March 27, 2009
The University of Minnesota Dance Team was selected to represent the United States in China in early March. Ten Members of the team, along with Coach Amber Struzyk, made the long journey March 5-10 and even appeared on a television show in Changsha.
It was an amazing trip that created long lasting memories. From lost luggage to receiving celebrity treatment, language barriers to intriguing delicatessen, the trip was action packed.
It was a tremendous culture shock to be in a country where the words on buildings looked like art; however, it was the people of Changsha and the International Cheer Union that made it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Three of the team members documented their journey to share with Gopher Fans in this blog.
DAY 1: Embarking on a New Adventure
7:30 PM rolls around and we are at the airport in Minneapolis getting our bags checked and ready to leave Minnesota. We are excited to leave America and dance on a Chinese television show, yet a little nervous for the culture shock. Many of us haven’t been outside the United States so there is much anticipation to truly be on our own in a country where we don’t even speak the language.
Our travel would take us from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to Seoul, Korea to Changsha, China. On the plane to Korea, we ate our first traditional Korean meal. The flight attendant helped me put together my bowl and watched me eat a huge spoon full of rice, beef, vegetables, and spicy sauce. He then waited for me to try the seaweed soup. It was good, but very different. The flight was great because the plane was huge and we were able to sleep. We watched movies which helped us calm down from all of the excitement.
When we landed, we were excited to see all that China had to offer but a little concerned about our luggage that was still in the United States. Imagine being in a strange country without even a comb? We decided there was nothing we could do so we just kept it positive.
We arrived at the hotel and went to dinner after a quick nap. Our dinner was quite interesting. Before we left for China, we talked about being open to the culture and trying new things; including food. Well I think we were. We tried rabbit, chicken soup with all the parts, including the head, and spicy pork. Rice was overall our favorite part of the meal. Chopsticks were difficult for us. Unlike in America, the chopsticks were our only option so it was learn to use them or go hungry. The servers tried to teach us how to hold them and most of us improved.
We went to bed excited for the television show but also hopeful that our luggage would arrive with a change of clothes, costumes and make up.
- Emily Dahley, 1st Year Member
DAY 2: “A Day in the Life of a Celebrity”
Our second day in China could not have started any better; our luggage was going to arrive. When the words came from our coach’s mouth, “Our bags are coming at noon,” the feeling of thankfulness filled the room. I never realized how dependent I was on my “things” until I didn’t have them.
We went to the TV studio and the most exciting part of the day was taping the show. When we first arrived, we practiced our routines on the stage. While practicing, the Chinese dance team watched and their reaction to our performance was priceless. I realized how lucky we were to get the chance to come to China and show them American styles of dancing. I was so proud to represent the team and the United States.
It was also great to watch the Chinese team perform. They definitely had an immense amount of love for dance. When they danced, the joy they exuded was infectious. It was amazing to see how something like dancing could bring completely different cultures together. While we watched, I said to one of my teammates, “It’s crazy how we don’t even speak the same language but just because we are dancers, we understand one another.” Dance is definitely universal and anyone can enjoy.
I couldn’t believe how Americans are viewed in China. They treated us like celebrities and were so respectful to us. They were so welcoming and wanted to know everything about us. Respectful is the word that I would use to describe the Chinese culture. What a day!!!! Things definitely took a turn for the better on day 2....more to come...
- Stacey Weyandt, 1st Year Member
DAY THREE: Sightseeing and Arriving at Changsha Middle School
It was a relief this morning to wake up refreshed with all our belongings and a change of clean clothes. The day would be action packed; beginning with sightseeing. In order to get to Hunan Normal University, we needed to take taxis. There are NO driving rules in China. Standing on solid ground after the whiplash of the crazy taxi ride never felt so good. A few students from the University met up with us to be our tour guides; like most people we met, they were GREAT.
As our sightseeing began, school was just getting out and there were children everywhere wearing really cute track jackets (I kind of wanted one). We were fascinated by all the kids and took pictures with them! Next, we stopped at the Yuelu Academy, which is over 1,000 years old. It was gorgeous, and exactly what many of us thought China would look like. The history and architecture was amazing and we took lots, and I mean lots, of pictures here.
Lesson learned: Uggs, Jeans, and a cute shirt are not appropriate mountain climbing apparel. The day had warmed up a bit, and all the stone steps we climbed (it seemed like three miles!), gave us quite the workout. After a few more stops, some heavy breathing, we finally made it to the top, and were exhausted. One of our tour guides decided to give us Chinese names and necklaces that went along with them. We were all thrilled with our names. The best ones were Kristie: “Egg” (ha-ha) and Amanda: “champion”! Before heading down the mountain, we stopped for an ice cream treat. After the food on this trip, it tasted great and I completely devoured mine. Unfortunately, the girls that got a green bean Popsicle weren’t so fortunate. They said it tasted like frozen chalk.
Our next stop competes for one of the best parts of the trip, and ranks as the most rewarding. It was our trip to the Changsha Middle School, where the dance/cheerleading students performed for us. Once again, it was like we were celebrities as the news and photographers followed us. We taught the kids a short dance and when they performed it for us, my jaw literally dropped. They were so good! They caught on quick, and were eager to learn and impress us.
Just like most everyone in China, they all loved the blondes (and Cooper of course), and we all took pictures and exchanged email addresses. It’s almost unexplainable how amazing and rewarding this experience was. We were honored we could share our dance experience with kids from the other side of the world.
Dinner was super fun that night. Everyone was in a great mood, lots of laughs were shared, and coach got us Pepsi! After dinner it was time to shop, and the hot spot for us was the scarf store. Thank goodness numbers are universal, because the communication between us and the shop owners was very limited. Around 10 pm with smiles on our faces, bags full of gifts, yawns beginning for a few, and stomachs growling, we headed back to the hotel. Coach and Cooper were the bearers of a treat that couldn’t make anyone happier: McDonalds and KFC. Yum! After a day of pictures, sightseeing, dancing, and shopping, there couldn’t be a better end.
- Janna Thomas, 2nd Year Member
DAY 4: Shopping and Returning to the United States
Waking up after our McDonald’s meal, we were all excited to come home. We missed the food and the comfort of home.
Before we left, we stopped at a Chinese store specializing in embroidery. There were fabulous silk embroidered tapestries, purses, etc. Television news crews were there when we arrived to “film the Americans shopping”. We felt like celebrities yet again.
After we bought gifts for our families, we headed to the airport. This time, our bags were getting back to the U.S. with us. While we waited in the airport, we reflected on our amazing trip. The food was different, but really good. The people did not always speak the same language; however, they were so polite and welcoming to us. They took days off of work to show us around and were gracious hosts. It was humbling and gratifying to witness firsthand the way of their culture.
We were treated so wonderful while in China and the people made this truly a once in a lifetime experience. Not only were we privileged to travel to a country like China, but we were incredibly honored to represent the University of Minnesota and the United States of America.
- Emily Dahley, 1st Year Member