And just like that, it’s over! We arrived back from Lijiang (via an oh-so-long bus ride) and since then, we’ve hardly stopped for breath or reflection. Some of this “business” was unfortunate: a bad soup broth left several members of our group sick and this theme, was to be repeated for much of the week. For the most part, however, the time was well spent and rewarding. Groups of four students were organized for a case study that would focus on a particular issue raised in the course. These were designed to give Chinese and American students an opportunity to work together collaboratively and for the Chinese students to retaliate for two weeks of Andover-style learning by accessing own-language resources and selecting topics of special interest to them and their communities. A change in the class plan, which involved each subject meeting every day, also added rigor to the schedule, but helped, I think, in allowing for more coordination between disciplines on a given day. Another positive element of the week was that many of our classes “featured” our Chinese colleagues: during the science class, Teacher Chen (“Steven”) discussed basic water chemistry and measures of water quality, Teacher Lu presented us with a case study on the rehabilitation of Suzhou Creek in Shanghai, and Teacher Cai Lei (“Leo”) explained the process of treating wastewater using activated sludge. Teacher Tony from Shanghai also made a heroic (and successful) effort to bring together many of our discussions on barriers to behavior change by leading us in a conversation about the psychology of environmental activism.
We were able to see the practical applications of these concepts, as well as to connect them with the economic drivers, in a visit to an innovative wastewater treatment plant in Kunming and presentation by one of the plant’s investors. One might not always think that a tour through the sludge lagoons would be the stuff of inspiration, but in this case it provided a rather unique and apt opportunity for synthesis. Afterwards we were able to air out our lungs on the shore of Green Lake while eating our first “Western-style” meal of the trip. This was followed by a rollicking game of charades on Saturday evening, during which one student, who will not be named, did a beautiful job of acting out the process of wastewater treatment for fellow classmates and teachers. Connections indeed!
This brought us into our last few days, full of work and presentation of case studies, a few last games of basketball, and too many goodbyes. In this time it was very powerful to observe how much friendship and scholarship had become interwoven in such a short time as language-culture pairs, now fast friends, helped each other conduct rigorous research, translate technical scientific material, and compose presentations that involved every team member. We knew then that despite any improvements needed over the years to come, that something special had happened here.