Former Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Richard W. Clark
Former Visiting Associate Professor, Human & Community Development
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development
Phyllis A. Herring
Former Extension Educator, SNAP-Ed Region 3
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development and 4-H Youth Development - Metro
Former Outreach Initiative Specialist
Former Director of Web Development
Former Extension Educator, Youth Development
JoAn C. Todd
Former Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness
Former Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development - Metro
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008
As I sit on the bus headed to Wenzhou for the last leg of our professional development opportunity, I have a rush of feelings and emotions. Before I left, my parents—in fact, most everyone in my life—kept calling it "an experience of a lifetime." Whenever I heard that phrase, I thought…"Well, I guess, but I'm not sure what that really means in relation to the trip."
For me, I probably won't realize the full extent of how this study tour has changed me for quite some time. I am a deep thinker so the true personal impact is going to gradually reveal itself as I go about my daily life back home. Some of the aspects of the experience, though, are already abundantly clear. I write about them now as life messages I don't want to ever forget.
Until being chosen for this study tour, I had just traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, and to Ontario, Canada. Both places were somewhat "familiar" to me because of the proximity to the United States. This trip, however, is over 7,000 miles from home. Being in a land where most every aspect of the culture—language, food, sanitation, dress, driving habits, landscape, etc.—is different from my own can provide challenges and tests for me. Because I took the chance, though, I have learned these things and passed my own personal test:
- Communication is crucial in cross-cultural relationships. I can still communicate with someone who speaks a different language if we both want to mutually understand each other. Pictures, hand gestures, and other people helping to interpret work wonders!
- Food can be an amazing adventure. I can find stimulating tastes and visually appealing dishes by trying different foods. As my closest friends can attest, until this trip, I have not been a regular consumer of Asian cooking. Last night's banquet though, for example, featured over 20 beautifully displayed menu items. I have now tasted exotic jelly fish, eel, clam, wrapped chicken, tofu, noodle soup, duck tongue, goose liver, quail eggs, sea cucumber, lotus, watermelon juice, tea soaked hard boiled eggs—and the list goes on and on. Who would have guessed I would have actually liked many of them!
- Hygiene is just that—PERSONAL. I can learn to manage my personal hygiene even though water is not sometimes safe to drink, bathroom facilities look "slightly" different than they do in my own home, and my shower head doesn't work. I have become pretty skilled at hoarding bottled water whenever I find some and taking a bath in a shower stall by using the lower faucet two feet off the floor.
- The outfit does not make the person. I have met and interacted with Chinese citizens who were traditionally dressed, wearing urban attire, displaying school uniforms, and peddling local produce. Each interaction was genuine and exhilarating. I have found the people of China to be warm, sincere, friendly, eager to meet and converse, hospitable, and anxious to observe Americans. My clothes aren't important—unless ceremony is involved—but how I meet other people means a lot!
- "Driving Miss Daisy" doesn't seem to play well in China. I can stay safe (so far) and even type on a bus weaving in and out of traffic lanes, honking frantically at other vehicles, driving extremely fast on the shoulder, and coming within inches of numerous speeding semis. Think my oldest sister driving to work, and you may come close to what it is like on the roads in this land!
- The world is a beautiful and fantastic place. I can see first-hand beautiful mountains, tea farms, flowers, buildings, centuries old temples, and water buffalo grazing in the water fields. Think National Geographic quality scenery, and you have a good idea of what I am seeing on this wonderful experience!