Youngstown State University students will set off on an educational trek across China and Tibet this spring from May 18 to June 10. During the trip — led by Youngstown State University professor of geology Ray Beiersdorfer — students will delve into the geological wonders across the area.
“This will be my sixth time taking students. I initially went because it has incredible geology. I knew that, but I didn’t realize how spectacular it was. The mountains are incredible; some of the other features are just out of this world,” Beiersodorfer said. “To be able to go to Tibet, you are on the top of the world.”
The trip will not merely focus on exploring geology. Participants will come away with eclectic knowledge of both Chinese and Tibetan culture.
“Culture is everywhere. When we go to Beijing, we will go to the great wall, visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. When we go to Xi’an, of course we are going to see Terracotta warriors. The students will get a lesson in Chinese calligraphy, feng shui, tai chi … ” Beirersdorfer said. “As well as volunteering for a day in a panda preserve. … We will be in their natural habitat. While we are there, we will be learning about the pandas, and we will also be volunteering at this reserve.”
Students will begin their expedition in Beijing before setting a course to Xi’an, Xining, Lhasa, Chengdu and choice stops along the way. They will make their final stop in Shanghai before flying home.
Although Beiersodorfer has traveled to China eight times before, this will be his first opportunity to take students through Tibet. He said that Tibet offers an unparalleled opportunity because their culture is closely entwined with their geological spectacles.
“The mountains and the geology are intimately interconnected with Tibetan Buddhism. Some of the mountains are sacred. They are just so meshed. If you go to look for the culture, you are going to be absorbed with the geology,” Beiersodorfer said. “We will go to the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Tibet. To get there, we have to take a boat journey across Brahmaputra River. … Then we will go to the castle built by the first king of Tibet. To do that, we will hike up a trail.”
Beiersodorfer plans to actively and passively teach his students during the trip by both lecturing and encouraging students to make their own observations. When students return, they will be tasked with doing a presentation on a topic explored during the trip.
“There is an expression called ‘legitimized tourism.’ We are looking at things from either a scientific or cultural point of view. We get off the beaten path. The students have a journal that they have to keep, which has scientific, geologic [and] environmental type questions,” Beiersodorfer said “I sort of guide their exploration using the journal.”
Beiersodorfer will not be taking on this venture alone. The group will also have two translators with them through most of the voyage. Bob Coller, the director of the Clarence R. Smith Mineral Museum, will act as a chaperone, as he has done before for several YSU trips.
“You know when students go to a foreign country, sometimes, they don’t realize they are in a foreign country,” Coller said. “They don’t understand that they can do some things in the United States that you can’t do in foreign countries.”
Dorian Thomas, a YSU performing arts and communications major and far from sedentary student, expects to participate in the program.
“I am the type of person who has an adventurous spirit. I want to see as much as the world as I possibly can, while I can,” Thomas said. “I’m a people person too. I love diversity. … For me, where China is concerned, I have always had a thing for martial arts. Not only that, I have always wanted to learn Chinese.”
With estimated travel costs at $4,500 — not including passport, Chinese visa, YSU tuition and fees and personal expenses — Thomas has begun taking the necessary steps with financial aid to assure his participation.
“I am really hoping that everything works out with financial aid. I will say that I have run into a stumbling block because it is during the beginning part of the summer semester, and there is a deadline to have the money in before the semester begins. I am trying to work things out where I can start making some fundraisers on the side now, so I don’t have to deal with any last minute unfortunate details,” Thomas said.
The deadline for sign up is April 15, but the trip is limited to 24 students.