China Trip 2017

First China Study Abroad Trip

During March 2017, 12 students, and two chaperones, Connie Li and Abraham Garrido, left for Beijing for a two-week immersion in the history, language, and culture of China. In Beijing, the students visited a neighborhood in Hutong, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, both Olympic Games' Bird’s Nest and Cube, and the Temple of Heaven. They also explored local schools, spending time in a high school classroom in Tianjin and touring a Foreign Affairs school that focuses on hospitality, finance, and tourism. The group traveled to Xi’an by overnight train. Xi’an is the home of the Terra Cotta warriors and one of the oldest mosques in China, The Great Mosque built in 742 C.E. On day ten, they traveled by air to the brightly lit representative of modern Shanghai. No time for rest here either. A course in calligraphy awaited, along with a chance to make dumplings (yum). The beautiful Yuyuan Gardens, some shopping and a visit to the Venice of China, Zhou Zhuang concluded the trip. This is an independent study course, and part of the grade is supported by the reflective blogs that follow. Please enjoy, vicariously, a trip to China.

2017 China Trip ~ March 11

Our students and chaperones left this morning for their long trip to China. 

March 12: Beijing - Shayna Benardo

Ni Hao America! Hello from the other side! As we depart from Palm Beach International I wonder what I'll be thinking when I'll be back here next. Who will I become? We checked in at 5:00 AM and got on the first plane to Dallas. The flight was so empty! I got to sit with a friend and watch Arrival (Ms. Zisk spoke very highly of it)! It was really good. 10/10 would recommend. We landed in Dallas watching a big blue star on the top of the terminal pass by. Of course. The excitement was setting in and we were boarding the plane that would take us to Beijing! Ms. Li kept saying, "The next time you step off a plane you will be in China!!" Although our seats were peppered throughout the plane, I attempted to negotiate switching seats with a man using my limited Chinese communication skills.... I started off by asking him if he could speak English. The man said he didn't want to switch but suddenly another man let me switch seats with him so I could sit next to somebody I knew! So we thanked him by saying xiexie. He sort of smiled a little bit. In a way that was like "you're welcome also you sound so cute trying to speak Chinese." His face said "no problem" but his eyes said "lol." Surprised he switched to be in a middle seat, that was really very kind of him.
What a long flight. I mean loooong. 14 hours. Felt like years. The flight was very smooth and the flight crew was very accommodating! They even brought us ice cream. A friend describes the experience as "hellish," and "demonic." It is true that this was a ridiculous amount of time to spend on an airplane. After hour 5, we all were so done with this flight. The hours couldn't pass by slower. The worst part was I couldn't sleep! But you know what? It was all completely worth it. After 14 long hours, we touched down in Beijing. A cool yet refreshing wind rushed through the space between the airplane hatch and the terminal. Cheeks were flushed and exuberant looks were shared. We made it.
We strolled through the airport and saw the opportunity to use a bathroom. Some of you may not be aware of the potty situation here in China, but it is nothing you'd see in America... Look it up. We all laughed about it and went on to immigration services. But they didn't let me through :( JUST KIDDING Its all good. We all made it through and met with our new Rustic Pathways tour guides and chaperones! Kevin and Jessie. Two very helpful, friendly and happy guides. After taking an hour ride to find out Traditional Style Hotel in Beijing, we set out to find dinner. We found an incredible dumpling place and everyone got plates of dumplings. There were so. many. dumplings. But no one is complaining about that! A couple of Chinese folk asked if they could take our picture. We of course said yes! It was a really funny experience! We walked back to our hotel, and now, here I am. Sitting on my bed typing this. Tomorrow: the Great Wall of China. I cannot even express my excitement! Thank you in advance to everyone who made this trip possible. I am so grateful for this incredible opportunity.

