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2014 Benton Scholars Travel to China

By bentonscholars on April 16, 2013

Beijing 409Yesterday, as I sat in a movie theater in Madrid, memories of my trip to China with the Benton Scholars Program after my freshman year came flooding back to me. Now, it may seem a bit odd that I would be sitting in a theater in Madrid contemplating such a travel but I assure you there was a reason. The new James Bond movie, Skyfall, has several scenes that take place in Shanghai, China. Upon seeing the skyline on screen I knew immediate where the scenes were shot, and I began to reminisce on the wonderful time in my life when I went to, what felt like, the corner of the earth.

Benton Scholars is a global leadership program that is intended to sharpen the liberal arts experience so that we are ready to take on a world that is increasingly globalized. Part of the program is attending a trip during the first year, which was a chance for us to apply in the real world what we had learned in our First-Year Seminar and our other courses. My class, the 2014 Bentons were required to take a history course — Modern East Asia — in anticipation of the trip.

The trip seemed otherworldly for most of us, simply because the majority of us had never travelled that far. After a 14-hour flight, the arrival in Beijing felt like the emergence from a dream. Throughout the trip we visited the regular, though anything but ordinary, tourist attractions such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, Yenan (the city to which Mao made his march many years ago) and Xi’an, the home to the terracotta warriors. These sites were truly fascinating but what made the trip particularly unique were the special get-togethers with students, professors or organizations provided by the Benton program. For instance, we had a presentation from a Colgate professor who was also leading a study abroad program in China. She spoke to us about the social issues pertinent to China. We were also allowed to visit the headquarters of an organization that spearheads a movement to preserve traditional family homes called “hutongs,” which are in danger of being demolished. These homes are a symbol of the cultural richness of China. To top it all off, we were given a special tour of the United States and Korean embassies. Apparently, ours was the first American student group to ever visit the Korean embassy in China.

Beijing 728

We were also able to meet with several Chinese students who did us the honor of inviting us to see what their college experience is like. They showed us their dorms, their campus, and we even participated in a couple of classes with them. Before the trip to China we were given a student pen pal to email and get to know. During the trip we were able to meet in them person, and some of us still keep in touch with them though more than a year has passed.

Overall the trip brought us all a new sense of perspective and understanding of the world. Being ripped from our comfort-zones and thrown (though not forcefully, I promise) into a completely different environment made us all grow in ways that we may still have yet to discover. One thing is sure though, China has become a major player in world politics and will continue to be. As Benton Scholars we have been exposed to this mighty country, and we have begun a path of mutual respect and understanding with the people who live there that will hopefully carry forth. Indeed, China is no longer as mysterious to us but it is to many others, and we have knowledge to share with our fellow students and our communities. Plus, you know it was a good trip when every time anyone mentions China, you spontaneously yell “I’ve been there!”

Benton Scholars with Mao #2

Marilyn Hernandez-Stopp
‘14 Benton Scholar

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