July 07, 2016

Scholar Voices: How China broadened my worldview

Fourteen of our Earl Woods Scholars had the pleasure of traveling to China this summer on an 11-day excursion that took them to Beijing and Shanghai. The once-in-a-lifetime experience, hosted by Ourgame, parent company of the World Poker Tour©, was the first time many of the students had traveled outside of the United States. For Alondra Contreras, a rising junior at Whitman College, the experience was life-changing. Contreras shares with us the magnificent sights, flavors and cultural experiences she encountered throughout her journey.

你好 (Nǐ hǎo). My 10 days in China were amazing. It wasn’t until I got off the plane and read the “Welcome to Beijing” sign that I felt that I had entered a foreign place. During my stay, as much as I tried not to, I viewed China through an ethnocentric lens and created a dichotomy between China and the United States. Some differences I was prepared for — like the Chinese characters on billboards, a multitude of Chinese people and eating food with chopsticks. Other differences were surprising; to name a few, the seemingly reckless yet synchronized flow of traffic, men in public with their shirts raised above their waist, the air conditioners protruding outside the building windows, the extensive supply of fire extinguishers, and of course, the squat toilets. As I asked our amazing and extremely helpful hosts Cathy, Jud and Koven about these differences, sometimes they themselves couldn’t find the answer as to why things were the way they were. To them, it was just a way of living.     

As soon as we landed, we had no time to waste. We already had our first dinner planned with the CEO of Ourgame. We had duck and other different side dishes. As I write this piece, my mouth waters at the thought of the crispy, warm skin and the tender meat. I only regret not eating more! It is really difficult to choose my favorite dish because every day we had different cuisines, but during our last dinner, we had a thinly sliced lamb that was by far the best lamb I have ever eaten. Oh, and I can’t forget all the seafood we tried! From the inside-out fish with the orange glaze to the scallops plated on a clam shell, it all satisfied my taste buds. 

My favorite event was visiting the school in a rural village. I did not know what to expect but was surprised at how hospitable everyone was. There was fruit and bottled water at our table where the principal introduced himself. We were then taken to a ceremony where we were given a red scarf from the kids, and in return the Tiger Woods Foundation and Ourgame gave a check to the school that would provide book shelves and basketball hoops. I felt unusual being on the other end of the donation. Growing up my family often faced economic hardships, but after this trip I truly reevaluated my privilege.

The world seems as huge and complex as the Great Wall. I have had a glimpse of China, but even I know there is still more to learn. This trip sparked a curiosity to explore the world and see different cultures. At the beginning of the trip, I kept trying to make comparisons, but it was like comparing apples to oranges. I learned the value of exploring another culture without my personal bias. I was able to see China and its people as an extension of myself. I left a part of me in China, but I also brought a part of China with me. I have been blindfolded from the world for too long. As I become more economically independent, I will include traveling into my budget. I am in a privileged position to see the world and broaden my horizons. 

I want to thank Ourgame and the Tiger Woods Foundation one more time for this amazing opportunity that has forever changed my view of the world, others around me and myself. 

Champions of the unexpected for 20 years.