With love from China,

Shayna Benardo

March 13: Beijing - Michael Berube

As we start our second day in Beijing with a traditional Chinese Breakfast and visit the Hutong neighborhood close to our hotel to begin the big day to the Wall. On the way to the Wall, we saw the rural areas outside Beijing. At the wall, we got our things off the bus to head over to the “ski” gondola. As I was feeling tired from the airplane ride, I was looking forward to taking the easy route up the mountain, but seemingly from everyone else’s excitement they all wanted to take the long hike up the stairs. I decided I might as well climb too, because of this once in a lifetime opportunity to see this massive structure. When we got up ,to the top, I realized how remarkable this structure truly is. It was incredible how this thing has held up over thousands of years in such good condition. We walked with our guides for about 3 miles along the wall, which took a long time. Realizing how little we just covered shows how this truly is one of the seven wonders of the world.

March 14: Beijing - Sarah Bowlby

As day four comes to a close the activity level has not dwindled! The day commenced with a breakfast at the hotel and straight to the Chinese foreign affairs school. I thought the school looked like a hotel with several stories. Some students in the English program greeted us at the entrance and guided us to the tea room which consisted of burning incense, violin concertos playing, and various teas. The teacher helped us decipher which pot was intended for the tea type. I learned that the boys and girls hold the tea cups, and pots differently and the key to proper tea consumption is three sips. The whole experience was very relaxing.

Following the tea making was dumpling making! Aprons? Check! Chef hats? Check! All of us we're now ready to begin the dumpling making! The chef demonstrated the proper technique for dumpling making. After three tries I was successful in making the swan shaped dumpling!

Next on the itinerary was lunch served family style (the traditional Chinese way), and a subway ride straight to the Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. Stretching over a mile long the city was nothing short of spectacular! Each palace was uniquely crafted. Although it is hard to choose, my personal favorite was the second one with Emperors chair inside. The walk carried onto the top of a small mountain where you could lookout and marvel the forbidden city and surrounding areas of Beijing. Cherry blossoms, mountains, skyscraper, and thousand year old buildings were all in one camera shot. The whole city left me in awe.

Our day concluded with shopping and eating dinner in the Hutongs. It was such an incredible experience to be immerse in the culture, communicate with store workers, and order food. Personally I know little to no Chinese so it was amazing to see how much humans communicate with hand gestures and facial expressions. The workers were super accommodating and tried hard to understand what I was trying to ask. I would say that this day was not only successful, but one to remember!

March 15: Tianjin - Brandon Corry

A Visit to a Chinese High School

We woke up this morning early enough to see the sun rising above the city. It was a beautiful event and we were lucky to see it, as the air pollution we are experiencing in Beijing is practically unnoticeable. During breakfast, I drank warm milk packaged in a plastic pouch, something that would be normally outside of my comfort zone, but that I ended up enjoying. As the bus encroaches on the train station that will bring us to Tianjin, my classmates and I let out some "oohs" and "aahs" over the complex's magnitude. There was a constant flow of people in and out of the enormous station.
When we entered the platform where we were to board the train, it felt as if we had traveled 50 years into the future; American trains pale in comparison to the ones here. As the train we boarded accelerated, we watched objects flash past us faster and faster until our eyes could only catch a frame of some of the closer things. The 30 minute ride was so amusing that it felt like it lasted 30 seconds. The quick approach to TianJin gave us a visual of the transition to more polluted air.
When we arrived at the school we noticed how large the school was. We initially walked to the sports field, where the students had a beautiful view of the city skyline. The first exposure to the school's students occurred when we participated in an activity intended to help students focus before class. After the focusing

