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UCLA Magazine Winter 2002
It's not your parents dorm anymore
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A beautiful Mind
The Long March
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Winter 2002
The Long March
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Just getting there is an adventure in itself, one that begins with a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai, a 37-hour train ride to Xi'ning, the capital city of Qinghai Province, and a six-hour bus trip to Guanting, a town of a single main street and about 2,000 people. Our long march is an odyssey in reverse through the full spectrum of economic development in China, from the ultra-modern urban sprawl of Shanghai to the primitive backwater of Guanting.

When we finally get there on an August afternoon, it is clear that our arrival has been much anticipated. Students and local teachers have been waiting for us for several hours. At the gate, the teachers offer each of us, in the manner of Tibetan tradition, three small cups of super-strong liquor and a long silver scarf known as a hada. Kindergarten students greet us with what likely are their first English words, "Welcome to Guanting," and other students sing Tibetan and Mangghuer songs and dance for us.

After the opening ceremony, our group is divided and sent off to six different locations. Mine, the village of Xiela, is another hour away along a rutted dirt road. Our students there are primarily from the middle school and already have had one to three years of English instruction — mostly from textbooks and without the benefit of teachers who really know the language, so their pronunciation is very strange. Several primary-school students who don't yet know the English alphabet but are eager to learn also join in our beginner class.

What is the reason for our being here? Organized by Political Science Professor Richard Baum '62, the director of the UCLA International Institute's Center for Chinese Studies, we have come at the request of a unique program that teaches English to the local minority population and trains them to use the Internet to identify and apply for development-assistance grants. The project has been highly successful, with more than 85 local projects — ranging from construction of village classrooms, greenhouses and latrines to the digging of water wells and the purchase of energy-saving solar cookers — funded over the past six years in this region where annual incomes average $100-$200.

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