Testimonial: Geography, Environment and China

Chris Coppock
Geography and Environmental and Sustainability Studies Major
Summer I, 2018
Water Resource Management in China

I experienced a faculty-led, two-week study abroad program at a number of locations in China.  The program studies China’s water resource challenges, and although the program has structured lectures in a conference room style setting, most of the learning experiences were outdoors in various environments where I got to see the challenges and successes of China’s hydrology system up close and first-hand.  The course is designed to be fun and engaging and it skillfully integrates learning with culture and sightseeing.  Additionally, WMU students in the program get to spend a lot of time with Chinese hydrology students—many of which are graduate students.  This not only allowed me to gain more knowledge of the themes I studied for this class, but it also was a wonderful opportunity to talk about cultural comparisons.

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Image: Graduate Students from Beijing Normal University.

My most memorable visit was to Bingling Cave Temple in Lanzhou.  We boarded a boat at a reservoir on the Yellow River, where we got to see first-hand the point of entry where the sediment enters the Yellow River from other tributaries.  At this point, the Yellow River’s blue-colored hues transform into the unattractive muddy-colored, sediment-filled water that the river is known for.  The boat took us to the cave temple where we were reminded that long-ago civilizations in China (and everywhere else in the world) date back to millennia.  The dating of these kind of historic sites abroad is always an awe-inspiring exercise for us Americans who lack a historic preservation of past civilizations.  The karst landscape along the river and throughout the Bingling Cave Temple is breathtaking, but the carved Buddhist statues and grottoes elicit a beautiful peacefulness that made us all wish we were artists and poets.

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Image: Chris and a Buddha at Bingling

This Bingling Cave excursion is only one example of the many excursions that integrated the learning of the area’s geography and hydrology while also providing a very memorable sightseeing experience.  And the long commute to and from the site was one of many opportunities to interact with the Chinese students that accompanied us.  We had a lot of quality time with the Chinese students where we learned Chinese words and shared cultural songs and music with each other.

This program concentrates on geographic and environmental themes, however, I learned so much more outside of these topics.  China is a socialist country that has experienced a phenomenal change in recent decades, so being able to witness the effects of the changes first-hand was the biggest impact on my perceptions of China.

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Image: Entrance to Bingling of the Yellow River.

Since I am an Environmental Studies major, one of my biggest takeaways from this experience is how different a market-driven society like ours reacts to environmental challenges in comparison with China’s socialist society.  One of the biggest topics we studied while in China was their impressive South-to-North Water Transfer Project which diverts water from a major tributary in the south of China to a major tributary in the north of China to provide drinking water to metropolises like Beijing.  It is an enormous feat that cost the equivalent of hundreds of billions of American dollars.  I have since regularly pondered whether our market driven economy would ever produce such a large project for human health and the environment.

Image: A Scale of a portion of the S-N-W-T-P.

I left China feeling impressed with their accomplishments, yet wanting to know more about the sacrifices that people have to make to benefit from these monumental achievements.  I wish I could go back for a political science faculty-led class, or even an economics faculty-led class to delve a little deeper into the aspects of socialism in China.  I also shed many of my own perceptions that we Americans have about China which began when our American businesses started off-shoring their manufacturing processes in China.  This is a topic for another day, but I feel it is my duty to try to get others to view China as a place that needs to recover from the exploitations of its resources from our willingness to offshore our manufacturing in their country.

This is a high quality study-abroad class that is educational, cultural, and very fun.  Dr. He packs a lot of experiences into the trip.  I recommend it!

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