activity, we were lead to the school's history museum. The school we visited is over one hundred years old and was an all women's school until China's cultural revolution. The students were extremely nice to us as we walked through the hallways. When I was introduced to the student that would be my personal assistant, Tony, I was greeted with generous gifts, including a notebook signed by his friends and him.
At the start of the geography class I attended, the teacher called the class to attention and the students uniformly bowed in respect to him. Although, as the material was being taught, students were still able joke with the teacher in a respectful manner that did not degrade the learning environment. Throughout the fast-paced class, the assistants helped us understand what the teacher was discussing; Tony helped me learn about the importance of geographical features in controlling populations.
We reconvened with the class near the end of their lunch break, when we got to see the students' more human and teenage-like sides. The students made jokes with each other, talked about their interests in sports, and even played us acoustic versions of Justin Bieber's Love Yourself and a Chinese song I am not familiar with. What was even more meaningful was how they had learned music without any assistance from teachers or their school, because in China, schools want all their students to focus their energy on academic subjects. As we prepared to the leave the school, we took photographs and exchanged contact information with our newly found friends! To complete our immersion in the school, we participated in a Tai Chi exercise with the school's PE department head. As a whole, the experience was very eye-opening to the culture of the Chinese youth and how they interact with foreigners and adults.

Brandon Corry

March 16: Temple of Heaven - Andrew Johnson

Being on the opposite side of the world with eleven of your classmates is anywhere but normal, but today we had a fairly normal start. As usual, we walk past the lobby from our room to find the hotel café and eat breakfast as a group, all preparing for the day ahead. The plan was to head to the Temple of Heaven and then to the Pearl Market. From there, we would go straight to an acrobatic performance and hopefully make it back to the hotel with time to get dinner. With much to do in the day we set out ready to see as much we could.

First stop: The Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is an interesting story because on the way up to the temple, we found a park with workout sets and seemed to be a hangout spot for the local retirees. There we found people doing tai qi, playing oriental instruments, dancing, pullups, crazy splits on bars, cracking whips and gambling on ma jiang. Everything in the park seemed to work together to create one big society and everything made the park the place to be. These people were some of the nicest so far, some asking for pictures of us lifting weights with them or attempting to crack a whip. We felt welcome here. This park was the best spot to be, only to realize we weren’t even at our final destination for the morning.

The Temple of Heaven can only be described from pictures. The temple was one of the largest buildings we have seen so far and the architecture was one of the best. The sheer size and craftsmanship that went into the construction about 600 years ago (1420) was still clear in our eyes. Enjoy this cheesy tourist picture of me in front of the temple, and we are on to the next place.

The Pearl Market was a complete transition from ancient architecture. The market was full of vendors selling the same things as the person to their right. But to understand our unhealthy obsession with this market, we must go back to the beginning of the year in our Chinese 3 class back at Oxbridge. We gathered in the classroom one day, the same way as we always do and we start talking about the China trip and what we hope to gain. We went around the room one by one and the answers we meaningful for the most part including “an understanding of their history” or “get to say I climbed the Great Wall”. Then Ms. Li got to me, and as a joke I said “I want a fake pair of Yeezys”. Yeezys are the shoe designed by Kanye West and are almost impossible to buy without $1300 to your name. When we walked into the Pearl Market, almost every vendor there was selling these fake Yeezy shoes and we knew we made it.

About half the group bought these fake shoes and never looked back. The vendors were kind but aggressive with their prices, by that I mean they started prices at 700 RMB and I haggled them down to 100 RMB for the shoes. The shoes made my day and soon after, we left for the next stop.

The final stop of the day was an acrobatic show in the center of Beijing. The acrobats were some of the most incredible athletes I have seen, some were doing flips through 10 foot loops, 14 people on a bicycle, balancing 5 chandeliers on all fours and their head, and don’t get me started on the five people riding motorcycles in a steel ball. The most awe-inspiring moves from this group of people and we had no clue what the storyline of the show was supposed to be. This performance by far was one of my favorite moments of the trip so far and I hope the rest of our time here can live up to this.

hope you have enjoyed my experience from the other side of the world and to my family reading this right now, I miss you and can’t wait to see you soon. Have a great time in San Francisco!


