Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: China (page 1 of 7)

The End

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China

Four months ago, I was sitting on an airplane wondering what the next few months would be like. This was the first time I had ever traveled alone. Well, technically, I wasn’t alone. I was traveling with a fellow classmate. However, it was a coincidence that we happened to be on the same flight. Before I left, I wrote a letter to myself about what I expected and what I hoped for the semester. I can’t recall what I actually put in the letter, but I’ll probably laugh when I read it.


There are many things I feel right now. Excitement, sadness, a sense of loss, happiness, gratefulness, a feeling of “what now”. The end is finally here but it’s so bittersweet. I’ll never forget the day I got here (how can I? It was my 20th birthday!). I was so nervous, so unsure of myself. I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve changed in many ways. I probably won’t know the extent of the change for years to come, but I do recognize a few changes within myself. The most drastic change that I have noticed within myself is my newfound independence. Now, I have always been an independent person, I like to rely on myself before I rely on anyone else. I am used to living far from home and having to figure things out for myself. However, I am not afraid to ask for help if I need to.


Living in Indiana with my family being in Alabama is very different from living in China while my family is in Alabama. When you are living in a different country, it’s not so easy to ask your family and friends for help because they are so far away. While in China, it was even more challenging because of the language and cultural barriers. The biggest challenge for me was going to Shanghai by myself. Like I said before, I am largely an independent person, but going to the one of the world’s largest city by yourself when you only speak half of the language is scary for most people.

Last year, I went to Chicago on my own to meet with a friend and I thought that was a big deal. I didn’t realize months later I would be undertaking the challenge of going to Shanghai on my own. I think that trip was a large testimony to how much I had adapted to challenges while abroad and how much more confident I had become in my own language skills.


The memories I have here, I’ll cherish forever. Some were good, some were bad, but there will never be another time like this. Of course I’ll travel again and meet new people and have new adventures. But this adventure will always hold a special place in my heart. I feel sad, because while I had my highs and lows on this trip, I can honestly say this is one of the greatest experiences of my life. But I also am very happy because while this trip may be over, this is not the end. It’s a beginning of many more good times to come.

Buddhist Nunnery

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


I had the privilege of visiting a Buddhist nunnery/university. We did many different activities at the nunnery. First, we took a tour of the compound. We saw many different temples. While at the temples, we saw people coming to pray to the different Buddhas. This was my first time visiting a Buddhist nunnery. Actually, it was my first time visiting a nunnery at all.


For our second activity, we walked to the male part of the university. There, we participated in a 30 minute long chanting session. I wasn’t really sure what we were saying or what exactly what we were doing but it was interesting.


One of the final things that we did was eat with the nuns and the monks. This experience was extremely interesting to me because we ate completely in silence while others came around and passed out the food (rice, a variety of vegetables, and soup). If you wanted a dish, you left your bowl to the edge of the table. If you didn’t want any, you moved the bowl closer to you.

This way of eating is entirely different from the typical way I have witnessed Chinese people dine. Typically, there are a great variety of dishes, that have lots of spices and there’s a lot of noise and everyone shares. At the nunnery, we were all silent, with small individual bowls and the food was very bland. It was very different. I’m glad that I was able to experience another side of Chinese culture while I was here.

Hello Kitty Heaven (or Hell)

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


How many people can say that they’ve been to a Hello Kitty themed restaurant? Well, I don’t know the answer to that one, but I do know that I can say that I am now one of those people. I’ll admit without shame that I, a 20-year-old college junior, am a fan of Hello Kitty. Maybe even a huge fan, but that’s beside the point. The Hello Kitty Bianco Bistro in Shanghai is truly one of a kind.  Even non-fans should take the opportunity to visit this restaurant if they can simply because it’s weird and fun and they even sell steak with Hello Kitty’s face on it.

The restaurant is located on the top floor of one of the 6 trillion malls in Shanghai. It was actually a bit hard to find since they don’t seem to advertise it much. The only reason I found out about it is because I had heard of a Hello Kitty theme park located on the outskirts of Shanghai and, after I read the scathing reviews for it, decided that it was probably better to check out the restaurant instead.


Somehow, I was able to convince my entire Valpo group to come along with me (because who wouldn’t want to eat overpriced Hello Kitty pasta?). The restaurant was composed of two floors. The first floor was a gift shop that I later spent a solid 30 minutes in (and came out the proud owner of a limited edition Hello Kitty blanket). The second floor was the actually restaurant. The walls were covered in Hello Kitty, the tables and chairs were Hello Kitty, there was a Hello Kitty couch, and the waiters had Hello Kitty apparel. We were the youngest people there. Everyone else were men and women who appeared to be middle aged, with no children. Hello Kitty seems to be universal.

moore-fall2016-hellokitty2As for the actual food? Well, this isn’t a review of the restaurant, so I won’t go into detail about that, however, the menu was quite expansive and composed of nearly 60-70 different items. That day, they maybe had 15 available in the kitchen.

