(This series of blog posts are a firsthand, real-time account of Morgan’s Study Abroad activities in China, as provided by Dr. Sumanth Reddy, Study Abroad Coordinator for the Division of International affairs. You can learn more about the Study Abroad Program here.)
Leaving For China!
The morning of July 11th started off gloomy with a slight drizzle in Baltimore. Students along with their families and friends arrived one by one at Morgan’s Montebello Building. President Wilson, some of the staff from the Division of International Affairs (DIA), and a photographer from the University’s public relations office also were on hand to see us off on our journey. Before we left, President Wilson provided a few valuable words of advice and reiterated the importance of studying abroad, especially in China. We then loaded up the bus with our luggage, embraced loved ones (some tearfully), shook congratulatory handshakes, waved our goodbyes, and off we went. Our group, which consisted of 10 Morgan students, along with me as their chaperone, was on our way to Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC to embark on a two-week, once in a lifetime opportunity to visit China. Once in Beijing, we will meet up with a larger group of 18 students from two other HBCUs.
We experienced two small bumps on the way. First, our bus broke down on 495 with smoke billowing from its engine. I guess the bus could not contain its excitement for our group. We waited on the side of the highway while cars buzzed past as we wondered if this delay would affect our journey. Luckily, we had a replacement bus pick us up within half an hour and took us to the airport shortly. Check-in was quick and simple, security lines were small, and we were inside at our gate with two hours to spare. We grabbed some lunch, chatted some more and boarded our connection flight to Boston. In Boston, however, we were told that our Hainan Airlines flight to Beijing was delayed by three hours. How do you waste five hours in an airport terminal? We exchanged our US Dollars to Chinese Yuan (RMB) at a Currency Exchange. We got 5.32 RMB for $1 although the current exchange rate was 6.21 RMB for $1. I guess that is the peril of exchanging money at an airport. We walked around the small terminal, grabbed a bite to eat, window shopped, chatted, lounged around, got bored, and finally, four hours had passed and we heard the call to start boarding our flight. An intercom system never sounded so delightful to us.
For many of us, this is the first time boarding an international flight. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was much larger and nicer than any domestic flight. We were surrounded by diverse people, mostly people of Chinese descent. We were already starting to experience China while still in the US. People were speaking in various Chinese dialects. Mothers, fathers, children, and their grandparents were all engaged in a seemingly endless cacophony of chit-chat. We took our assigned seats, buckled up, listened to our instructions provided in both English and Mandarin the main dialect spoken in China, and our luxurious plane started to back up from the departure gate. Our nerves were a little jittery, our hearts were racing with excitement, and we were finally on our way to China. The country with the only man made structure that is visible from the moon (the 5000+ mile long Great Wall), the land of ancient cultures and 1.3 billion people, and the next economic and military super power was waiting for us to be explored.
After a long 14 hour flight where we were provided three meals, countless movies, shows, and music on our personal on-screen entertainment screens, we finally landed in Beijing at 9 PM, Sunday night. Our 7000 mile flight path had taken us north over Canada, the Arctic Circle, and then down over Russia and into China. We quickly cleared immigration, then customs, and were met by our representative outside. We loaded our luggage into our bus and headed for the hotel while our guide gave us a quick orientation. The arrival in China was a bit anticlimactic. Perhaps because it was late at night as we couldn’t see much outside from our sheltered bus and we were also all quite exhausted. We had been traveling for nearly 30 hours. Once we checked into our hotel rooms around midnight, we had a mere seven hours to be back up for our first full day in China. We had been waiting for this trip for a while now, and it is finally here. Good night!