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Junior Year Abroad

When talking about study abroad, sometimes I share with students that “my father did his junior year abroad in Korea.” Reactions vary. With the popularity of the current “Korean wave,” some students feel that his experience must have been pretty “cool.” Others show little interest at all. Few, if any, figure out that his “junior year abroad” in Korea was actually a stint in the US Army during the Korean War. He was, in fact, drafted and served while pursuing his B.S. degree at the University of Minnesota. Although my mother gently encouraged him to share his experience with family as he got older, my father never did before passing away in November 2011. There were only bits of factual information we had gleaned over the years. He traveled to and from Korea on a troop ship, stopping in Yokohama en route. The winters were cold and miserable. The food was awful. There were few very laughs, unlike depictions from the TV series M*A*S*H (Altman’s movie version seemed closer to the experience according to my father).


Broken Bridge over the Yalü

It’s highly problematic, of course, to associate military service overseas with study abroad. But during our recent trip to Dandong 丹东, China, which lies on the Yalü river 鸭绿江 across from North Korea, I could not help but think about how different my father’s experience must have been while stationed on the peninsula. Here I was with a group of students and my colleague traveling on a comfortable bus to the border. There are still obvious reminders of the war, such as the “Resist America, Aid Korea” 抗美援朝 museum in Dandong and the Broken Bridge 断桥, which was bombed in 1951 but still stands today, spanning just over half way across the Yalü River from the Chinese side. But our trip was safe, fun, and touristy. We got very close to the border on both the ground at the Eastern Great Wall and during the Yalü River boat cruise. We even had the opportunity for “illicit” contact with citizens of the DPRK. Halfway through the river cruise, our tour boat stopped and a black North Korean skiff pulled up beside us to offer “forbidden” North Korean goods for sale. I made my purchase using American dollars, which are in high demand on the black market there.  Continue reading ‘Junior Year Abroad’


Here we go again…

In what has become an annual ritual, once again we’re back in China with a group of Benedictine students. Actually, this year we have two groups at our host and partner institution, Shenyang University of Architecture 沈阳建筑大学 (and three total in China this summer counting Dr. Joel Ostrow’s Model UN delegation, which traveled to Beijing and Xi’an).

The China Pollination Project is continuing research on pollinator diversity in China, which began last year thanks to support from the Freeman Foundation and ASIANetwork. Shenyang University of Architecture invited us back this summer and is paying for room, board, and local sightseeing for all our students. This year’s CPP team includes: Amy Klingbiel, Ann Pendergast, Katie Vittal, Rachel Warren, Annie White, and Jermeen El-Zabet. More about the Benedictine University Pollination Project, including student blogs, can be found here. We have support to continue the project summer 2016 thanks to a Benedictine University internal grant and continued support from Shenyang University of Architecture. More information forthcoming later this summer on the project site. Please let Dr. Cheryl Heinz know of any prospective students for the program. Early fall, students can apply online through the project website.

A second group of students as well as the CPP team are learning about Chinese language and culture through special summer courses offered by Shenyang University of Architecture, whose Office of International Education created the program exclusively for our students. Jade Beadle, Ashley Dvorak, Jake Kennedy, Faryal Mushtaq, and Felipe Rangel III (as well as CPP member Jermeen) traveled with me through Hong Kong and Beijing en route to Shenyang. With continued support from Shenyang University of Architecture, we also plan to continue the short-term classes here summer 2016. Please spread the word.

With Cheryl’s parting post last year, it seems that we have come full circle on this blog; picking up where we left off, charting familiar waters yet making many new discoveries, which we hope to share with you here along the way.


Up, On, Over: Experiencing the Great Wall

Although I have visited the Great Wall many times, including both the eastern and western termini at Shanhaiguan 山海关 and Jiayuguan 嘉峪关 respectively, I have never quite experienced it like this before. Our research team is staying in a farmhouse at the foot of the Wall in Beigou Village 北沟村. From our patio, we have an unobstructed view of the Wall at Mutianyu 慕田峪. It is said that many of the residents here in Beigou and neighboring villages are descendants of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) laborers who built this section of the Wall, which links up to Juyongguan to the west and Gubeikou to the east.

Yesterday, it was a beautiful morning in Beigou Village; clear skies and clean air. We started our research by going into a valley that eventually leads up to the Wall. Mr. Cao, our host in the farmhouse, told us we may have better luck finding pollinators up there since the locals use pesticides around the village and in the valley below. After spending nearly two hours doing observations, we decided to make an attempt on the south face. After getting off a narrow paved road, we started our climb, which was well marked with arrows and dots painted on rocks, on a muddy path up the steep slope and to the Wall above us several hundred meters. At one point, we lost sight of the Wall on our ascent. It suddenly re-appeared after the final turn of a switch back on the path. At this point, I was in front and announced that we had arrived. The students behind me were rather skeptical, until they made that final turn and saw, too, before us all the foot of the Great Wall. It was a splendid sight, especially after our brisk climb up.

