Robert Sharf, a faculty member of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures who normally spends his time researching and teaching Buddhist studies, led a small contingent of K-14 educators on a Silk Road journey this summer. Funded by a summer 2001 Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad (GPA) award, the project was administered by the Center for Chinese Studies (CCS). Pat O'Connell-Young, CCS administrator (CCS M.A. '91), accompanied the group throughout the trip, and Associate Professor San Duanmu (Linguistics) met them in Beijing and traveled with them to Xi'an and Dunhuang.

    The participants were selected in a nationwide competition among K-14 educators and administrators conducted by CCS. A total of 14 teachers were chosen to participate: seven from Michigan, three from California, two from Illinois and two from Texas. Participants included educators from kindergarten through community college, with expertise ranging from art to Buddhist studies to social studies. Among their numbers were department chairs, assistant principals, and high school and elementary school teachers

    The Fulbright-Hays GPA award provides funding to assist primary, secondary, and community college-level teachers to visit countries about which they teach. While the award covers basic travel expenses, participants and their university sponsor are required to cost-share. CCS and participants' funds were used to purchase various Chinese materials for classroom teaching: children's story books, calligraphy instruction books and folk art, including farmers' watercolors of country living and batiks with Silk Road themes.

    The group visited major sights in Beijing and Xi'an as well as special Chinese "Children's Palaces" where children study Chinese arts such as calligraphy and music-both traditional and contemporary-played on Chinese instruments. From Si'an, they traveled to Dunhuang, where they were able to visit the spectacular Mogao Grottoes created by monks who traveled to China on the ancient Silk Route bringing Buddhism with them. The group continued to Chengdu where they visited what is now, after the destruction of images in Afghanistan, the largest sitting Buddha image in the world.

    In addition to spectacular archaeological and art historic sites, their destinations included commonplace settings, such as schools. One teacher from Texas is presently establishing a sister-school relationship with the Chongqing No. 8 Middle School, which was one of their destinations. In Chongqing, they boarded a Yangzi River cruise ship where that portion of the trip ended with a privately escorted tour of the construction site of the San Xia (Three Gorges) Dam-soon to be the largest in the world. The group's journey then took them to Shanghai, where eight of the members returned to the U.S. while the remaining six visited Hangzhou and Suzhou.

    The teachers agreed that the real highlight of the trip was meeting the Chinese people who were eager to speak with them, exchange questions and answers with them, and generally welcome them to China. As one teacher summed up the experience, "The China I now know is not the China I thought I knew before the trip."