Building on their fall term classroom studies, a dozen Knox College students spent nearly three weeks traveling in southern China and deeply exploring the region’s culture, landscapes, and arts.
The 19-day trip took place during Knox’s winter break. The students kept a busy schedule that consisted of a variety of opportunities, such as:
- Visiting ancient towns, historically rich architecture, and topographically unique natural areas.
- Viewing stage performances that highlighted local minority cultures.
- Engaging in an academic exchange at Dali University.
“This trip was my first time leaving the continental United States, so the experience was quite eye-opening,” said Alec Auston '19, who is majoring in biochemistry and economics. “It taught me that there are a lot of amazing cultures and people in the world and that I could learn a lot through interacting with them.”
The students enrolled in an Asian Studies course, titled Arts, Culture, and Landscapes of Southern China, during the fall to prepare for their travels in China. The course emphasized “natural landscapes, ethnic minority cultural landscapes, and their visual or artistic representations,” said Weihong Du, associate professor of Asian Studies (Chinese) and director of the Asian Studies Program. She and Michael Godsil, instructor in art, taught the course and accompanied students to China.
“The prep course allowed me to have a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the places, practices, and activities of the trip,” Auston said.
The students’ itinerary took them to the cities of Guilin, Yangshuo, Kunming, Dali, Shaxi, and Lijiang in southern China. They “studied and participated in local culture and attended artistic events, all while being exposed to the natural beauty of the area,” Du said.
Keara Crook '19, who is majoring in Asian Studies and biology, was able to practice her Chinese-language skills on the trip and said that she learned a great deal about differences and similarities among ethnic groups in China. “Dialects, clothing, culture, ways of life, and food all vary to different degrees within these minorities, and it was astonishing to see firsthand,” she said.
Now back on campus, the students are continuing their examination of southern China’s arts, culture, and landscapes by putting together special projects during the winter term. Crook, for example, is creating a collection of black-and-white photographs from the numerous snapshots she took with an analog camera and analog film. Auston is creating a pottery presentation based on landscapes.
Du said the trip, which emphasized experiential and interdisciplinary learning, dovetails with students’ overall Knox experience.
“Whether this trip formally complemented the students' major or minor coursework or helped expand their perspective in general, the work the students did fit in nicely with Knox's mission to enrich our students' learning through deep and authentic educational experiences,” she said.
Students offered similar views.
Auston said he appreciates the fact that at Knox, students are educated in an environment with peers and faculty members with a wide range of backgrounds. “Having the opportunity to experience a culture that is not your own allows you to not only have a greater understanding of other perspectives, but it also allows you to enhance your own mindset with the knowledge you have gained from these other cultures,” he added.
Jack Harman '18, who majored in history and theatre, pointed out that as a liberal arts institution, Knox is “all about opening and broadening your world view and horizons.”
“While this happens on an intellectual level every day in the classroom,” Harman said, “there is simply no substitute for going somewhere completely new to you and experiencing that which life has to offer there.”
(Photos submitted by Michael Godsil and Weihong Du.)