The Challenge of Chopsticks

In the United States, whenever I would get Chinese food I would first try to use the chopsticks and then promptly give up and use a good old reliable fork. Now being in China, I do not have a fork to fall back on when I find myself unable to transport food the short distance between the table and my mouth using only two sticks. At dinner the first night, I began to learn how to properly use chopsticks. Since then I have had several lessons and I have learned that you can hold chopsticks many different ways to get the job done; however I have also realized that the process of mastering chopsticks can be a slow and hungry process.   As the food spins by on the lazy Susan, I often find myself spending a few minutes just to pick up one small piece of food. Each time I successfully pick up a piece of food, I feel like I have won a small victory in the bigger battle of learning the art of chopsticks. Some people who have already mastered chopsticks find it amusing to watch me struggle. The girl who showed my around the high school in Dalian found my struggle with chopsticks quite entertaining. Every time I would successfully pick up a piece of food, she would cheer me on with a “very good!” or a “you’re getting better!” At one point I was struggling with picking up my rice so much that she handed me a soupspoon and told me to use that instead.   I persevered, however, and somehow managed to eat the rest of my rice without the help of a spoon. I cannot wait for the day that I too have mastered the art of chopsticks and can show off my new skill to my friends at home.

First day in Xi’an

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We reached the airport around noon to board a plane from Dalian to Xi’an; it was a tiring day as our flight got delayed by an hour and I had to move my luggage from terminal 2 to terminal 3 and then to the bus, which was quite far away. It was really hot outside too! We reached Xi’an at around 7:00 pm where we had our dinner, which was delicious! The fried noodles were the best. After dinner we proceeded to the fountain square (largest in Asia) and saw the amazing Wild Goose Pagoda. That place was quite relaxing and had beautiful lights all around. Finally we checked into our hotel (Long Hai Hotel) at 9:30 pm.


Chinese Best Friend- Anlin


We checked into our hotel at around 9:00 am after travelling from Beijing in soft sleeper class train. We visited the high school in the morning where we were warmly welcomed by the Chinese students and teachers. I made my first Chinese friend, Anlin, in China there. Those people at school were really very nice. They treated us with the delicious lunch and Anlin taught me to write some Chinese characters. At night it was the formal dinner with all seafood with the CEO in Dalian.

Great Wall Of China


We started our second day in China by having a great breakfast followed by a long drive to the Great Wall of China, which was really incredible. It was really hard to hike the Great Wall, as the steps were uneven. Some were short and others were really high. But is was an amazing view from the top. People in China believe that a person is “HERO” if he climbs Great Wall of China and gets a certificate when he comes down. Later in a day we visited Bird’s nest and Silk Street. It was so much fun at silk street because we kept bargaining. One lady at Silk Street kept increasing the pair of Nike socks from five to fifteen at the same price.

Best Friend Dave

Our second day of exploring China started off with a long bus ride out to the Great Wall and to kill time some interesting stories were told. I’m pretty sure Xinli would like for those stories to stay off this blog. The Great Wall was absolutely incredible. Climbing all those stairs to get to the top of the peak was a challenge. It certainly didn’t help that the stairs were uneven. One stair would be two inches from the other and the next would be a foot. I’m still sore a day and a half later, but looking out at the view and writing my initials on the wall made the hike worth it. When I got back down to the bottom of the wall, I befriended a cat. So clearly that was the highlight of my day. Not the wall, or the Bird’s Nest, or Silk Street, or any of the other amazing things we did that day, but befriending a cat and naming him Dave.



Acrobat Show!

So today was our first real day of exploring China and we managed to cover a ton of ground.  Starting at the Tiananmen Square and ending with an acrobat show.  We saw a lot of interesting things but I have got to say the Acrobat show blew me away.  There is simply no way to accurately describe this marvelous show.  Those crafty acrobats defied physics in ways I never thought possible.  To anyone reading this post that has not seen this show I would like to pose one question.  How many people do you think can physically ride on one bike? The answer may surprise you and if you ever get the chance you really have to see this show in person.

FYI the answer is about 12-13 people.

Not Quite Beijing

We almost made it out of the United States!

We made it?

We made it?

We have finally Texas. We didn’t quite make it to China. Me and four other students missed our connection to China due to delayed flights. Weather and mechanical issues caused us to miss the flight by just minutes. As devastating as it was, we got to bond a little more and will now even get to stop in Canada on our way to Beijing!

