American cuisine and walked on the Great Wall. For lunch we needed to be quick so we decided to grab McDonalds. At home you can find a McDonalds on practically every other block but here in Beijing we struggled and our quick meal turned out to last a little longer than expected. 

Our flight was also slower than expected. We had to sit on the plane for an hour and a half before it finally took off. Once we were in the air though the view was pretty spectacular. I was able to see where the two rivers collide and locate Downtown Chongqing where we looked through expensive stores on an earlier day. One river was brown and the other green so from above you could see the division whereas from the ground it was hard to tell when we were there. Traveling has ruined my suitcase and Isaac had to fix my zipper today for me. I thought I was going to have to buy a new one after all its been through but luckily with the help of my pocket knife he got it fixed. After worrying about it not working, I scared him and almost hugged him for his good work! I'm relieved I won't have to buy a new one right now! 

The Great Wall was not the flat, easy to maneuver on, lets take a stroll type of wall like I expected! It was more like strenuous, straight up stairs, and scary heights! It was all worth it though for the views we saw, and the towers we went in. It was neat to see the wall curve around the mountain tops. I have to say though after the last few days my legs hurt worse than even after some of the worst sport practices I've been through! It's all worth it though for the experience and the great things we are seeing. On the wall I liked seeing the locks inscribed with names and heart shaped locks symbolizing a married couples commitment and love. Married couples come to the wall to hang a lock along some of the chains found. Apparently the divorce rate is going up in China so this is a new trend. 

As we left the wall we encountered our first traffic jam! It was bumper to bumper vehicles slowly creeping along for over an hour. Most of us slept during that time or looked at the cool architecture and stores like "Wu Mart." The bus driver had to be super patient to make it through the traffic! We were happy to see our new nice dorms and get settled in again. 

Tonight we ran in the rain heading home from dinner!  We caved in from our Chinese food diet and had Pizza Hut! It was just what we needed to get a taste of home. Hopefully tomorrow clears up so we can accomplish our full itinerary! It's a busy day full of a lot of attractions. It'll be a Birthday I'm sure I'll always remember! 

Things I learned today: 
- There are no car seat laws for children. 
- People are used to tourists in Beijing so less stares come our way. I only had one man and a family ask to take a picture with me. I felt like a model with all the pictures the family asked to take! 
- A lot of the street venders in Beijing don't pay taxes so they illegally sell food. Tonight we saw a whole street of them pack frantically and rush away as the police came. 

As we traveled to the Ancient Town and Golden Blade Gorges today we wound around many small roads. I've noticed that it is not uncommon to pass other vehicles in spots we would consider very dangerous. Like on a tight curve where you can't see oncoming traffic! Or to have construction that pushes traffic into the oncoming traffic lane. We arrived safely at both our destinations though. 

Our first destination was the ancient town. The 300 year old town was a nice place to walk around. We stopped at a carnival like game to show off our bow and arrow skills which was fun! I was actually able to hit the target! I have noticed a lot of games set up like this one at other popular places. Other games I've seen frequently are the popping balloons with a dart and throwing a ball to knock down lined up items. In the ancient town our group was able to eat in a restaurant over looking the creek side. We were told that when the water is lower tables are set up in the creek to eat from! I'm not sure I'd want to put my feet in after all the eels we saw in the restaurants! At this meal bamboo was the new dish we had to try and was quite delicious mixed with chicken. We were also told that the government is making a new law that requires people to eat all the food they order. After seeing how much food is normally ordered I'm not sure this is possible! 

After finishing our walk through the ancient town we drove up to the Golden Blade Gorges for our long hike. We drove back and forth along the beautiful green mountain side, slowly working our way up the mountain before arriving. Gorgeous views including waterfalls, double water falls (double dragon), a rapid river, bamboo trees, green covered mountain sides, and cavernous areas impressed our eyes. Monkeys and peacocks were there to see. Several monkeys are caged in so the rest of their family, who lives in the mountains, won't roam too far. I was able to feed one peanuts from my hand! The paths we went on were very scary at times and high above the river. Dripping water refreshingly dampened our cloths and made the scenery even more beautiful! The afternoon provided a once in a lifetime experience to see some pretty remote areas. I really enjoyed being outdoors even though we were so high at times. Walking across rope bridges, wearing a fantastic looking helmet, and being with friends made this a great trip! 

Hands coffee shop and some street venders provided us with our last meal here in Chongqing. Some of us met some new friends while out to dinner and others met up with old ones. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to everyone who has been so kind and helpful to us while we have been here. It's sad to leave but I'm anxious for the next few days in Beijing and then to see my family and friends at home! Time has flown by! 

After getting up early to prepare for the Chinese language test, I passed! I have never been so happy to get a 73! It was a test taken just for fun and I'm glad I was able to do as well as I did. In celebration of the end of our classes some of us went to the salon and had pedicures and manicures done. It was interesting to compare their technique and learn that they actually do a lot more! Jessica and I also found out that instant noodles are an international thing. We had to get something quick to eat before the closing ceremony so they served as our lunch. 

During the closing ceremony we received our transcripts and certificates of completion along with hearing farewell speeches. We were asked to share our thoughts and main take aways from the trip and it was neat to hear everyone share and express what they are learning from this trip. I know I have gained a lot and I have a lot to share with not only my family and friends but also my future students. Hopefully I can encourage them to take an early interest in a foreign language and culture. It was also nice to be able to express our sincere thanks to the faculty who helped make this trip possible. I think USI and Southwest University has a great foundation to work from! 