Ah, almost there.

Ah, almost there.

Of course, the way we had ascended meant that we still needed to get on to the Wall after climbing up to it. There was no official entrance where we had ended up. Obviously, there was only one way: we had to climb up and over the Wall to get on it. Now, this may sound rather daunting. Wasn’t the Wall constructed precisely to prevent such breaches? How could a group of seven docile pollinator researchers scale such a rampart? Continue reading ‘Up, On, Over: Experiencing the Great Wall’



One week. One week is all that’s left of a four week journey. Of course, there are still two more hotels, plus the one I’m in now–we have done a lot of travelling in the past week or two, and there’s more yet to come. Once again, I’ve experienced many ways of travelling here in China — a new one yet again today.

For the past three weeks, I have seen the same colleague and the same five students daily. We have generally shared at least one — if not three — meals each day. I have not tired of any of the bunch, and as much as I now miss my family at home, I know I will miss this bunch dearly.

We’ve collected a good bit of data in the past three days. But we have perhaps stumbled onto a pattern which surprised us in its strength. Of course, it’s irresponsible to draw conclusions before analyzing the data — and we have much more yet to collect. One day can be a glitch… too early to call it a pattern for sure.

One more week in China. In the past week, we were in Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong, Songpan, Xi’an, and now Beijing. The next big journey for most of the group will be homeward. Once home, we’ll have jet lag to get over, data to enter, sort, and analyze, and conclusions to draw.

But for now, I’ve got wet clothes hanging to hopefully dry quickly in the dry Beijing air, notes to write from today’s field work, and some sleep to catch up on, after spending two of the past three nights on trains. Tomorrow’s another work day, and true to form here, we’re still making plans.

And nope, I’m not writing anything more about transportation this time.



Thank you, and goodbye

There are personal costs to going abroad for a long trip. Sometimes, we miss events that we otherwise would not miss for anything. Sometimes, news arrives that can just about break your heart… the latter happened to me this week…


I am still in China.

This morning, 13h ahead of Illinois, I checked my email before leaving for another part of the country. (Woke up early in Shenyang, spent several hours on a bumpy flight, and am now in Chengdu, under cloudy but bright skies, with probably several hours of daylight remaining.) Immediately, I saw notifications of posts in the several IMSA alumni groups to which I belong. Not reminders of coming reunions… but news of the passing of one of the many remarkable leaders of a remarkable place I had the great fortune to attend.


The picture above was taken four years ago: November 2010. It was Veterans’ Day, and I visited IMSA that day because they had invited a classmate, Ron McKenzie, to give the address.

I didn’t know it until later that day, but when I took this picture, Eric McClaren had already received a diagnosis of…

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In China again

What a difference a year makes… it was only a year ago that I took the long flight to the other side of the world and first experienced China in the company of fellow faculty members. A year later, I found myself back on the same flight, this time in the company of five students, all majors in my program area. During the flight, I kept looking up, expecting to see Sue or Zubair on their laps around the plane. But, of course, they weren’t on the flight at all.

When we got off the plane, another reminder of the last trip: Steven was there to greet us, with an iPad “sign” greeting. Tim Goines was also there, having just sent off the students from their short-term study abroad program (they were soon to be getting on the same plane we had just spent 13+ hours on).

One last reminder: the first hotel we stayed in was the last hotel the faculty were in last May. And that’s pretty much the end of the similarities…

More below the jump… Continue reading ‘In China again’



Today’s my last day in the office prior to departure — trying to remember everything we’ll need from here! We’ll be on our way soon!

Benedictine U China Pollination Project

Six members of our seven-person team are one week from departure. We still have bags to pack, decisions to make (do I need another shirt?), plans to make (what should we see first?). But, we’re also preparing for the work we’ll be doing when we get there: making observations of flowers, looking for pollinators, as well as making non-destructive measurements of the nectar content and quality of the flowers. For example, today we went out to the Morton Arboretum, which is only about ten minutes from our campus, and found crabapple trees in bloom.


Everyone got to work the the tools we’ll be bringing with us (as simple as capillary tubes, and as complex as a refractometer)


There were lots of bees on this tree, and a sugar concentration above 30% (the max one can find is only about 45%) helped explain why, even though each flower only had a few…

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