Ivy-China Summer 2013
(From Left to Right). Back: Nicholas Judson, Sazzy Gourley, Joshua Boggs, Joshua Rubin, Sofia Vasslieva, Jay Krishnan, Arvin Ahmadi, Todd Harris, Jane Seo, Ryley Reynolds. Middle: Alina Jennings, Shawon Jackson, Grace Liu, Sarina Huang, Monica Kwok, C.C. Gong. Front: Alexander Andresian, Andrea Baglioni, Honorary IVC Delegate Tony, Melissa Schnure, Alexander Tsu.
Reflection by Jayanth (Jay) Krishnan, Yale ’15
Photos by Joshua Boggs, Columbia ’15, and Todd Harris, Brown ’14
As I sat down at the gate, I realized that one hour still remained before I would embark on a 15 hour journey to a nation I barely knew anything about. Filled with exuberance, I began to pace as I recalled the few facts I knew about China. At first my mind flitted through historic images of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Huang He and Shanghai Bund that I had Googled. It wasn’t long after takeoff that I was thinking about the tragedy of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the communistic People’s Republic led by Chairman Mao Zedong, and the reforms towards a market economy led by Deng Xiaoping. As I exhausted my political knowledge, I set a personal goal for the Ivy-China exchange to spread the American ideals I believed in to help build a better China. Little did I know how much my perception of China and my goals would change.
Beijing! Shortly after touchdown, my surroundings left me in a state of awe. The streets were hustling and bustling with all kinds of cars, bikes, and your everyday herd of goats. Branching of the streets, were Hutongs or Beijing alleyways that were originally small neighborhoods but now filled with exotic shops. After arriving at the Beijing Tailong Plaza Hotel, I had my first real Chinese meal where I catered to the Chinese dining etiquette of sharing meals around the table and adhered to the traditional seating arrangement. It was here where I got to meet my fellow Ivy delegates and Chinese student hosts. Among us Ivy delegates and student hosts were members of the executive board of Ivy Council, student council presidents, employees for prominent financial institutions, an employee for the Huffington Post, and a world renowned actress. We were an extroverted bunch, but what amazed me most was the humility of everyone at the table.
Starting the very next day, I began to see the biggest attractions of China with my own eyes. I remember sprinting up the Great Wall anxious to reach the summit. Although I could feel my quads buckling down, the adrenaline rush to reach the top kept me going. As I ran up I began to think about the history behind the wall. The wall built primarily in 220-206 BC is 13,000 miles long and has been used for defense, trade, immigration and emigration. I was told that each step represented a death of a worker who died while building the wall. After leaving the wall, we headed towards the Forbidden City which was an extravagant palace for many emperors from the Ming Dynasty until the Qing Dynasty. I was astonished by the size of the City which made me wonder how imperial Chinese rule compares to modern China.
Over the next few days my fellow delegates and I attended a series of talks with the vice-president of the All-China Youth Federation, the Ministry of Education and the Deputy Chief of Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges. We initially addressed educational topics regarding how admissions to colleges in China, how to minimize the deviation between schooling in urban and rural areas, financial aid, and methods of funding secondary education. Going into these meetings, I had initial thought American education ideals that emphasized creativity and innovation needed to be spread to the Chinese. However, I soon appreciated that there are benefits to the Chinese systems of education and commonalities between the two nations regarding obstacles in educational policy.
In order to get a fully accurate depiction of Chinese life we left a tourist filled Beijing for the capital of the Anhui Province – Hefei. At Hefei we toured the national museum, a Buddhist temple and even visited a karaoke center. I was most influenced the, “Dialogue with China,” (meeting with Anhui Municipal Youth Federation) and our day with a host family.
During the discussion with the members of the Anhui Municipal Youth Federation, professors spoke about the “Chinese Dream,” how they believed the dream should be brought to fruition. Separately the professors also addressed how to reduce poverty in China. The Chinese dream was introduced by the 2013 Chinese Communist Party’s General Secretary Xi Jinping who described it as a, “national rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and military strengthening.” Essentially it proposes time sensitive development goals for a prosperous China, on the personal, national and international level, that are not westernized. This dream is a fusion of Chinese communism and modern Confucian beliefs. The professor stated that achieving the Chinese dream can only come after in changing the mindset of the Chinese people. Although I disagree with communistic components of the Chinese dream towards a prosperous China, I was intrigued by their sense of vision and some of the policy components of the plan. On the talk on reducing poverty in China, I really appreciated the modern microfinance approach that was being taken. Individual households were given loans and tax breaks based on their unique financial situation. Families that lived in rural areas were taught the essentials of accounting and budgeting before they were encouraged to take out loans.
I learned a lot about modern everyday China from my host family. My host father was the CEO of a website that strives to provide visitors with all the information about Hefei that they would ever need. From my experience, and the experience of my peers, I saw the hospitality of Chinese families as unparalleled. Additionally the respect that citizens of China give to their elders is much higher than what I had seen in everyday America. My stay with the host family showed me certain aspects of traditional Chinese culture that are lacking in American youth.
On my last day in China we visited Shanghai. After a trip to the top of the Pearl TV Tower, I eventually made my way to the Shanghai Bund. Upon viewing the gorgeous view I began to reflect on my stay at China. I came to the nation, thinking that the exchange was facilitating a period of reformation to build an even better China. However, I realized that although there are many reformations that should be made, that China is a beautiful country filled with great people and many valuable cultural attributes.
As I was getting ready to sleep on the 15 hour journey back, I had noticed that my perception of China and the goal I had initial set for the trip had indeed changed. I came in thinking that our sole job as Ivy delegates was to bring our ideas to another world power. However, I realized that we still have things to learn from the Chinese people. United Airlines played a Nicholas Cage movie, and I drifted off.