Exploring China can intimidate even veteran travelers, but OTC history instructor Jessica Gerard knows from experience the trip is worth it. Since 2008, she’s led five groups of students across China to study its vast culture and history. Her most recent group of travelers just returned from a 10-day trip spanning the Chinese cities of Beijing, Pingyao, Xi’an, Luoyang and Nanjing.
While the trip is open to all community members, Gerard often reminds interested individuals that the trip is not a vacation – it’s an academic course.
“Anyone interested in the trip must take a specific online course about the history of China before they can go,” she said. “And, most importantly, students continue to learn while in China. They’re expected to listen to guides, keep a journal and write about their experiences afterward.”
OTC student Ross Weis believes his experiences in China easily transcended anything he could have learned in the classroom. In fact, it was his long-held interest in China that led him to inquire about the trip after seeing a flier in the OTC library.
“I’ve always been drawn to China and its rich cultural history,” Weis said. “My dad was a history major in college, and I suppose some of that trickled down to me. I mean, China has a nearly 6,000-year history. So, it’s the sheer magnitude of that culture and how long it’s been around that really appealed to me. ”
Weis also viewed China as a “road less traveled” study abroad destination.
“When you think about studying abroad, Europe is typically the first destination to come to mind,” he said. “Not as many people go to Asia.”
Of all the cities and historical sites Weis visited, he said nothing could top his experience at one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
“I mean, I’d read about the Great Wall and seen it on TV, but it is so different to go there and actually experience it,” he recalled. “Parts of the Great Wall are more than 2,000 years old, but we traveled to a portion of the wall that was refurbished by the Ming Dynasty approximately 600 years ago. It wasn’t as worn as I had expected it to be. That was pretty cool.”
In addition to studying Chinese history and landmarks, students also discovered cultural differences between China and America.
“I knew China was very advanced technologically and scientifically, but we definitely have different standards of hygiene,” Weis said. “It was shocking to me that we couldn’t find soap anywhere. Men also smoked and spit a lot.”
Gerard added, “Students were amazed by the traffic, the pollution and even the smells they encountered. Lots of smog and sewage and yelling and horn honking. They also found the Chinese to have very small space bubbles. There was lots of pushing and shoving.”
Every OTC group Gerard has taken to China has been led by her trusty tourist agent, Jim Lieu. Gerard plans her trips directly through Lieu, which keeps travel costs down for students.
“Lieu and I have an excellent relationship with one another. He knows what I want for my students, and I know what he can do,” said Gerard. “He sincerely believes that in order to build stronger communities and a better world, people around the world should get to know each other through travel.”
When asked about her favorite part of the trip, Gerard smiled fondly.
“I loved the bonds students formed with one another this year,” she recalled. “While studying Chinese culture, we also developed our own sort of mini culture within the group.”
OTC’s 2017 China trip will be similar to 2016, but new opportunities will be added to the itinerary. For more information about OTC study abroad opportunities, visit academics.otc.edu/studyabroad.