Springfield, Ohio – Inspired by their own two-week tour in 2004 of the Silk Road funded by the Freemen Foundation, Wittenberg Assistant Professor of Economics and East Asian Studies Marcia Frost and Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Stephen Smith decided to design a course based upon their shared experience.
“We were completely blown away,” Smith said. “We immediately wanted to bring students to see what we had seen.”
A few of the sights visited included The Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the Great Mosque and the Terra Cotta Warriors, along with oasis towns along the Silk Road. The Silk Road is a set of overland trade routes from China through Central Asia to the Mediterranean. A wide variety of trade goods as well as people and ideas moved along the silk routes.
“The opportunity to take students along the Silk Road to see the diversity of China’s people and culture, and to begin to understand the complexity of this emerging superpower was too exciting to resist,” Frost said. “The Silk Road is an archetypal example of the Eurasian interaction over millennia that has made the modern world.”
This summer Frost and Smith embarked on a journey May 14-June 11. Designed to appeal to a wide range of student interests, a variety of majors participated along with two in East Asian Studies. The course consisted of morning lectures followed by exploration of sights and cities in the afternoon.
“More often the students had a choice of what they wanted to see and were expected to get there on their own,” Smith said. “In the evening we all had dinner together and debriefed about what people had experienced.”
The students particularly enjoyed the hands-on aspect of learning about the Silk Road.One of the participants Andrea Payne, class of 2010 from Springfield, Ohio, said it was an unforgettable experience.
“ A picture of the Great Wall is not nearly as exhausting to look at as it is to climb it,” Payne said. “The Silk Road itself has a lot of history behind it, so actually going to some of the places that were important to the road made it easier to understand its importance and have a better appreciation for it.”
A camel trek into the Taklamakan Desert proved to be a high point of the trip for Smith.
“Everyone was excited and not afraid to explore,” he said. “The students’ willingness to rise to every challenge that we and China gave them was beyond our hopes. They brought an enthusiasm to their learning that more than offset any difficulties of traveling together for a month. I really look forward to doing it again.”
Students not only learned about Western China and its history, they also discovered new things about themselves.
“I know I have grown a lot because of this experience,” Payne said. “I learned how to communicate with people without learning words. I was surrounded by a culture that was completely new to me, and it changed from place to place.”
Written By: Kelly Juravic '08