Andrew Johnson

March 17: A Tunnel of Social Commentary - Brendan Outlaw

Well hello! Brendan Outlaw here ready to start my blog. My father requested that I write this super professionally and to take whatever steps I can to shine amongst my peers, but I’m just going to write and let him get laughed at by all the other parents for me ratting him out here. I did consider myself unlucky that I was given train day as my day to blog, but fortunately through the guidance and wisdom of Mr. Garrido I have been bestowed with a very interesting experience, many noteworthy pictures, and something to write about.

Today we started out strong with a later time set for leaving the hotel. It allowed us to get some extra sleep which was very nice. Breakfast was good as per usual, and finally we checked out. Our first real activity was visiting the art district of Beijing. It was very reminiscent of

Windwood or Art Bazil in Miami. After the group went on the hunt for an art gallery to begin our daily adventure with, we split into groups. Having experienced a day of one on one time with Mr. Garrido while looking at art briefly due to us falling slightly behind the group due to discussion, I decided I was best off, for the sake of not only this blog but also my own personal experience, grouping up with Mr. Garrido and checking out all the art in the area as opposed to just that gallery. Needless to say, that decision provided me with a lot to write about.

First we began by laughing about getting lost and what you can find as a result of it. There is a very unique aspect to Mr. Garrido’s way of thinking and looking at life; it is admirable and fascinating. Almost every word that comes out of his mouth is worth listening to, and I had a whole hour to listen. He and I share similar views on life making him very easy to get along with. We wandered and discussed the art we saw and how interesting the world around us is. After finding a gallery he particularly was fond of, he used his limited knowledge of the Chinese language to ask the gallery displayers who the artist was, only to find out he was standing directly next to him leading to a showering of compliments and discussion about the art. Later we went shopping for pendants and other small things to buy for everyone back home.

We had a particular shop in mind, it was one that we passed on the way down to the gallery we had all split up at. Seeing as we had been following our tour guide, Kevin, on the way up, we found it very easy to get lost on the way back. That actually ended up leading to the highlight of the day, the super creepy and excessively dirty tunnel. This tunnel may not have looked like much, but that’s where we saw all the real art. I’ll turn some of the pictures in with this blog, hopefully they are allowed through. Most of what we saw was graffiti, but it was mostly social outcries. The most thought provoking though was the constant footprints that always seemed to be next to us as we progressed. It seems simple but it made me think of Obi Wan Kenobi’s, probably the Alec Guinness one, line from Star Wars, “these are your first steps.” Which, when provided with context, is a very appropriate thought to have while literally walking down a tunnel of social commentary and outcry graffiti.

It made me think about China as a whole and how outside of the path provided to us you can find so much more. The gallery we were taken to was known for being soft towards communism, whereas a lot of the art we saw outside of where we were taken was all anti-communism or statements against the

Chinese government. It’s two sides to the same coin. One country. Two faces. We have been privileged enough to see and experience the best and brightest Beijing has to offer, but never shown the other side of China you see in the news or hear about. I suppose that’s for the best; I am a strong believer of the statement ignorance is bliss.

I’ll admit, I’ve never been fond of art, nor have I ever share an interest in or an understanding of most art. Today was different though, I actually had a great time and experienced the self-reflection art is supposed to provide. After our endeavor, Mr. Garrido and I went back to the meeting location and got hot chocolate before heading to lunch. Lunch was the same as lunch and dinner have been for the past few days but oh well, still delicious. After lunch was the Summer Palace. To be honest, I thought I’d have a lot more to write about the Summer Palace than the Art District, but unfortunately that is not the case. It was fun, but it was a routine I have become familiar with: get stunned by the view, take pictures, climb stairs, take more pictures, and walk away happy that I got to see the insanely beautiful architecture and take in the historical significance of the location.

That’s about it for today, my friends are currently yelling at me to hurry and finish so they can go to sleep so I’m going to end it here. I wrote too much, sorry to everyone who had to read that. I could’ve just said “it was fun, we saw art, palace was cool, I am on train” but it doesn’t have the same effect and once I get going it’s hard to stop. Goodnight, goodbye. Oh yeah, final thought, I’m turning 17 on the 21st. How cool is that? My birthday in a foreign country surrounded by friends and probably wearing fake Yeezy’s. I’m looking forward to that for sure.

