Written by Jake Speirs, (Student Correspondent) Macalester College
Middlebury C.V. Starr School in China: Hangzhou, Spring 2015
Last weekend my friend Becca, a fellow foreign student in the international dorm, asked me if I would like to join her and her Chinese friend on a camping trip to Qiandao Lake. I didn’t know what to expect from the trip other than the few details Becca was able to offer: We were to join Becca’s friend, Jingjing, on an organized trip to the famous “Thousand Island Lake” just a few hours outside of Hangzhou for a weekend of fun outdoor activities. Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve had plenty experience camping and mastering all forms of camping related skills. However, engaging in such activities in a foreign country, with a group of nearly 50 people, in which there were only 5 “外国朋友” would prove to be an exciting weekend full of familiar activities, but with an unfamiliar Chinese twist.
Boarding the bus was the first bit of culture shock. The trip organizer immediately began enthusiastically explaining the details of the trip in rapid Chinese. Her speech was largely incomprehensible to me, especially when compared to the slow and calculated Chinese I’m used to hearing at MIC. I quickly began to turn to Jingjing for reiteration on the important details regarding the schedule for the weekend. But the confusion caused by the Chinese spoken by Chinese for Chinese fell away to the comfort and familiarity of canoeing, biking, and hiking around Qiandao Lake. While the species of trees, the thick mist, and the size of the islands made me feel as though I was in the set of a Jurassic Park movie, the body of water itself brought me straight home to the Land of 10,000 lakes.
Finally, meeting and making friends with people entirely unrelated to my program will also remain in my mind as a highlight of that weekend. Our travel group consisted of people from vastly different backgrounds and experiences than the roommates and classmates of MIC. Playing card games while drinking Qiandao Beer around a barbeque and chatting on our lengthy hikes were fun and relaxing ways to practice my Chinese and make new friends. The organization of the whole trip reminded me of the Chinese tour groups with a microphone toting group leader that I’ve seen in my travels across the US, Norway and Thailand. It was an interesting feeling being a part of that group for a change. While I did not particularly enjoy the relatively strict structure of the trip, I certainly got plenty of bang for my buck. Overall, this trip was just what I needed at this point in my study abroad experience. Just as I was beginning to be worn out by the stress of MIC academics and becoming antsy in our relatively small program, I was able to step back and have an experience that reminded me of my love for this country, people, and culture. I’m thankful to this weekend for reviving my enthusiasm towards my endeavors here in Hangzhou.