This was originally in our school newsletter.
During Tuesday’s fire drill at school, I was approached by a group of 8th grade students. Jet lag was evident in their eyes and bearing; they slouched groundwards as if partially deflated. But as they came near, they lifted themselves into the teenage approximation of standing upright.”Can we go back to China yet?” they asked. “Or maybe we can plan another trip this summer?”
Not quite the response I expected from a trip on which the restroom facilities ranged from squat latrines to frigid outdoor pit toilets. But at the same time, a trip full of amazing and thought-provoking experiences.
The 8th Grade Trip to Qinghai and Gansu provinces was challenging in many respects: two weeks of facilities less luxurious than those at home – including (mostly) outdoor pit toilets; challenging interactions with farmers, herders, and local students; cold and sometimes snowy weather; the difficulties of living and being active at altitude; and the occasional overdose on noodles or baozi. But the trip’s challenges were as essential to the trip’s success as the many moments of palpable wonder and simple fun: standing atop high passes looking at endless views of snowy mountains, snowball fights, staring up at vast plate-gold statues of bodhisattvas in monasteries, watching a monk debate, teaching kindergarteners, stopping by a traditional archery competition, and spending quality time with animals large and small.
The experiences ranged the gamut, and both physical and metaphorical high and low points were experienced by all. But one thing everyone agrees upon: the places we visited, the people we met, the experiences we had, the multitude of ‘cultural learning experiences’, the at-times questionable facilities, the interactions with locals, the camaraderie and spirit of traveling with groups of friends; and most of all, the rough and unexpected and overwhelmingly massive adventure of China’s wild west – all of this is not going to be forgotten anytime soon.