March 18: Finding Peace at the Chinese Mosque - Jack Piazza

Today was pretty crazy to say the least. From non-stop yelling in a bartering market, to midnight room service this was the day that didn't end. From the very start I had a feeling that the city of X'ian, one of the oldest in the country, was a whole different world than Beijing. It started out with a very, very loud wake up call on the train from our most awesome tour guide Kevin. While the train cars were about the size of a handicapped bathroom stall it was easily the nicest sleep I've had all trip. Once we got off the train we took about a ten minute walk to the bus in which overpacked suitcases were tipping over every 30 seconds. We then got off the bus and went to the hotel which was much nicer then expected, the beds actually squished when we laid in them and the toilet actually flushed.

After we regrouped in the hotel we got about two hours to recharge and take a nap then it was off to the mosque and Muslim street 10 minutes away. On our beautiful walk we witnessed a bicycle crash and a little boy standing, Bare naked, in the middle of the sidewalk. Xi' An gives phenomenal first impressions. When we finished the walk we found ourselves at the Chinese mosque, when Kevin gave the tickets and we all walked in and around it, it was breathtaking. There were perfectly groomed plants and stone arches that added to the view. Walking around gave each person a certain sense of peace that was much needed during A hectic day. But what I found most interesting about the whole mosque experience wasn't the aesthetics but the people. The people on the streets of the city were constantly yelling and taking pictures of us "Americans". They don't tend to react when we say hi, and the motorcycles speeding down the sidewalks don't add to the charm. But when walking through the mosque I found that the muslims walked around with an appreciations of life. They took a genuine interest in us. They weren't using their phones but instead listening intently when we had something to say, and for the first time in China they said hello to us instead of us saying hello to them. Their positive nature seemed to rub off on all of us and we walked out of the mosque feeling happy.

After the mosque came probably the most hectic part of the China trip the Muslim street food and bargaining. We first split up into 2 groups, the street food group and the group lunch group. I went with the street food group and I was very happy with that decision. My friends and I had no clue where to start however because we were at the front of a narrow road with thousands of people and flashing signs, it was overwhelming at the start but by the end we started to get the hang of it. We stopped by a stand and got a lamb sandwich, it was amazing. After that we regrouped back to the home base and prepared to bargain. Kevin gave us all our warning and we headed into somewhat of a dark corridor and were immediately swarmed by knock off items, souvenirs, and very loud salesmen and women. Aside from shoes there was pretty much any item you could imagine. We spent about 2 hours there and they flew by. That time consisted of a lot of yelling

and bargaining. What was so cool about the bargaining is it is that it was best opportunity for us to use our Chinese in a real time scenario. While the language barrier caused somesetbacks we found that a few words and a lot of hand gestures can go a long way and it just goes to show that humans don't always need to speak the same language fluently to interact. Once we finished our shopping we went back to the home base spot and waited for everyone to come back from their shopping. 2 cotton candies, and 3 ice cream cones later everyone came back and a very cold group of floridians started the cold trek back. So we headed back to the hotel and prepared for the night ahead. Nonetheless we got back and were given free time for the rest of the night. I tried to sleep because I had a minor cold.Nonetheless we had a great time and finally we could hit the hay. It was an awesome day and I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Xie xie, Zaijian!

March 19: The City of Xi'an & the Terra-cotta Warriors - Zachary Rubin

China has treated me well so far. I've had my fair share of noodles and am getting good at using chopsticks. Our days have been very busy which make the hard beds feel a little softer. I have loved shopping at the Pearl Market and am excited to sport my Louie Vuitton wallet back in the states. The shopping hasn't been the highlight of my trip despite it seeming that way. I loved the Summer Palace and Great Wall. I'm also happy to report I've set the bar pretty high for Oxbridge promposals.