We didn't stop the fun there! The faculty also treated us to some of Chongqing's famous hotpot for dinner. Again we were emerged in the culture and gave many toasts to show our appreciation. During this meal a couple of the dishes were quite interesting; I tried stomach, intestines, and the weirdest one, duck tongue! All three were surprisingly ok. Just a little chewy! One thing I will miss about eating here is the hot cloths you get before your meal. They make your hands feel very good and warm! We didn't try it but I learned tonight that Roses are cooked into biscuits and ate as a normal dish. Instead of roses another type of flower was served and turned out to be my favorite dish of the night. The faculty table partook in some arm wrestling with each other after the meal wound down! It was just for fun and showed friendship but it was very fun to watch. You never know what you'll see in China! 

Today was a great celebration of our accomplishments here in Chongqing and it was fun to celebrate not only with the our group but also with the teachers and faculty who made this trip so great. 

I can't help but smile when I think about my morning but the rest of the day was also good. After relaxing awhile and regaining energy the girls and I all went to pick up our presents for our teachers and browsed though some small shops. I finally bought myself a fancy umbrella so I can fit in! And just in time for the downpour we had the rest of the day. We also studied for our language test that is in the morning. I was able to quiz the others on their tones while practicing my pronunciation. I am only taking the test for fun but I'd still like to show my teacher my appreciate for his time by demonstrating some knowledge of the material! 

This evening Mrs. Reitman, Jessica, and I were invited to attend a thank you dinner with the dean of education and some of his faculty. They treated us to some pretty fancy dishes filled with delicious food. During the appropriate time, I was able to make a toast to the dean thanking him for his hospitality. I hope the relationship USI has built with Southwest University will continue to grow because I know they are anxious to host our students in the future and a lot of the students here in China would love to come to USI! Some of those students include our language partners who visited tonight to exchange gifts and say goodbye. It was very sad to say farewell but I know we can keep in contact with the technology we have today. I am happy I met such wonderful people! 

On another note, on the news today we were able to watch president Barack Obama meet with the Chinese President in the United States. I think it's neat that we are here in China while our president was meeting with our host countries' president. I have to say I am a lot more aware of world news! 

I have a long night of studying ahead after all the fun I had today! Hopefully we will all do well on our tests and enjoy the closing ceremony. 

This morning Jessica and I met Nancy (English name) for an outing to the mountain! This trip was so amazing it deserves its own post and I am sure I won't do our experience justice in my descriptions but I'll try! After hopping on the city bus and arriving at the bottom of the mountain we boarded cable cars to ride up the mountain. I ended up in an orange cable car by myself so I had little to distract me from the heart pounding height. It was thrilling to ride up the mountain; it felt like going up a roller coaster. Beneath us, as we left the city behind, cornfields appeared, frogs croaked in a swamp, birds sang through the trees, and people went about their day in scattered buildings. It grew peaceful as we left the noises of the city and began hearing signs of nature. Our trip in the cable cars took about 25 minutes and that was just enough time to take in the view of the city and mountains. It was also enough time for my stomach to nervously do some flips and turns as I took in this bird's eye view! 

At the top we were welcomed by the sound of a rooster crowing and entered Jinyun mountain park. As we embarked on our journey up the mountain we passed several statues and carvings, people engaging in Tai Ji and a worship building. In and near the worship building people lit incense to ask for a long life for their parents, for wealth, a beautiful future, safety for their family, and a good marriage. We discovered that many parents were there asking Buddha to help their children pass the college entrance exams. We didn't take pictures inside the buildings because of the bad luck it brings but it was great to see how they worship. Upon entering the great Buddha hall we saw the four heavenly kings which are asked to bring good weather for the crops. Good luck is brought to those who tie ribbons to trees and it is thought that what your heart wants will come true. 

Walking up the mountain on the stone stairs and winding trails makes you feel so isolated even though we were so close to the city. It was great to escape the city for awhile and relax. On our way we also saw a well that is over 1000 years old and is popular because a famous writer dipped his brush in it to write. There was so much history in this environment! 

On one peak of the mountain, after trudging up the stairs, was a statue of a lion and a tremendous view of the city! It kind of put life into focus being in such a treasured place and the wind was very refreshing! After this scenery we headed over to another peak to a temple. I was brave and went up the 8 stories to the very top! As I climbed each flight of stairs I had to keep encouraging myself to move on and not think about the danger of being so high. I was on top of the mountain and in the highest point I could go in the temple! It was like being in a movie and I couldn't get enough of the view. It's a view I will NEVER forget! I just wanted to absorb everything and take in all I could!  It was a beautiful sight to see. 

With shaking legs we descended the mountain by way of the narrow stairs and back to a bus which waited to take us down the mountain and into to the city. The road back was winding and it provide us with different scenery for about 30 minutes. It was enough time to calm down all my senses after taking in such a pure, beautiful, historic park. We conquered the mountain, hit up the market, and got lunch all before it started to sprinkle and in time to take a nap. This is a place I think everyone should see! 

Things I learned:
- Littering is not uncommon. People pick it up to exchange for money so it doesn't stay on the ground too long.