Wednesday! It’s midweek, and with the extra time I have, I can finally sit down and describe to you the amazing adventures of my weekend. And what a weekend. I’m going to a-typically include several pictures I took at the end of this post- the trip was far too beautiful not to.
Last week we had sort of our mid-semester Break.. no class on Friday and an early-ending class Thurs, which left us free to explore the magical world of a three-day break with travel wherever we’d like. (In-country, or course…. But China’s a big country.) As such, several of us decided that we were off to Tiger Leaping Gorge, located near Lijiang, which is one of Western China’s most popular tourist destinations for its beautiful natural scenery and re-created Old City, a large section of ancient architecture and cobblestone streets (which was beautiful, by the way). But for us, or at least for a classmate and I, it was barely even a part of what we’d experience when compared to the Gorge itself…
We started out late Thursday night, taking a ‘Ying Wo’ or hard-bed sleeper train, which made the 9-hour journey to Lijiang overnight. About eight of us went, but myself and a classmate named Henry split off from the main group in search of a faster (and quieter!) hike through the Gorge. We arrived Friday morning and took the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is located right in the heart of Shangri-la county, Yunnan.
The first thing you notice when you start your ascent to ‘the High Road’ are the mountains. And not just like the ones that we have in Vermont; they’re giant, craggy mountains, gray points jutting out of the earth, a few dotted in snow at the top, far above the treeline. They’re breathtaking. The second thing you notice, quite shortly after, is the climb. From the Qiaotou side, which is where we started, it’s a grueling four-four hour ascent, up the mountainside and then through the nearly vertical ’28 bends’, which was almost a Paine Mtn. climb in itself. And guess who decided not to pack light? That’s right, our truly. I basically rucked Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Henry and I walked the Gorge to sleep at Halfway House the first night of our trip. Pro tip; if you’re ever fortunate enough to hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge, you have to do more than one day, and you –have- to sleep at Halfway House. There are plenty of other guest houses in the area, but undeniably, Halfway is the premier location; scenic, remote, and holding true to their promise of “the world’s most scenic toilet” (you’d have to be there to see what I’m talking about…).
After dinner under a sky blazing with stars and an equally amazing breakfast on the top porch, where we watched the the sun eventually overcome cloud-topped peaks, we started off again for the second- and undeniably longer- portion of our journey. We walked up, and down, and across waterfalls… and up and down again, before exiting the tourist-intended middle portion of the Gorge altogether and into the lower section, where I was able to look back and get one of the (in my humble opinion) splendid shots that you’ll see at the end of the post. That night, we made it to a tiny village of well under 500, whose quirky townsfolk hadn’t seen a Westerner in years and whose name refused to even register on Henry’s chinese GPS.
By the time we’d made it back to Lijiang and were reclining in the beautifully-tailored streets of the Old City on Sunday afternoon, we’d hiked about 23 miles in total (counting for both the vertical and horizontal distance). It was exhausting, and one of the most endurance-demanding things I’ve ever done in my life, but despite the walk, and the heavy pack, Norwich had well prepared me to “embrace the suck” and instead focus on the good. As a result, despite the bad times, I had a blast… and someway, somehow, I’m going back some day.
Things like these? That’s why I’ll recommend study abroad every time. Over and out!
Rikki Feightner, Band Co. ‘15
As previously stated, I’ve been staying with a homestay family this semester. And through almost two months of observation, I’ve come to realize that homestay life in China and dorm life at Norwich really has its differences. So here, for your convenience, I’ve made a bit of a list;
Wake up time: About the same. Yep, I thought I’d be living the good life, sleeping in until eight every day, but it isn’t so. Being from a small town in Ohio, and going to college in Vermont, I guess that I never –really- grasped the concept of ‘rush hour’. But here in Kunming, which has over 6 million inhabitants, that’s definitely a thing. My homestay has two adorable daughters (aged 9 and 11, the 9-year-old featuring in the picture with me you see below) who happen to go to school right near our University, so it’s up at 6 or so, every day, to ride the bus with them, walk them to school, and then hang out in the student lounge until class. Then again, I don’t have PT….
Food: The food here is, if you’re willing to try new things, undeniably excellent. I haven’t learned to cook as many dishes as I’d hoped yet, but the food is freshly made every night and it’s always something different. It’s a family-style meal, meaning that there are several large dishes that everyone eats from. Rice and chopsticks are essential to ever meal, and rather than drinks, we sip soup. (My host mom is absolutely determined that it’s healthier for you.) Is it strange to say that I haven’t regularly used a fork and knife in months?