Today we are going to see the Terra-cotta Warriors! I remember learning about them Freshman year with Mr. Y., so it's crazy to think I'll be standing in front of them rather than just seeing them in a textbook. I just finished breakfast (more noodles) and about to board the bus. I figured most of you wish you could be here so I thought I'd take you along.

Follow my timeline as I take on the city of Xi'an and visit the Terra-cotta Warriors!

9:20 a.m- Boarded the bus with my water bottle and selfie stick in hand.

10:20 a.m - Arrived at Terra-Cotta Warriors. Here's a fun fact our tour guide, Kevin told us on the bus...

The Terra-Cotta army is made up of: 8,000 Soldiers, 130 Chariots, 520 Horses, and 150 Calvary Horses

11:30 a.m - Entered the 1st of 3 pits containing the Terra-Cotta army. This was the highlight of my day. Each individual pit contained thousands of Terra-Cotta soldiers. These soldiers were built to protect emperor Qin Shi Huang. It was fascinating to think about the time it took to build these detailed statues, which makes it even crazier to think about how no two soldiers are identical.

1:57 p.m - Lunch - As you can guess, we had noodles for lunch. There were two types we got to choose from: wet and dry. I choose the dry noodles. My dish was much different then what I imagined. It was a single noodle! It was as long as I was tall!! It had pork and mixed veggies that gave it an interesting texture and made it difficult to eat with chopsticks despite my talents. I tried the veggie wet noodles which were very good!

4:00 p.m - Arrived at Xi'an wall:

The oldest city wall stands around Xi'an and extends 30.7 kilometers around old Xi'an with watch towers on each corner. We walked the top of the wall for about 2 miles and saw beautiful views of the city. After the wall we exited through the South Gate and walked a little further to our hotel for a quick rest before dinner.

7:30 p.m - Dinner - Our meal was family style as usual. We sat around a round table with a Lazy Susan in the center. We each took turns trying the different food options. My favorite was sweet and sour chicken.

... So this concludes my day and I'm writing my last few sentences before I brush my teeth and head off to bed. I hope you've enjoyed my day as much as I have. Goodnight from China!

March 20: The Yu Yuan Garden - Adam Shilling

Our day started bright and early as most of us woke up around 5:30 so we could meet the group in the hotel lobby at 6:20. However, my two roommates and I slept through two alarms, three phones calls, and finally woke up to people knocking on our door at 6:10 leaving just ten minutes to throw everything in our bags and meet the group downstairs. We rushed to get all of our belongings together and clean to up our room. When we finally arrived downstairs the group was already outside and we stepped on the small bus to head to the airport in Xi An. The airport looked much like one you would see in America, however the security screening process was much more efficient and we had time to grab snacks and other items before we boarded the Air China plane. We were all very anxious for our first domestic flight in China, and had no idea what to expect when we walked down the aisle. The plane was very similar to any American aircraft however the seats were labeled (left to right) A, B, C, J, I, K as opposed to A, B, C, D, E, F back in the states. The service on the plane was very traditional and we were served normal Coca- Cola and water along with quite interesting cheddar peanuts. The flight flew by and after a quick bathroom break we were off to the baggage claim to meet two additional guides, who were going to take us around Shanghai during our stay here. The ride to the hotel, which is located in downtown Shanghai, took about an hour then we quickly dropped our bags so we could head to lunch as soon as possible! We split into two groups for lunch, one wanted to go to a local noodle restaurant and the other wanted to have pork or shrimp dumplings! The dumplings were delicious and was agreed to be one of the most wonderful meals of the entire trip for everybody who attended. The other group also agreed that their meal was delicious and was one of their most enjoyable meals of their trip as well. The meals gave me a great first impression of Shanghai, but sadly Shanghai also greeted us with the worst weather that we have experienced on this trip. It was a nippy 48 degrees, with a misty rain, and a dense fog that suffocated the tall skyscrapers around us as they disappeared into the sky. We hopped on the bus to the Yu Yuan garden and were amazed when we passed the Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower, which is the third tallest building in the world topping out at 2,073 feet! Sadly we could only see about 90 of the 128 stories of the building as the rest of the building faded into the stormy Shanghai sky. These buildings are truly amazing structures which is why they are the iconic symbols of Shanghai. I was truly fascinated by the great details that these buildings posses, and the fact that we had not seen anything like this so far on our journey. The Pearl Tv Tower was my favorite building that I saw because of the large balls throughout the infrastructure that led to a needle at the top on regular sunny days. I think it would be very interesting to understand the differences between these buildings and buildings you would see in other large cities around the world.

