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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer in China 2

Beijing and China's ruling Han majority portray a very specific version of China to the rest of the world. This China is homogenous in culture and creed.

I had a very different experience in China's southern Yunnan province, home to 26 of China's 55 minority groups. In Yunnan's rural lands, I ate the Bai people's distinct culinary creations, witnessed the Ni's distinctive dance, and even married a Tibetan woman after winning a strength contest and being crowned the Yak Prince. (Pictured) The marriage was for show … I think. What Mandarin I understood didn't help me in rural China, where many people speak regional dialects.

So, during my 8 weeks in China, my impression of the nation changed greatly. I don't know how I ever thought a nation of 1.3 billion could be homogenous, but I did. The reality is that while America may be the world's great melting pot, China could probably give the U.S. a run for its money. America undoubtedly has one of the largest varieties of races and nationalities living under one roof, but at the end of the day, our cultural differences aren't that great. For the most part, we're eating the same food and wearing the same clothing.

In China, the racial differences are subtle, but the cultural differences are pronounced. Each ethnic group has its own style of dress, from simple farming attire to fluorescent floral patterned dresses and hats. Each group has its own music, dance, and even musical instruments. China's varied geography and climate has left each group with its own cuisine and abodes.

And while the ideal Chinese person that Beijing portrays is a Mandarin speaking atheist, China is filled with more languages and religions than perhaps any other nation.

So, I left China with a couple of valuable lessons. Actually, I learned dozens of valuable lessons, but to always carry anti-diarrheal doesn't fit in well with this narrative. My first lesson, as cliché as it is, is to never judge a book by its cover, or perhaps more appropriately, a people by its propaganda. You can never really understand a people or culture until you've experienced them first hand. The second lesson, as corny as it is, is that with just a few shared beliefs or commonalities, incredibly varied groups can come together as one nation.

The summer I spent in China was eye-opening. Studying abroad, as harrowing, hectic, and exhausting as it could be, was one of the best experiences of my life.

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