Showers: My showers were usually pretty short at Norwich, but I did usually have the guilty pleasure of a long, hot Saturday afternoon shower perpetually available to me. Our water here is controlled by a solar powered water heater, which, while awesome in the fact that it’s environmentally friendly, means little to no hot water on cloudy days… not fun.
Language: This goes without saying. My host mum and dad have a great grasp on English, but grandma (we call her Popo, which means mother’s mother) and the kids speak very little, so the language of the house is still Mandarin. It’s difficult to follow their conversations, sometimes, but that’s all a good part of learning, right?
Spontinaeity: My host family, like most Chinese families, is… very spur-of-the-moment sometimes. Not that this is always a bad thing, but it really puts a wrench in your plans sometimes where you’re informed last minute that “we’re going to xyz for the weekend!” … or walk out of your door in the morning to be greeted by a family member/friend whom you’ve never met before. Being a big fan of the planning system of the Corps. (call me a sucker for schedules, having been a 1SG), but it plays hell with my sense of order. I’ve learned to accept it, though, and even like it a little. Never bad to shake things up.
Things I never thought would be difficult … but are: This isn’t really a category, so much as a final reflection. Things like working out completely on my own, dealing with infrequent schedules, and dealing with the more… sensitive tendencies of our non-Norwich students has been a unique challenge. It’s something that I didn’t expect from studying abroad. That, and the pretty instense homesickness I feel for my college back home in the States. If you never, ever thought you’d say that you actually missed Norwich, try studying abroad, or talking with someone who currently is. You miss it, and things like Regi Ball, Junior Ring unveiling for your friends, or even just day-to-day things like a “Hey, who’s up for B-dubs” can hit you pretty hard when you’ve no way of participating. That, coupled with the fact that we’re a pretty unique bunch… by which I mean that, if you haven’t figured it out already, not everybody else really ‘gets’ what NU is all about.
You have to go there, I guess. Heh. But I skype as often as I can with the Band and my other friends, and keep active on Facebook. I still miss ‘home’, but it softens the blow a little.
Rikki Feightner, Band Co. ’15
Welcome to Kunming!
Homestay life* Classes* What Kunming is like* Things to do *Differences (Real college!, art, clothes, etc)* How much I miss at Norwich *Diff. in student interaction* Field trips/SE Asia
Fighting off a bit of a cold; Kunming’s been chilly these last few days. But hello! Writing live from my study abroad location, Kunming, and I’m here to tell you what it’s all about. Kunming is one of China’s greenest cities, located on the far West side of the country. It’s the capital city of Yunnan province, bordering Tibet on the west side and Thailand and Laos on the south. As such, it’s a very “green” and extremely diverse city… learning and practicing Mandarin here has been quite the challenge!
I’m here with IES, my study abroad provider, but I’ve actually been here since Mid-June due to the wonderful Project GO program through Ole Miss at Shanghai University. So as I sit here, Halloween just a few days away, it’s been pretty crazy to think that it’s coming up on my fourth month in China. What a journey thus far!
The classroom environment at IES Kunming is pretty different from that at Norwich; to start, we’re taking a lot fewer classes. (Or, at least I’m taking a lot fewer classes than I’m used to; four instead of six, for example.) We have a four-day week, with Wednesdays set aside for Field Trips or exploring the city. Three of those days contain our Chinese class, which is led by our awesome (and pretty fly, I must say) Chinese Professor, Zheng Laoshi. My other courses are those in Economics, Minority studies, and the history/current state of Yunnan province, China, and especially the GMS, which means the greater Mekong Subregion… those provinces/countries that border or contain the Mekong river, which we’ve been learning about rather intensely this semester. The classes are fewer days, but much longer, alost like simply taking the two-day or one-day a week classes at Norwich.
Joe and I are the only ROTC kids here… having never been abroad in non-ROTC groups, it’s a weird transition, but the people in our program are an interesting bunch, so I don’t mind all that much. It’s an interesting change of scenery, if anything. Life here is different, too. I’m living with a homestay family about 6 bus stops away from the University… a life experience that I’ll talk about in the next post, and being free from formations, uniforms, and the Corps… life is certainly different. There’s a lot more opportunity for me to do the more “artsy” side of things while here… spending time drawing, etc, and the unexpected difficulty of having to actually pick out what I’m going to wear each day. (Life is so hard here, I know.. hah!)
All in all, though, it’s been an amazing trip so far. I’ve seen a bit of the city, made friends, volunteered, and experienced the plentiful nightlife that this city of six million has to offer. About a month left in Kunming, and then we’re off and away to Thailand and Laos for about 20 days on our long-distance learning trip… can’t wait!