When we finally arrived at the Yu Yuan garden complex we took about a 10-minute walk into the garden, which was immaculate even in the tough conditions that we were faced. The buildings surrounding the complex were beautiful and small ponds surrounded the outside of the gardens. We walked through the gardens taking pictures and analyzing the breath taking views that we were lucky enough to see. After our trip to Yu Yuan, we had about an hour to shop, eat, and walk around the market place. Sadly the weather deteriorated and we were forced to cancel our trip to the bund and instead went to dinner with a few students from a nearby school. At dinner we were split into groups and talked and shared stories with the students who have hopes to attend school in America and potentially at Oxbridge Academy! We had a variety of options for dinner but I think us homesick Americans we're yearning for a burger so we went to Burger King. It tasted 100 times better than any Burger King in America ever has and definitely hit the spot. To conclude our night we went upstairs in the mall and played on virtual reality games, which were a lot of fun and gave us all a laugh after our busy travel day. We were able to make the most out of our day even with the unfortunate weather we had to deal with! Welcome to Shanghai! I can't wait to see this amazing city, which is much closer to Times Square in New York City than our previous experiences in China. The next few days should be a fantastic as we finish up our once in a lifetime adventure in our final destination, Shanghai, China.

See You Soon,

Adam Shilling

March 21: Touring the City of Lights - Asia Smith

Good morning Shanghai! Today was our first full day in the city of lights. We all had an early start today. We ate breakfast at 8:00 am. I opted for the delicious Mantou (steamed bread), Bak Choy with, Black Tea, and You Tiao (a type of fried dough).Today we put the city in the rearview mirror and visited Zhou Zhuang (The Water Town). As our bus weaved in and out of the congested city traffic. I got a chance to look the the city's architecture. Shanghai, unlike the other cities we've visited, seems to have the perfect synthesis of modern, emerging architecture and ancient, traditional architectural style. Contemporary skyscrapers sit right next to archaic market squares.
As we left the city limits, the restlessness of the city disappeared. I began to see the vast geographical variations of land. We saw endless expanses of greenery. Cherry blossom trees lined the side of the highway. We finally arrived at Zhouzhuang, which is in the Jiang Su Provence. Zhouzhuang is referred to as the Venice of China. The Water Town exceeded all of my expectations. Ladies in straw hats steered gondolas though narrow water pathways. Willow trees bent and stretched over the placid green water. Vendors selling everything from silk robes to small turtles sat alongside each other, yelling out the prices of their goods. Nestled in the quieter part of the town was the Shen House. The beautiful house was built in 1742 by Shen Benren.
After we ate lunch we headed back to our hotel for a quick nap. Then, we made our way to Shanghai International University. The students we had dinner with yesterday were waiting for us. Ping-pong paddles in hand, we had five minute matches with each student. The school surprised us with pizza, KFC mashed potatoes and corn on the cobb! It felt strange eating the western food after eleven days of Chinese food. After a quick presentation about Oxbridge, some of us were asked to speak about our experience. The students seemed receptive and anxious to hear about all that Oxbridge has to offer.