As a fan of Hello Kitty, I have to say I was 100% satisfied after a day of Hello Kitty.

Bird Watching

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


Last week I had biology class in the middle of a wetland. In the biology course, my classmates and I had just completed a couple chapters from  When a Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts about the loss of habitats and biodiversity China has been experiencing. We wanted to see evidence of successful conservation of nature by visiting the Xixi Wetland. Throughout civilization, wetlands have served and continue to serve as a source of life as they provide water, natural resources, transportation, and regulate the climate.


The creation of the Xixi Wetland can be dated back to 5,000 years ago  when the wetland began to expand and develop. During 1912-1949 and the following periods of intense industrialization, the wetland shrunk. Today though, the conservation project led by Hangzhou’s government has improved the quality of the wetland, and currently, 70% of the wetland is water area.

The wetland was especially wet the day my Valpo cohort and I visited as rain poured from the overcast clouds above. What surprised me about the wetland  is how it is strangely situated within the bustling city of Hangzhou. Walking through the wetland, I noticed how muddled the sound was of the busy traffic and horns blaring just outside the entrance. It was hard to believe we were still in the urban heart of Hangzhou when we could barely hear the noises of the city and were surrounded by so much greenery. The rain lightened upon our arrival at a structure built especially for bird watching.

leuhrs-fall2016-9We sat, elbows propped up on the wooden tables and peered through our binoculars in the search of wild grebes diving below the water’s surface, swallows flying overhead, Chinese bulbuls in the reeds, spotted doves in the trees, and a beautiful grey heron perched on a wooden rod sticking out of the water. I never thought I would have my first bird watching experience in Hangzhou, but I would highly recommend a visit to the Xixi wetlands. And bring a pair of binoculars!


Cruising Up the Yangtze River

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Location: Hangzhou, China 


The dreary weather added to the wonder of the city of Chongqing. It gave the city an eerie feel as we looked out at the panoramic view from the side of a hill. After a delicious hot pot of dinner, a spicy delicacy of the Si Chuan province , we headed to the docks to board the Victoria cruise ship.

leuhrs-fall2016-2Looking around, I noticed that the city had transformed as the moon rose. At night Chongqing was beautifully lit up, and I was enamored by the reflection of the colorful city lights shimmering in the gentle waves of the Yangtze river. As I stepped on the cruise ship, I was excited and curious to see what the next three days on the Yangtze would reveal.


During the cruise, we were able to attend various lectures, one of which was on Chinese medicine. I knew the basics of Chinese medicine: herbal remedies, cupping, scraping, and acupuncture. But that was about it. The lecture was intriguing, and I learned how the methods of acupuncture, acupressure massage, cupping, and scraping relate to the theory of Yin and Yang, a Taoist concept of interdependence between passive and active forces. When your Yin and Yang is balanced, you are healthy, but when your Yin and Yang are unbalanced, there is a blockage of your 气 (qi) or the energy flow that takes place throughout the channels of your body, causing illness or discomfort.

During our journey, we also had the opportunity to go on a few leuhrs-fall2016-3excursions by foot, one of which was to see and climb the Shibao Pagoda. To get to the pagoda, we had to cross a slippery, shaky bridge with a terrifying drop beneath our feet. My usually dormant fear of heights came out of hibernation at full force as I walked along the bridge, clinging to the railing and trying not to look down. The perilous crossing was worth it. The 12-story, red pagoda was constructed out of wood without any nails. Since the 18th century when the temple was built, there have been renovations to the structure to preserve the temple and make it safe to enter and climb.

leuhrs-fall2016-6The saying goes that the higher one climbs in the temple, the more likely your dreams will come true. You know I climbed all the way up. I even ventured up the feeble, volatile ladder that led to a claustrophobic, square scenic outlook room at the very top of the temple, which only had enough room for around four people at a time. At the top of the pagoda, I was able to look out at our cruise ship along side two other ships amidst the hazy sky and grey waters.

While on the cruise, we witnessed three gorges: Qu Tang, Wu, and Xi Ling. The three gorges were magnificent and unlike anything I had ever seen. It was at Xi Ling Gorge that our journey ended, and we were greeted by the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project. The beautiful mountainous landscape is still present but interrupted by the dam. As Watts, the author of When a Billion Chinese Jump stated, the dam was a “gray scar on an otherwise stunning landscape.”