Stay tuned for the next post… my homestay experience vs. dorm life at the Wick. See you soon!
Rikki Feightner, Band Co. ‘15
Finally, we come to Tibet.
What I can say about Tibet will never quite do it justice. It was… breathtakingly beautiful. Quite literally, first, because it’s one of the world’s highest places on the whole. The air is thin, and to a certain extent, every breath is a fight. They say that people suffer, sometimes quite dramatically, from altitude sickness when they’re there. I didn’t have any of the headaches or nausea; my only problem was that for some reason, I simply couldn’t sleep. I slept possibly three of the ten-to-eleven days that we were in Tibet, usually just settling for a few hours. But the scenery… the life in the landscape. That kept me going.
Tibet is completely unlike China. That much I can say for sure. The look of the people, their culture.. yes, granted, there are comparisons to be made, certain common factors. But the very spirit of the land there was different. It lived in the folk songs, and the breathtaking landscapes, and the stars that blazed at night.
I’d like to come back and edit this post eventually, to flesh it out a bit more and give a more full account of what I saw and experienced there. But for now, I’ll make do with some pictures, and a piece of advice;
If you ever, ever, ever get the chance to go. Do it. You’ll thank yourself for the rest of your life for it.
After coming back from Turkey, I has a few days to do the unpack/repack shuffle, and then it was off to China! I left on June 16th, knowing that I’d be back almost exactly six months later… which is really, really exciting and admittedly a bit scary. I’ve done trip abroad a few times now (all thanks to Norwich/the Air Force, I must say…), but this was a bit different. Because after my summer program, I had a trip to Tibet and then a full nearly four months in Kunming, on the far side of the country, for the first time with a majority of non-ROTC students. But first, came my two month adventure in Shanghai, arguably China’s most thriving city.
The purpose of my stay in Shanghai was the same as my previous two trips to Beijing; language immersion and intensive study. But a few things, other than the location, had changed. First of all… Joe, myself, and our friend Will were the only Seniors in the program. We’d started as freshman, new to the system, and three years later, here we were.. the “old” kids. It was a strange shift, and really seemed to drive the point home. We were Seniors, finally, and for the three of us, we were less than a year away from commissioning.
Talk about a wake-up call.
The summer went wonderfully, though. Shanghai is by no means lacking in adventures to be had or things to do, so in between the language learning and our freedom to go out into the city, each day turned out to be anything but boring. The group, being all ROTC, was a tight-knit one; we studying together, explored together, and partied together. I honestly have no complaints. The program took us to explore Suzhou and Hangzhou, two of the ‘paradise cities’ of China, and gave us introductions to cultural aspects of Chinese life, like pottery and traditional calligraphy. We saw the major downtown areas of Shanghai, to include a few that I’d recommend to anyone- especially the Pearl Tower’s upper observation deck- it has a glass floor!
As the program wound down and everyone else started to pack up, I gathered my stuff together and turned my eyes to Beijing, where I’d be going for a few days prior to my departure for Tibet. It was weird not to be going home, but as much as I missed the states, I knew that ahead of me lay an opportunity that few have had in their lives… the promise of Tibet.
To start out the summer, we (I say we, because for 90% of this journey which has now been… five months in the making, fellow blogger Joe Babitsky has been here with me!) started out in the beautiful, beautiful country of Turkey. The trip was a 12-day program in coordination with Norwich and its partner, NUARI (Norwich University Applied Research Institute, I believe), which does a lot of amazing things for the school, and the Olmstead program, which is a DoD funded organization that involves qualified applicants in immersive foreign language study. Essentially, these are reasonably big players in the field which I hope to someday enter, so as far as experience and seeing how things run at an administrative level, the trip was a goldmine for me.
We bounced between the two “major” cities of Turkey; Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, the metropolitan center of the country. We attended briefings with current Olmstead scholars, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, and got to explore on our own some of the country’s famous sites (the Hagia Sophia [Aya Sofya] was my personal favorite!), sampling delicious Turkish cuisine along the way (Who knew that Turkish Delight came in so many forms?!).
Towards the end of our stay we took a trip along the Bosporus, the main waterway alongside Istanbul, and attended a three-day Water Engineering summit along with the leader of our trip, Norwich’s own Professor-Emeritus Eugene Sevi, to listen to young professionals in the field of water engineering discuss the current issues in that field.
All in all, it was incredible. I could write for days (and did, in my emails home) about the trip, but I’ll keep this brief. The country was amazing, and I learned a lot not only about its culture and its people, but also gained a glimpse into the past and historical mindset that faces Turkey as it deals with problems today.