After the panel, we said our goodbyes and borded the bus. The last stop of the day was the Bund, or the Night Cruise. As we sailed along, we saw a multitude of buildings, all illuminated in vibrant colors that contrasted immeasurably with the night sky. Seeing the city lights was incredible. It was a great ending to one of our last days.

March 22: Last Day in Shanghai - Madison Weber

March 22 marks our last full day in Shanghai. Unfortunately, the weather is gloomy and the light drizzle of rain makes it feel even colder but it doesn't seem to slow down this vibrant bustling city. Everyone seems to have a specific destination and walks with a purpose but as soon as they catch a glimpse of us they are quick to stop for a photo opp. I am finally able to relate to Beyonce or Brad Pitt when they talk about the pressures of the paparazzi.

Since the weather isn't great we spent the morning touring the Shanghai museum. Museums have never been my favorite but this one was somehow more interesting partly due to the fact that I kept reminding myself that I was in China. The museum was divided by floor levels, but I found that the exhibit based on clothing from the Neolithic time period most interesting. The clothing was colorful but also very oversized and very comfy looking.

After the museum we took part in a Kung Fu and Calligraphy class. I can think of numerous life skills that one might need to get through life, but I never thought Kung Fu would be one of them. After today's class my new slogan for life is: Bring It On. I was in awe of our Kung Fu "master" as he showed us new moves. As the class progressed we were all shocked at his flexibility and powerful punch, which had us wishing we took those simple stretches a little more seriously. Soon after mastering the art of Kung Fu we headed to Calligraphy class. To be honest this was very anticlimactic compared to the Kung Fu. I have no patience for the detailed brush strokes and complex characters.

The classes lasted about two hours total and they concluded the day's activities. I don't remember much of the bus ride back because I was napping clearly exhausted from the Kung Fu.

As for dinner we had SOUP DUMPLINGS! These are little fried golden dumplings filled with goodness. We could choose between pork, shrimp, and veggie. I recommend veggie with a couple shrimp. The ratings from our group have been 5 stars.

Overall, I'm sad the trip is coming to a close but I won't lie and say my bed isn't missed. Mom, if you're reading this we are having pizza as soon as I get back. Not to say the food hasn't been great here but a girl can only eat so many noodles. I wish there was a term for loving the idea of traveling, but hating the physicality of it. The ascetic bliss of ancient temples, palaces, and gardens is so different from the cramped city.

Being in incredibly dense, crowded places all the time has made me think about how people of different cultures interact in entirely different ways. It’s crazy to think about how architecture and infrastructure shape our behavior in ways that we don’t even realize. There are so many ways to interact with the world, and it’s only when we get out of our routines that we notice. This trip has definitely popped my suburban bubble.

March 23: Our Final Day - Natalie Zoller

On the final day of the trip, we are all experiencing mixed emotions. We were awaken and preparing for the last day of the trip, when we sadly discovered our close friend Adam was very sick and wasn’t able to come home with us to the United States. That put a huge hole in our hearts. Ms. Li stayed behind with Adam until he was healthy enough to travel home. Before we went to the airport, Kevin, our Rustic Pathways tour guide, took us to a small market to walk around and enjoy our last bites of Chinese food before going off to the airport. Once we arrived at the airport it felt like we just landed in China, starting off with the Great Wall and culminating in an experience we will never forget. In Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai we were immersed in the Chinese culture with different foods, language, and people. Once the plane from Shanghai took off, we all knew we were in for a long journey home. The 12-hour flight seemed to have lasted forever and when we started our descent into Dallas everyone was relieved to be home in the United States. We only had just over an hour to go through customs, recheck our bags, and go through security before arriving at the gate. We were very short on time and Mr. Gurrido had us running through the airport. We arrived winded at the gate with 10 minutes to spare. Everyone was exhausted but excited for the final flight to West Palm Beach. When we were descending into PBI, I was overjoyed to finally see my family after a long day. This was a trip not many people could say they have done in their life and I am able to say I have.

WATCH: Video of the March 2017 Trip to China

Video created by Adam Shilling