By Dr. Barry Bilderback
During November 2015 I had the great fortunate of being part of a humanities delegation that traveled to Guangzhou and Shanghai, China. This being my first time to the beautiful and remarkable country, I hope it is not my last. During the trip I journeyed alongside the most wonderful colleagues and travel companions a person could ever hope for: Dr. Torrey Lawrence (UI/LHSOM Director), Dr. Matthew Wappett (UI/Confucius Institute Co-Director), and Dr. Hexian (Snow) Xue (UI/Confucius Institute Co-Director). It was also my great honor to work with Dusty Fleener (UI/Confucius Institute Administrative Coordinator) who helped create a seamless process in getting everything together. From pre-departure to post-return experiences, I have so many to thank, but I must also “single-out” and extend a large debt of gratitude to Dean Andrew Kersten for his support in making this experience possible.
As mentioned, I could not imagine a better group to travel with. The institution visits, delegation meetings, auditorium-sized presentations, formal meals, ground travel, and sight-seeing resulted in a rigorous pace that created a remarkable synergy within the group. In fact, not a single beat in the way of travel, camaraderie, and opportunity for exploration was missed as we collectively embraced every moment as a grand opportunity to appreciate all of the similarities and differences between cultures. With eyes wide open, the massiveness of China’s population, traffic, buildings, and general infrastructure provided a motion that not only flowed beautifully but also provided a great source of bewilderment when I attempted to make some sense out of the entire experience; thus confirming the study-abroad adage stating, “the further you travel away from ‘your own customary’ the more you are likely to learn more about yourself through the ways of others.”
Photo taken after the Confucius Institute Delegation and Annual Report Meeting
Alongside the hustle-and-bustle of institution visits, we also had time to visit Buddhist Spiritual Shrines. These excursions were sources of quiet-time and contemplativeness as we witnessed firsthand – and for me, the first time –China’s remarkable socio-spiritual history adorned with artifacts characteristic of her full majesty and beauty.
As the majority of our University of Idaho delegation duties took place in the southern part of China (primarily Guangzhou), we met with numerous music departments and administrators, and thanks to the talents, communications, and insights of Drs. Lawrence, Wappett, and Xue, we came away with some very strong support and confidence in the University of Idaho as an ideal institution for continued student, faculty, and cultural exchanges. It was a personal and professional honor to be a member of this incredible team and to watch them in action.
Moving from our Guangzhou experience, our next tour-de-force took place in Shanghai for the International Confucius Institute Conference. Along with conference activity the opportunity to connect with jazz-and-bluesman Kyle Gemberling (UI/Lionel Hampton School of Music alum) –whose home and “performing stage” is currently this 21st century global hot spot–resulted in a number of unbelievable expeditions. Although Shanghai is further north of Guangzhou, the only thing that seemed colder was the temperature. The towering skyscrapers that transmit 21st century technology and advertisements, coupled with the well-lit and multi-colored river runs and bridges, provided panoramic sights and excitement that left being cold the last thing on the mind; at least until it was time to duck into yet another extraordinary restaurant for amazing food, conversation, reflection, “delegating” and laughter.
Like most, my overseas experiences can be referenced as “far less than some and, possibly, a bit more than others,” however, this particular trip can also be catalogued under “one of a kind” or “never to be fully captured the same way again.” As mentioned, I hope this will not be my first-and-last visit to China. I do know that should I have the good fortune to return, owing to the incredible work of the Confucius Institute and its members and the remarkable travel group, when it comes to the high bar that was set, I wouldn’t necessarily work towards increasing the length of the pole for the vault. I would more likely consider changing the sport analogy altogether; maybe to something like ping-pong.
To UI in China 2015 –Xièxiè and wǒ shì měiguó rén !