Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A High School Student's Traveler's Guide to China

More often than not, "What do I need to pack?" is the number one question we hear from high school students going to China with our two-week overseas program. For some, the trip will be the first time that they've ever been one a plane, to a large city, or to an international city. The students want to look cool in front of their friends and for all the pictures they'll be taking, the parents want to make sure they're dressed according to the weather, and we want to make sure they don't create any controversy with their chosen outfits. How can a simple outfit be controversial? Think back to the Katy Perry dress from her tour that stirred controversy because it was thought to be a pro-Taiwanese statement. Even something simple as what you wear can have profound meaning when you visit another country.

When the students come back to Vermont after the program, reminders of their initial concern and conversations over what they needed to pack suddenly seemed trivial and ...less worldly. As one student pointed out at the 2016 Governor's Institute on Asian Cultures (GIAC) in China program reunion, "spending so much time focusing on what you're going to wear or pack just takes time away from experiencing this amazing country (China)." Most of the alumni of the GIAC-China program would agree that the point of traveling is to be a traveler, not a tourist, and then gave the next cohort of GIAC-China participants a list of tips for when traveling to China.  

The basic packing list would include comfortable shoes, duct tape (trust us), and a well stocked Travel Health Kit, but here's the top five traveler's tips presented by the 2015 GIAC-China high school students. 

1. "Try everything." Whether it was a new food or tai chi in the park with local residents, the alumni of the program repeated to the incoming students that the program was the chance to get out of their comfort zone. Sure, eating crickets isn't what we want to do everyday, but you're not in China everyday. 

2. "Write it down." With a program that is jam packed with activities, chances are that students will see at least 100 new things a day. "Even if you're exhausted at the end of the day, write a few lines of what you did so that you don't forget." suggested Gabe, a 2015 GIAC alumni.

3. "Don't live behind your camera." Although it takes some intervention by the staff, student soon realize that taking 1,000 pictures of the Great Wall is not the same as actually seeing it. Put down the camera, or any technology you might be carrying with you, and take in the sights, smells, and sounds of these foreign cities.

4. "Talk to the students." Our program offers Vermont high school students the chance to talk and hang out with students from high schools in China. As one self-proclaimed shy student said, talking to students in Vermont is hard "but you'll never know if you'll have this chance again, so find out what you have in common." 

5. "Drink water. And then drink some more." Since our program visits China in summer, staying hydrated is key. "But only drink the bottled water," a student was quick to explain. "One bottle in each hand, always."

And finally, while it wasn't it in the top five tips, another favorite tip was "Shower often". Although this comment got everyone in the room laughing, the alumni were quick to nod along seriously to the suggestion. Not only will you feel better after a hot day of walking and sightseeing, "buy your roommate will appreciate it, too, if you don't stink."

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