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First impressions, perceptions, misconceptions, and innovation

Day One

Seventeen, yes, seventeen! That is how many times more people live in Beijing than in Wake County, North Carolina. Beijing encompasses about eight times more square miles of land than Wake County. For comparison purposes, that is 1,195 people per square mile in Wake County to 3,868 people per square mile in Beijing.

Just imagine standing alone in your bathroom brushing your teeth in Wake County. Now imagine being in Beijing. You are no longer alone in the bathroom as you are joined by three other people. Beijing is large and crowded. That is my first impression, my pre-conceived image of Beijing, before ever stepping foot on Chinese soil. I expect this impression may hold up once I experience the city. However, some of my other pre-trip perceptions, molded by media and television, may not be realistic.

Another perception is that the climate is gloomy and gray, all the time. I imagine the city streetscapes, in my mind, like black and white photos. Yes, I know they have pollution issues and smog, but is the environment there unusually gray and gloomy?

I also have this pre-conceived image of Chinese food being overly exotic, meaning foods people consider delicacies, I will find repulsive. I envision sitting down to dinner and having a plate of wiggling-crawling critters placed before me. Pass the hot sauce! I just don’t expect to list this trip as my culinary dream journey. India still holds that honor.

A fourth perception I have is that I feel it will be difficult to immerse myself into the culture due to the language barrier. I have traveled to many different countries including Germany, Singapore, Japan, India, and Turkey. In all my travels, I felt stress in countries where English was not understood by the people I encountered. The sensation was one of being trapped or feeling lost. Germany and Japan were very different in that English was understood and spoken by hotel staff, restaurant workers, and shop keepers. I felt free to explore and enjoy those countries’ cultures. I believe I will experience a trapped sensation on this trip as I expect to find few people possessing the ability to speak English.

The main purpose of the trip is the Beijing International Science Competition and thus another of my pre-trip malformed insights is how China promotes science education or education in general. My perception is that schools in China are so focused on rigor and regimen that their students will struggle to express creativity and innovation. Will the student displays and science posters emulate the dullness of regimen built into pre-conceived image of Chinese education or will the students’ projects glow with creativity and innovation?

These are my pre-trip perceptions. Will they hold true or be debunked? I’m excited to find out.

Matthew Meyer

Dr. Matthew Meyer is the associate vice president of educational innovations for the N.C. Community College System.