IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care (Fall)

China Letter Home

Cohort group in China

Nín hǎo!
Our whirlwind tour of bustling, prosperous China began in the capital, Beijing. The hazy skies, reminiscent of turn of the century London, foretold the stunning economic development we would witness. From the Forbidden City to the Great Wall, we were quickly immersed in the deep history of our new surroundings with the help of our deft coordinator, Zhang Chengping, and the captivating visiting Boston University Professor Laura Sabin.

After four very full days in Beijing we trained south by night to Hunan province--home to famously spicy Hunan food, Chairman Mao, and for the next few weeks, us. As our train rolled into Changsha, the morning sun illuminated a veritable forest of high-rise apartment buildings, like trees in an orchard, as far as the eye could see. Here we experienced true Chinese hospitality, from the huge banner welcoming us to Central South University (CSU), our academic home, to our home stays, where we became part of the family.

Our homestays in China were warm and welcoming. Many of our host parents are professors at CSU and taught us a great deal about Chinese culture and introduced us to the culinary wonder that is traditional Chinese food. Luckily India prepared our taste buds for the classic hot and spicy Hunan cuisine! Our families were very excited about taking us to see the sights in Changsha always making sure we had plenty of layers on. Keeping us healthy was definitely a priority for them! Many of us also lived with host grandparents who loved to communicate their worry about our health and empty bellies with lots of gesturing and a few Chinese words we have picked up. Overall, we were so happy living and learning with our families and wished we had a little more time in China just so we didn't have to leave them!

Our academic experience in China was a wonderous example of how history, politics, and culture can all intersect. From the first moments when we landed in Beijing, we were immediately introduced to China's ancient history through our lectures and with our visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. As we transitioned to Changsha, we found that every day was a lesson in how rapid modernization has affected Chinese society.

Our more formal learning came from various experts and health professionals who visited our classes. One lecture in particular that stands out was given by one of China's experts on aging populations. He discussed how shifting family structure has led to health complications for the elderly population. For example, urban migration is increasing for young people from rural areas who are leaving their communities in search of viable work opportunities to help support their families. As a result 30% of aging populations are left behind and the family unit is changed. In the rural areas access to health resources is poor leaving aging communities who may have various health needs without adequate healthcare or the ability to rely on family for support.
Following this lecture we had the opportunity to visit a medical facility for the elderly and to speak with some of the residents. One resident told us about her family and her many years working as a teacher while living through incredible historical moments in China. Our group enjoyed the opportunity to bring more depth to this topic through hearing about the lived experiences of these residents.

We have also had more informal learning experiences through our case studies which led one group to interview a street vendor who sold various types of snack food. He shared personal stories with our group while also informing us about government regulations of street food and the impact of those policies on his business.

Overall, the most valuable lessons from China came from our personal interactions with it's people; it is one thing to read about the effects of the one child policy on Chinese society but another to observe and gleen for ourselves the effects from our daily interactions with our host families.

In our free time we ventured out to explore many different areas of the country. Over the long weekend in Changsha, some of us travelled to Zhangjiajie National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site and home of the soaring mountains and narrow pillars that inspired the Hallelujah Mountains in the film "Avatar." While it was a little cloudy, the mountains were still awe-inspiring (especially "Magical Hawk Protecting the Whip" and "Auspicious Unicorn") and the tourists posing by fake creatures from the movie were also fun to see. Another group voyaged to the bustling city of Shanghai. From the moment we landed, the city swept us into a whirlwind weekend of sightseeing, experiencing the bustling nightlife, and cuisine sampling. People's Park was beautiful, the French Concession was lovely, and The Bund afforded us the opportunity to see one of China's most impressive skylines.

As we continue to globetrot towards Cape Town, we hope to retain the invaluable lessons of collectivism and unbreakable family bonds that China's rich culture has instilled in our group. We are certain that these values will be integral to the success of our traveling family on what is sure to be a very intense and rewarding South African experience. Zai Jian (for now)!

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Credits: 16

Duration: Fall, 16 weeks

Program Sites:
USA, India, South Africa, Brazil

Prerequisites: None. Coursework in public health, anthropology, biology, or related field recommended.

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