The airline gave us free hotel rooms so we are going to get some rest and wake up bright and early to hopefully actually make it to Beijing this time around.

Our lovely home for the night.

Our lovely home for the night.

Wish us luck!

7 Days ‘Til Liftoff

It feels so far away, yet so close at the same time.

I know I will be so busy this week, that I won’t even realize how quickly the day of departure is approaching. However, anytime someone mentions that I will be leaving for China soon, or asks “Are you excited?” My heart starts to flutter.

I can’t deny my excitement. I do not think I have ever anticipated the arrival of anything more in my life. I remember how excited I was to move in on campus this past summer, but I have been waiting to go to China since I was in 10th grade. It has been four years, and every time I think about how it will actually be happening in just over a week, I don’t even know what to do with myself. I feel a loss for words. I am thrilled. I am also worried about missing my flight, but who wouldn’t be?

When I signed up to take this course and go to China for nearly a month, I thought that leaving two days after the semester ended was too soon, but now I am so grateful. I wouldn’t be able to wait any longer if we weren’t leaving directly after the semester ended.

My biggest task over the next week will be packing. Forgetting something is not an option. I really need to make sure I check over what is going into my luggage thrice. There are a few things I already have packed…the essentials (playing cards, sunscreen, and chocolate).

I can’t wait to explore China, make new friends, meet new people, experience a new culture, and try new food.

For now, I guess I will continue to count down the days.


Did I mention I have never traveled outside of the country?

Wish me luck!

Xiè Xie & Zàijiàn


The class in Huangshan, China. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

The class in Huangshan, China. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Lola Buonomo and Caroline Deakins

It’s crazy to think that three and a half weeks ago we were a group of thirty strangers. Coming into the trip, we all had various expectations of China as most of us had never been. The first days in Beijing were definitely a culture shock. Not only were we jet lagged, but the language, the food, and the people felt so foreign to us. Armed only with a few simple Chinese phrases, our group took to Beijing, struggled to eat with chopsticks, and attempted to shop at the markets.

Students Caroline Deakins, left, and Lola Buonomo. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Students Caroline Deakins, left, and Lola Buonomo. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By the time we made it to Shanghai, a lot had changed. New friendships had been formed, chopsticks and bartering had been mastered, and we knew many Chinese phrases. These changes in all of the students were the visible changes- something that could be assessed and graded on. But beyond that, what will never show up on our transcript, our group matured and became more independent as we absorbed the amazing culture around us.

As teenagers, most of us have never traveled or left the country on our own. Even with Xinli and the Chinese students as guides, there were many times when we had to fend for ourselves and speak on our own accounts. With the language barrier and cultural differences, this took some getting used to. By the end of the trip, however, most of us could order in a restaurant without speaking English, barter at a street market, and navigate public transportation systems like pros. The trip has increased our independence and maturity exponentially as we were put into positions that many would find uncomfortable or alarming. By the end of the trip, many students could even see themselves working or interning in abroad.

As for engineering, I think we finally understand how integral culture is to an engineering project. Not only does an engineer need to ensure structural safety, function, and efficiency, but many times, culture needs to play a significant role in design. For instance, Chinese find luck in the number eight. Many designs highlighting eight features are considered lucky and advanced. Another example are the fishtanks in front of most Chinese buildings. They originally served as a fire prevention technique, but now are a cultural necessity in most hotels and offices. As students at an American university, we need to keep these ideas in mind. If we want to be world-class engineers, before designing and implementing a project, we need to study those who are affected by our work. There are many reasons behind design features besides function and many times these cultural requirements can make or break the project. With culture and function in mind, our designs can assimilate into more societies and become more successful.

From friends, to culture, to engineering, this study abroad provided more opportunities than we could have imagined. Although we all came to China with different perceptions in mind, none of us could have anticipated such an amazing experience. Now that the trip has come to a close, we are not thirty strangers, but thirty best friends.


Toilets in public areas are extremely rare as Chinese believe they aren't sanitary. (Photo credit: Lola Buonomo)

Toilets in public areas are extremely rare as Chinese believe they aren’t sanitary. (Photo credit: Lola Buonomo)

By Lola Buonomo

It’s been 3.5 weeks in China and a lot of us have grown accustomed to the food, the travel, and the people. But there is most definitely one thing I can never get use to — the public toilets. They are literally just holes in the ground and without fail I pee on myself every time. I will miss a lot about China but the squatters are the one thing I am excited to never see again.