While the Chinese have been building dams ever since the first was built in around 600 BC at Anfeng Tang in eastern China, the Three Gorges Dam is the first dam built on such a large scale. It generates incredible amounts of electricity, improves navigation along the Yangtze river, and allows for flood control, but at enormous costs.

This gray scar has caused the displacement of 1.4 million people, leuhrs-fall2016-7water pollution, loss of biodiversity, the introduction of new diseases, and an increased risk of earthquakes and landslides. It was amazing and surreal to finally see the dam in person after researching the hydropower project in my Environmental Biology of China class and having watched Up the Yangtze. It was definitely an eye opening and fascinating way to end our 10-day travel excursion during G20. Now it’s time to head back to Hangzhou and truly get started on the “study” part of study abroad. 😉


Everywhere I Roam Is Home

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China

While packing my suitcase for my return to America, a song came on my Spotify: Roam by Theia. One of the lyrics in the song is “everywhere I roam is home” and while humming along and placing my belongings in the open suitcase before me, I realized how true those words were. Washington, D.C. is my home. Valparaiso University is also my home. And now Hangzhou has become my home.


This semester in Hangzhou taught me many things. I learned to go with the flow and live in the present. I found that I had a lot more to learn regarding the Chinese language, and I pursued the challenge of expanding my vocabulary and improving my listening comprehension and speaking skills. I never felt lost and learned to successfully navigate the streets of Hangzhou and any city I was traveling, in part due to my improved Chinese skills and in part because I figured out how to use the amazing Baidu app, China’s version of Googlemaps (download it right now if you are going to China anytime soon – It’s a lifesaver).


I will miss the vibrant international community, my new friends from all over the world, running by West Lake, the cheap meals and taxis, the rich culture, and so much more, but I know it will only be a matter of time before I return to China or run into one of my international friends in another part of the world. Tomorrow I hop on a 13-hour flight back to the U.S., and I already know it will take time for me to get used to everyone speaking English around me. I will probably accidentally say “xiexie” instead of thank you for at least my first month back, but I am sure I will get back into the swing of things soon enough.

Okay, now I really need to finish packing.


P.S. Have a listen  ☺

Art Manipulation

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


One of my favorite parts of our Thanksgiving weekend in Shanghai was having the chance to roam around art galleries and museums including the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Rockbund Art Museum, Art+ Shanghai Gallery, and  the Propoganda Museum.

I could go on about each gallery and museum for ages, but I want to focus this post on a artist I discovered at the Art+ Shanghai Gallery. The artist that caught my eye was not even a part of the exhibition they were showing by an artist named Ye Hongxing that created beautiful artwork out of thousands of stickers.


Ye Hongxing Sticker Art

While walking around the exhibit, the owner of the gallery began sharing with us the story of the gallery and what brought her to Shanghai. She then led us to a backroom with artwork from previous exhibits. One of the artists that she told us about is Yoa Lu. At first, when she pointed out his painting, I saw  picturesque Chinese landscape, but looking closely I saw that the Chinese landscape I was looking at was actually a painting of apartment buildings and green construction  netting. In the background were traditional temples and mountains.


Through his art, Yao Lu expresses his concern for China’s rapid urbanization and the loss of traditional buildings. The manipulation of utilizing the traditional style of a Chinese painting to portray China’s present day value, consequences of rapid expansion, and blatant environmental destruction was absolutely intriguing to me. If you have the chance, you must check out Yao Lu’s work and when in China, the many art galleries displaying the works of China’s leading contemporary artists and photographers.


“But where are you REALLY from?”

Author: Maia Moore

Location: Study Center – Hangzhou, China


“But where are you really from?”

This was the second sentence out of someone’s mouth after knowing me for about 30 seconds. He was Ghanaian and Lebanese, so I was a little surprised he asked this. I’ve been asked this question numerous times since I arrived here by Chinese people and other foreigners alike, but this is the first time I had been asked this from someone who was also black.

“What do you mean?”, I asked him.

“You are black American, but where is your real country?”, he replied.

“I don’t know”, I said, not really wanting to get into the 300+ years of history that black people have with the US.

Even though this isn’t the first (nor will it be the last) time I’ve been confronted by this, I thought more about this than I have before since I came to China. When I think about where my “real” country is, of course, I think of the United States. However, for some reason, others don’t seem to see it that way. When making small talk with taxi drivers, they will ask where I am from and when I say “USA”, every time, they will say “Really?” or say “But where are your parents from?” Even one of my Chinese professors asked me this on the first day of class.

