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From Barton to Beijing – Reflections on Adventures to China

by Kirk Butts

Wilson, North Carolina, is a small and inviting community that welcomes visitors the very first time they drive through the city. Its warm hospitality makes Wilson the perfect place for Barton College students to comfortably call home.

Being comfortable is nice, but rarely is it exciting. That is why Barton puts such a strong emphasis on international travel. Opportunities abound for students, alumni, faculty, and friends of the College interested in exploring the world. Literary pub tours follow the footsteps of some of Ireland and the United Kingdom’s greatest writers. Guests can gaze with their own eyes on some of the world’s most photographed attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

Although Big Ben and the “Mona Lisa” are on bucket lists everywhere, they are well known to just about everyone in the Western world. For members of the Barton community who want to get a bit further from their comfort zones, all they have to do is look east. Far east.

Next May, Dr. Zhixiong Cai will lead a lucky group of travelers to China. This 17-day adventure is one the Barton professor of mathematics has directed since 2000, and 2016 will be his final such trip with the College. A native of Sichuan Province in southwest China, Cai has watched his homeland undergo a dramatic transformation since leading his first Barton trip there 15 years ago.

“The changes China has witnessed since 2000 can be described with one word,” he explained. “Unbelievable! The average worker now earns five-and-a-half times what he or she did back then. In 2000, we visited a commune, and the people there were happy to show the rice and wheat they had in storage. Now, they show off new cars they have purchased, or new homes they have built.”

If spending more than two weeks exploring an exotic, faraway land sounds like a daunting experience, imagine the challenge of organizing such a trip. The logistical expert behind it all is B. Perry Morrison, Jr., director of international studies at Barton. A seasoned traveler himself, Morrison points out that these guided trips are much more than a vacation.

“The students realize how big the world truly is,” he said. “They gain a greater understanding of other cultures, and witness new perspectives outside the United States. One of the joys of my position is seeing the emotional and intellectual development of students when they participate in Barton Abroad and Barton Travel programs.”

Morrison, who has traveled to Europe a dozen times with Barton, says that Cai’s voyages are one of the College’s most desired packages.

“They consistently are at capacity, and the travelers always return filled with the wonder of a new discovery,” he lauded. “These China trips have amazed and astounded our students, friends, and alumni for more than a decade. Dr. Cai shows them a side of China that is not seen by many Western tourists, and it is a great opportunity to build community spirit behind Barton’s mission.”

Able to view these experiences from both perspectives, Cai identifies an even deeper meaning to the trips. His western travelers take plenty home with them, but – whether they realize it or not – also leave something with their new friends in the east.

“My favorite aspect about these trips is providing an opportunity for our travelers to meet real, ordinary people in China,” he reflected. “They see how people live their lives there, and they communicate with them. In our 2012 visit to a middle school in Chengdu, the institution adjusted its schedule for all classes so that our visitors could talk to the students. Each traveler was invited to a class to be the speaker and talk about America, or anything the students asked. When our visit was over, students and teachers went with us back to the tour bus. They didn’t want us to leave. The school principal offered an open invitation to any future Barton visitors.”

Whether it is a “hop across the pond” or a pilgrimage across the Pacific, international travel opportunities with Dr. Cai and others at Barton College offer experiences that make the world seem just a bit smaller and, like Wilson, a more welcoming place to call home.

The reservation deadline for the May 2016 excursion to China and Taiwan is Thursday, Oct. 15. To learn more about this trip and other travel opportunities with Barton College, visit https://www.barton.edu/travel/barton-travel/, or contact Morrison at (800) 345-4973 ext. 6343 or travel@barton.edu.