When I first stepped off the plane in Beijing, half a world away from anyone I knew, I felt overwhelmed yet excited. The group of strangers I ate dinner with that night quickly grew into family. The Beijing Center's (TBC) schedule for their students keeps you going yet also gives you time to explore. The first two weeks consisted of going to class on campus, eating Beijing cuisine and exploring historical highlights of the city. In class you really do learn a lot about the environmental and economic aspects of China. As soon as you step out of the classroom you are able to apply what you have learned by simply observing your surroundings (the smog... the people... the customs... etc.) By the end of our Beijing experience it felt like we had lived in the city much longer than two weeks as we had our own routine and go-to restaurants. We didn't want to leave! However, the bonding that occurs with your classmates during this first part of the program prepares you for the great adventures ahead.
The excursions throughout various provinces of China are truly breathtaking and a learning experience that extends far beyond anything possible in the classroom. Zhangjiajie, a lush forest that we explored, was the most beautiful place I have ever been. Here we used a man-made sled to slide down the canyons of this unreal habitat.
Another one of my favorite excursions was an overnight stay on an organic farm, where they used sawdust to clean the dishes. The family was so kind and made us giant dinners with their organic produce. It was a humbling experience that also gave me hope for a cleaner China.
One personal recommendation- DO NOT BRING A DUFFLE BAG WITHOUT WHEELS! I learned the hard way. There is a lot of walking involved in this program and you will be a much more comfortable camper if you can wheel around your baggage rather than lugging it through the airports and cities.
Even if you are not an environmental science fanatic I would definitely recommend this program if you are both adventurous and interested in China. As I like to say, we are all environmentalists at heart- the impacts that humans are having on the environment in China are some of the most prominent today. It is important to experience this first hand and connect it to the rest of the world. In addition to everything I learned about the environment, economy, culture, language, and myself, by the end of the program I had created lifelong relationships and made memories that I will never forget. China goes from being mysterious and even a little scary to a place that will stay in your heart forever.