I didn’t expect to come here and have to defend my “Americanness” on what seems like a daily basis. I also realize I can’t expect everyone to know the US’s history and the complicated ideas of identity that we have there. However, it can be frustrating to be asked this regularly especially when your white, American counterparts are never asked this.

This trip has made me think a lot on what I means to be American, what it means to be black, and what it means to be black in America. I may have to defend my background frequently, but if anything, I think it has made me take more pride in my identity and heritage. It’s odd that I’m discovering more about my identity in China of all places, but study abroad involves a lot of self-discovery.

Hosteling in China

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou, China – Study Center


This past weekend, I took a weekend trip to Shanghai since it is only 2 hours
away. To save a few yuan (I am still a poor college student, after all), I stayed in a hostel for the first time. We have hostels in the US, but they aren’t as numerous or widely used as they are in Europe or Asia. Since this was my first time staying in one, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.


moore-fall2016-shanghairoomBooking the room was relatively simple. We went online, researched hostels, found one with good reviews and a reasonable price, and booked it through a hostel website. We had to put down a deposit beforehand and paid the rest when we arrived. The room was bigger than I expected. Since I was with a group of friends, we all decided to book a private suite with three beds, a couch that could be used for an extra person, and a private bathroom.


The next morning after our arrival, I headed downstairs to the restaurant that was located within the hostel. Hostel food has a little bit of a bad reputation when it comes to food. However, it was a good price for my budget, so I took the risk. For breakfast, I chose the “American” breakfast option, consisting of an egg, pancake, one sausage, one slice of bacon, and toast. It was…interesting. Although, it wasn’t terrible.


That night, I returned to the restaurant where breakfast had been served. The atmosphere was totally different. In the morning, the restaurant was quiet and had a little light peeking through the skylight ceiling. Now, the room was darkened but with party lights everywhere. People with a variety of different looks and languages filled the area. A soccer game was being shown on a large screen TV in the corner, and music was blasting all around us. My friends and I met a few new people and played pool with them into the night.

Every hostel is different, so students should definitely do research and look up reviews before they book their rooms. Overall, I had a pretty good experience and would stay in a hostel again.

Class on a Sunday?!

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Program: Hangzhou, China – Study Center

Yes, class on a Sunday.  The opening ceremony for the school year was on Wednesday September 14th but classes did not start that day nor the next because of the Mid-Autumn Festival that took place September thumb_img_1616_102415-17.  In America, most holidays are observed on a Monday even if the holiday occurs on the weekend but in China, they celebrate holidays on the exact day.  This means that you might have to make up for having days off during the week like we had to.  The Mid-Autumn Festival fell on the 15th and while we got three days off, we had to make up for the missed classes by beginning our semester on a Sunday.  But I was more than ready to get started after what had seemed like a never ending summer!

The first day was the usual syllabus day with the overview of the semester, the professor’s expectations, and of course the awkward but necessary icebreakers all in Chinese.  The class I had that day, 精读 (jing du – intensive reading/grammar) is somewhat like our homeroom class and our jingdu professor also serves as an academic advisor.  We have jingdu every day except for one, and our jingdu professor keeps us updated on campus activities, thumb_img_1430_1024holidays, elective courses, class trips, etc.

With the exception of the first day of school, I normally have two 90 minute classes per day with a break in between.  Everyday I have class at 8am except for Tuesdays when my first class begins at 1pm.  Instead of just one main Chinese class that meets everyday I take four separate courses that often overlap in topics, grammar patterns, and vocabulary.  The Chinese courses I am taking include 精读 (jingdu),阅读 (yuedu – reading) ,听力 (tingli – listening comprehension),and 口语 (kouyu – oral).  The way that our classes are split up allow us to focus and gain a deep understanding of each aspect of communicating in and comprehending Chinese.  In addition to the intensive Chinese language courses, I am also taking the Environmental Biology of China course and the Chinese Culture and Civilization course taught by our Valpo program director.

The campus is much livelier than we when we first arrived in Hangzhou now that classes are in session and I have met students from all over the world from places such as Germany, Russia, Scotland, England, Romania, Korea, Japan, and Thailand.  Apart from classes, I usually spend my days going on runs by West Lake, studying at nearby cafes, eating out with friends, roaming around Hangzhou, and playing soccer with the thumb_img_2157_1024boys (in the process of recruiting other girls to join).  The first couple weeks have flown by and I look forward to seeing what else the semester has in store!



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