Art and Adventure Abroad
From ancient temples and monasteries to mountain hikes and modern high-speed trains, students on a recent Alverno College-led trip to China did it all.
The group of 19 students, instructors and travelers recently returned from a whirlwind 14-day adventure where they were able to experience firsthand the destinations and arts they had learned about in the classroom.
Led by Religious Studies professor Dan Leister and Visual Arts instructor Eileen Booth, the spring 2017 Art and Religion of Asia: China course — open to all majors — delved into the origins of Chinese art and its connection to religious tradition.
“The culture of China is grown out of the soil of Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism,” says Leister. “We try to get at the heart of what that means so students get to know the people of China.”
During the course, students prepared for the trip by each becoming an “expert” in a special site or topic, such as the Great Wall or Celadon pottery. Not only did students give presentations on their chosen topic during the school year, but they could then share their knowledge with their peers on the trip.
Students kicked off the trip — Leister’s fifth time taking Alverno students to China — in Beijing, where they visited major destinations such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Tibetan Buddhist Temple and the Peking Opera. They traveled two hours outside the city to see the Great Wall at Mutianyu, where Leister issued this challenge: instead of taking a ski lift to the top of the mountains where the wall is located, students could join him on a run up the stairs and complete 30 pushups on the way up and 30 more at the top. (He reports that one student, plus Booth, took him up on the challenge.)
Students later boarded a bullet train that, at 190 miles per hour, whisked them to Xian, where they saw the Wild Goose Pagoda Buddhist monastery and the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum, plus enjoyed a special dumpling dinner in a region known for its wheat production. Another train took the group to the city of Luoyang, where students explored some of the hundreds of Buddhist statues and caves carved into the area’s mountains (the carvings date back to as far as the year 300).
After a stop at the Shaolin Kung Fu Buddhist Temple, the origination point of Chan (or ‘Zen’) Buddhism and a working monastery that still educates thousands of students in the art of kung fu, students stretched their legs on a mountain hike before returning to city life. This time, it was Shanghai, where they contrasted the renowned architecture of the Old Shanghai with the ultra-modern Nanjing Road shopping district. A tea tasting and nighttime cruise to see the city lights capped off the trip, which was so jam-packed with adventures that travelers were hard-pressed to choose their favorite activity.
“This was an excellent group of Alverno students,” says Leister. “Eileen and I were pleased with their commitment to learning about Chinese culture and proud of the way they supported each other and represented Alverno while abroad.”
The China travel course is one of the several short-term study abroad courses facilitated through Alverno’s International Intercultural Center (IIC). In the 2017-18 academic year, for example, students have the opportunity to learn about and travel to Jamaica for a nursing elective on cultural perspectives in health, while a course on coastal cities in the Baltic Region will take students to Poland, Sweden and Denmark. The IIC also promotes and facilitates study abroad for a semester or year at Alverno’s partner universities, which are located throughout the world.