Alumni Relations announces sixth annual trip to China
11:48 a.m., Oct. 4, 2011--University of Delaware Alumni Relations has announced the sixth annual special trip for alumni, faculty, staff and friends of UD to China, the Middle Kingdom, in June, 2012.
The journey will be led by volunteer directors Xiang Gao, professor in the Department of Music, and his wife Renee Dong, instructor of Chinese in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. The deadline for applications is Jan. 15, 2012.
Study abroad 'thanks'
It will include visits to Beijing, where the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the spectacular 2008 Olympic park are located; Xi'An, site of the 2,000-year-old Terracotta Warriors; and Shanghai, the largest port in the world and the “Pearl of the East,” and Suzhou, the city of traditional Chinese gardens and silk.
The success of the China trips in the past five summers was not due to simply the aforementioned world famous sites seen by the group, but also due to the highly educational element and cross-cultural experience provided by the two volunteer directors.
“As an artist from China who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, I consider China and the United States as my mother and father countries. As a cultural ambassador, I have been passionately promoting cultural exchange and understanding between the people of the two great nations. Friends of our University who traveled to China with us unanimously agreed that they were able to gain so much more with our special designed itinerary than regular tourists in China, and it was the best way to visit a country like to China,” Gao said.
The participants were learning about the Chinese people as well as their lives, history, philosophy, religion and society with the two professors.
“On the night before we came back to the States, we had a farewell party in Shanghai. The participants surprised us with a choir performance to honor Renee and me. The lyrics created during the trip by Gerry Brunner, one of the participants were funny and touching. As I was standing there listening to those wonderful people singing their hearts out, I said to myself, what a wonderful way to make so many new friends who now care about the two countries and will spread the words when they go home. Mission completed!”
Concerning food, Gao said, “I personally ordered almost every meal we had in China, which everybody loved. I now have the menu of most restaurants we ate at memorized -- well, I guess I do like food a little more than average.”
The trips have benefited tremendously in the non-English speaking country from the fact that professors Gao and Dong are natives of China, which allows them to provide special insights to the tour group. “Because we are both bilingual and bicultural we know what is most valuable to the travelers,” Gao said. “Plus we have directed the UD Study Abroad China program seven times and the alumni China trip five times, so we are able to make the trip a better experience than any travel agent can provide. This is our way to say thank you to America for the wonderful education it offered to the both of us and to the University of Delaware for the endless support we receive on campus."
In addition to acting as an unpaid guide this past summer, Gao also performed a concert tour as featured soloist with the University of Michigan Symphonic Band at such world famous concert venues as the National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing, the Shanghai Grand Theatre, the XiAn Concert Hall among others.
Golden Pig Fund
The trip benefited not just the participants; it also served to raise funds for scholarships.
Gao said that after many years of extremely successful and well-received trips, the participants established a scholarship fund for UD students called the Golden Pig Fund -- the first trip took place during the Chinese year of the golden pig -- to honor the trip and the work of the volunteer leaders.
Many UD students have received the Alumni China Trip Awards, scholarships funded by the donation from the Golden Pig Fund. These students will travel to China to study music, language, culture and history. The winners of Delaware National String competition created by Gao and presented by the UD Master Players Concert Series also received cash prizes from the same fund, and they thankfully used the money to advance their studies in classical music.
"I am sure that I can speak for everyone on the trip that touring with Xiang and Renee was a eye opening experience that will forever change the way we each view China and all of Asia," said Stuart Binder-Macleod, chair of the UD Department of Physical Therapy. "Xiang and Renee are first and foremost teachers who treated every participant like family. It was clear from our first encounter with Xiang that organizing and participating in this trip was a gift that Xiang wanted to share. It is his passion; Xiang's way of giving back to the people of the U.S. and China for all he has received.
"It was also clear that he was doing this to try to make the world a better place, to promote understanding between the people of two great nations.
"Xiang and Renee were pros. That have done this trip so many times that they anticipated all of our concerns and did everything possible to keep us safe, comfortable and very well fed," he said, adding, "Xiang and Renee could not have been more gracious hosts."
"We were so lucky to have Xiang and Rene as trip leaders to China," said Laurence Seidman, Chaplin Tyler Professor of Economics. "They were so well organized, knowledgeable and friendly. They chose exciting historical and cultural sites, fine hotels, and the best restaurants. They know China and they know the United States, and are eager to share their comparisons and insights. We had a terrific two weeks in China. Don’t miss this trip!"
Kenneth Lewis, Chaplin Tyler Professor of Economics, added, "We absolutely loved our trip to china and the kindness of Xiang and Renee. The trip was transformative and has given me a much better understanding of my Chinese students."
2012 trip being planned
Due to the overwhelming success of the past trips, Gao and Dong are planning another trip for June 2012 at the request of many friends of UD.
The 2012 trip brochure, with itinerary and application forms, is posted on the Alumni Relations website. The deadline for application is Jan. 15, 2012.
Born and raised in Beijing, Gao came to the United States to study at the University of Michigan and after graduation came to teach at the University of Delaware.
While teaching in Newark, Gao has developed into one of the world's top concert violinists from China. The New York Times declared him “a rare and soulful virtuoso,” and the Washington Post said, “Gao's blend of emotion and technique, strength and subtlety was a pleasure to witness.”
For more information on Gao's music career, see the website.
For information on Gao's upcoming concerts in the area and the Master Players Concert Series (MPCS), of which he is the artistic director, visit the MPCS website or call the general manager Tamara Smith at 302-831-2850.