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China: No Substitute for Being There

Posted by: Lee-Ann
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Recently, the Sloan 2012 class went to Shanghai, China to complete an international assignment.  I was thrilled to go as I’d never been to China and it had always seemed very exotic and inaccessible to me.   Although excited to see China, I was unconvinced it was necessary for the assignment.  After all, I’d found tons of information on my subject in the library, in class and online—the environment and its impact on the economy.  As it turned out, though, this was the very best part of the trip—seeing and hearing about the subject for myself.  Much has been written on the topic, but speaking with experts living and working in China added a personal dimension I could never get from academic papers or from trade journals.  Even better, those we spoke with showed a surprising amount of candor and openness I was not expecting.  I grew up in an age of wariness about China, its human rights and its perhaps menacing global motives that gave me a sort of black and white film view of China.  During my time there, though, the movie turned to full color.

I’d been told that Shanghai is not really representative of the real China.  I saw this for myself.  Everything there is big, big, big.  The buildings are tall and shiny, the roads wide and sweeping, the container port massive (and built in only 1.5 years!) and the bridge to the port so long we were over water for a full 30 minutes.  Big, big, big, just like the economy.  On the other hand, though, I saw some very homely things.  On my first morning there, I woke up early and decided to walk on the (very wide and very long) shopping street near the hotel.  There were no stores open, but I saw hundreds of people.  Why?  They were dancing!  Some dancing traditional Chinese dances, some be-bopping to pop, and yet others cutting a rug to country and western.  Who knew?  This is a way for many Chinese, especially the older ones, to get exercise.  I was enchanted by the whole thing.

The people in the class had different observations on the trip, with highlights varying for each.  For me, seeing it in person, and interacting with people in a variety of stations and positions made the trip worthwhile.  The picture of China in my mind’s eye has altered forever.

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