BRIC in China
Post by Yulkendy Valdez (’17) and Brandon Schwartz (’17)
The first climb to the Great Wall of China was over. The BRICers captured photos and memories, both digitally and mentally. It was then time to visit our host family at a local village, which had prepared dinner for all of us.
Large mini-buses picked us up to drive us up the hill to the village. These timeworn buses reminded me of those from the Dominican Republic that I used to time with my aunt on the way to the capital. Seven of us squeezed into each bus and prepared for a great night of bonding.
As soon as we got onto the bus, we met a man in his sixties who spoke no English. Our time in China had prepared us for this moment: non-verbal communication was key. We used hand movements to ask if we can sit in the front and videotape the view. He kept smiling, and before we knew it, he was going at least 20-30 miles per hour up the hill. We were enjoying the breeze and became mesmerized by the landscape of mountains and the lakes that surrounded the village.
We arrived at the village and proceeded to a patio, where our hosts had prepared for us an authentic Chinese dinner. We had everything from noodles to rice to beef, as well as the famous Kung Pao Chicken. It was amazing to see our multi-generational host family—a middle-aged couple, their young daughter, and her two grandparents—serving us with so much love.
After dinner, we played games around the fire and talked for hours. The weekend at the Great Wall was a big part of what has made the BRIC program that much more special. As a group, we learned about solidarity and unity, as well as the power of immersing oneself in something completely different. We escaped our technologically saturated world and personally connected with natives, who have significantly different lifestyles than people in the BRIC cohort. We learned that communication and empathy are key; sometimes, all you need to show support to a person or culture is to give them a look of respect and admiration.
Then came the biggest highlight of the week: the climb up to the Great Wall to watch the sunrise over the mountains; however, this was no ordinary hike in the woods. Everyone awoke at 4am to prepare for this treacherous ascent. The hike became progressively more difficult; people struggled to balance while maneuvering the rugged terrain. What was amazing about the entire climb, however, was how a native—a man most likely at least in his seventies—led the way as if he were a youth. With a dimly lit flashlight, he simply navigated the path with ease. Nevertheless, everyone behind him followed along.
As the BRICers pushed, winds worsened and the ascent became increasingly difficult; steeper paths and more obstacles popped up, but with the local in front, we all made it to the top of the peak. We arrived to the base of an abandoned (and virtually unreachable) tower along the wall. As we waited for the sunrise, everyone captured the moment on GoPros and with time-lapses on iPhones. Upon watching the sunrise per se, everyone did not just take in the beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime view; everyone marveled over how over two thousand years ago, thousands perished building what is today considered an Ancient Wonder of the World, reflecting on how having such an opportunity can be worth waiting years for it to come.
Yulkendy Valdez and Brandon Schwartz
For more stories from the 2015 BRIC study abroad program, please click here.