That being said? Definitely going back in the future for a longer tour of the ‘Sophia and a giant Dönner Kebap.
Aaaand we’re back! Another year of classes, another year of Norwich, and the last year until graduation. But this time, it’s a bit different… I’m starting out ther semester in China, and coming back to the Hill in Spring.
Crazy to think that we’ve come this far… leaves are changing in Vermont right and here I am, staring Senior year straight in the face. But it’s a good kind of challenge; one that both encourages a strong finish and also prompts me to looks back on the last three years of Norwich. This is how the next few blogs will go; I’m going to catch you all up to speed with my last few (read; six!) months of travel, and then it’s straight into October with my expectations/goals/progress in this study abroad so far.
Tomorrow, April Fool’s Day, marks exactly ten days until we get our rings. It’s so strange to think that finally, we’re here. I remember with no loss of detail being a freshman, watching candidly as our Staff Sergeants and Drill Sergeant worked themselves into a near frenzy the entire week before, present in class but eyes drifting longingly to their hands, smacking palms lightly on the desktops as if in anticipation of the status symbol soon to be there.
Explaining the hype around the Norwich Junior Ring is, unavoidably, something that every cadet will have to explain to an “outsider”. And I don’t say outsider unlovingly; this may be a parent, sibling, significant other, or even a dear friend from home. But the problem of explaining why the mention of the ring ignites a spark in the eye of every cadet is almost an unsolvable one, because the very excitement stems from the culmination of the Norwich experience!
I thought as a freshman that I’d feel much older by the time I got here, to be honest. Everything, even after recognition, was still so new and mysterious about the Corps and how it worked then. That’s the path everyone takes; you watch you cadre, you grow into sophomore year under their eye, sharing rank but gaining experience with your peers, and then Junior year comes. I will say, that insofar as my experience at Norwich goes, Junior year has certainly been the most challenging- and rewarding- of my ‘college career’. While it’s not a lie that more than once, I wished again for the easygoing life that encompasses Sophomore year, this semester-and-a-half of school has taught me more about myself and my leadership style that at any other point in my life. I have been tested, found my limitations, and did things that I never thought possible.
And that’s only the smallest taste of what it is to be a Junior. For many, there’s the double-edged sword of being cadre. While the sleep lost during those months can never be regained, they earn the respect of fresh new cadets; a trust that’s worth well its weight in gold. For others, long hours of paperwork and many headaches will yield a quieter, more personal type of growth. But it’s the growth that matters. A growth that has been built on three years running of trial and error, mistakes, victories, and an unconquerable spirit.
And at the end, there’s the ring. The immortal Norwich ring. It’s not just metal and stone; it’s a living reminder of how the last three years have forever changed us for the better; how we, like that metal, have been shaped and molded and refined to become something incredible.
I can’t wait.
Rikki Feightner, Band Co. '15
As of this morning, I received some incredible news. I, along with Joe (my perpetual companion) have been selected to represent Norwich University in Turkey for two weeks this May as guests of the Olmstead Foundation!
We’re going to Turkey!
The trip, hosted by Professor Emeritus Sevi, will be a two-week tour of Turkey, focusing its attention in Ankara and Istanbul. The project, as previously stated, is via the Olmstead foundation, and focuses on “the Diplomatic Aspects of the Military Profession”. During our trip, not only will we be seeing sights such as the Hagia Sophia (one of the ancient world’s most impressive feats of architecture, with construction from 537BCE – 1453BCE), the even larger Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, etc.. but we’ll also have the opportunity to get in touch with the “heartbeat” of Turkish affairs through visitations to colleges, Military Academies, the Turkish Parliament, and the US Embassy, where we’ll meet Olmstead scholars currently studying in Turkey itself. Not to mention a chance to interact with local Turkish people and get a real sampling of their lifestyles!
For a diplomacy/culture/travel nerd like me, the trip couldn’t get any more exciting. And while I wouldn’t have minded a bit going home for longer, this is an opportunity I won’t think twice about taking.
Quite often, it seems of late, I’m spending time reflecting on just how many amazing opportunities I’ve had while in college. Norwich has taken me places- and not just in the academic sense. It feels good to know that, even as a new Lieutenant, when I graduate, I’ll already have some leadership experience and will have traveled to Turkey, China, Taiwan, Tibet, Laos, Burma, and Vietnam… even if only (in the case of a few) for a brief period of time. Twenty years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible. But traveling the world and learning its cultures, while defending my nation, is my American dream, and I’m following it.
I’d better start learning some Turkish.
Rikki Feightner, Band Co. '15