Saturday, January 31, 2009

Academics- Great Bend by Ben Stanistreet

photo by Ben Stanistreet

On our first day of classes here at World Class Kayak Academy we awoke to the roar of the Yangtze river and head coach Jesse Shimrock's voice calling, "Time for workout!" After morning workout and a hearty breakfast of potatoes and eggs, we settled down in the sand for the first period of spring semester 2009. As the day continued I would hear new students as well as returning students making comments like: "I can't believe we are China!", "This is incredible," or " I just had chemistry class on the banks of the Yangtze River!" Similar enthusiasm has continued throughout our trip on the Yangtze and first week of class.

While in China and on this river trip we have had some unique academic opportunities.  Some people joining us on this trip are Li Hong, a professional photographer from Chengdu and Brandon Zatt, a journalist from Shenzhen, a city on the border of Hong Kong. Brandon is originally from the US but he speaks fluent Chinese. While sitting around a campfire he discussed his experiences as a journalist living in China for the past 10 years. He had many interesting things to say and gave our journalism class some good advice on writing a captivating and successful story. His main point was that a good article needs to be about a topic you feel strongly about so that you can get the reader just as excited as you are.

Journalism class also benefited from Li Hong and Adam Elliot's willingness to teach us about photography. Adam is a guide for Last Descents River Expeditions, and he is our trip leader. He is also a very experienced photographer. He taught us some basic principles of photography such as "F:8 and be there." This phrase refers to having the camera on an appropriate setting and recognizing the opportunity for a good shot. The students with SLR cameras were able to learn more about the manual settings and their cameras' capabilities. Li Hong doesn't speak any english, but thanks to Brandon's translations we were able to enjoy a couple of photography related stories and gain some more valuable advice about snapping good shots. He gave us a quote that he really likes: "If your photos are not good enough, you are too far away." Most of us are very excited to be taking quality pictures in this beautiful and culturally rich place.

In cultural studies, teacher Ivan Stiefel has been teaching us about the meaning and characteristics of culture, and we just dove into Chinese culture. We have been reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler, a very well known journalist who reports on China. All of the other classes are going smoothly as well. As students we may complain from time to time about the amount of homework assigned or how early we have to get up for workout, but all it takes is a quick glance at the bigger picture to realize this is about as good as high school could get. 

As I sit here in the sand, listening to the river and the crickets, I cannot help but flick my headlamp off and look up at the few scattered lights on the steep hillside in front of me. They are from the houses of local Naxi people who live off of the land, fishing in the Yangtze and building terraces to grow food. It is heart breaking to think that because of the construction of so many dams this mighty river may not be here in a few years for others to enjoy as much as I have. It will just be a bunch of lakes and concrete. The small village that I am looking at now could be under water as the tourists zoom around in their speed boats above. 

This past week has been one of the most amazing I have had in my time as a student at WCKA. I learned more about this place by experiencing it than I ever could have with books. I found the most valuable things a student learns at World Class are usually outside of the classroom. I am in my sleeping bag, looking at the stars and listening to the Yangtze river while doing my homework. This is the World Class life.