Students share sights, insights of China

By Natalie Lariccia

Fifteen YSU students spent winter break in China to gain a better perspective of its cultural and geological aspects.

YOUNGSTOWN — Many people may dream of hiking the Great Wall of China, volunteering at a panda preserve and examining ancient Asian architecture.

But for 15 Youngstown State University students who recently took a three-week trip to China during their December 2009 winter break, this dream was reality and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the country’s diverse culture and terrain.

These students shared their experiences and photographs with their classmates and families during a weekend symposium at Schwebel Auditorium in YSU’s Moser Hall.

All students who attended the trip are enrolled in geology courses taught by Raymond Beiersdorfer, of the department of Geological and Environmental Studies. Attending the trip and delivering a multimedia presentation are main components of the course curriculum.

Beiersdorfer coordinated and attended the trip, which featured a fast-paced itinerary that included visits to 12 central and southern-China locations, including Beijing, Shangri-La and Shanghai.

The experience provided an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of China’s geology, environmental science, anthropology and culture and included visits to the Great Wall of China and the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum in Banpo, Beiersdorfer said. Students also volunteered at a panda preserve.

The courses are considered part of YSU’s spring semester classes, but the trip takes place over the winter break so it will not interfere with students’ other classes. Students do not have to be geology majors to attend the trip.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students to experience China. We spend most of the time in the countryside. They are able to get into the more remote parts of China,” Beiersdorfer said.

The students delivered presentations Saturday based on a topic of their choice. Presentations covered China’s glaciers, jade and pearl mineralogy, population and air pollution.

Johnnethen Pierce, a senior majoring in information technology, delivered a presentation about the seismic impact of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

During the trip, students had a unique chance to tour the site of the deadly earthquake that measured nearly 8.0 on the Richter Scale and killed more than 69,000 people.

“Earthquakes have always been intriguing to me. The whole scope of hearing about the amount of deaths and listening to the NPR [National Public Radio] coverage on the way there [to the earthquake site] just brought everything full circle. With a vivid imagination, you could almost imagine those images,” Pierce said.

Phillip Martin of Ravenna, pursuing a master’s degree in social work, focused on the history and evolution of giant pandas’ diet, which has progressed from a meat-eating diet to a current diet of primarily plants and bamboo.

Martin said the trip was an amazing experience and he hopes to return soon.

“We got to see a lot in a short amount of time. The culture and the people were just amazing. They greeted us with open arms wherever we went,” Martin said.

Mitchell Thornton, a freshman English major, said he also enjoyed the excursion.

“Overall it was a really good experience .. .My favorite part was seeing all the Olympic sites and the panda preserve. I just feel so fortunate to go to China,” Thornton said.

Beiersdorfer, meanwhile, said he loves sharing China’s beauty, history and culture.

“Before I went to China the first time, I knew the geology would be fantastic and the food and culture would be great, but what I didn’t realize is how friendly the people ar e, and I wanted a chance to share that with the students,” he said.

The 2009 trip was the third time Beiersdorfer has taken a group of students to China, and he is planning to take another group over the 2010 winter break.

Students are responsible for covering trip expenses, but fundraising and grant opportunities are available. Students interested in learning more about the trip can e-mail Beiersdorfer at or visit

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