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UCLA Magazine Winter 2002
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Winter 2002
The Long March
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After three weeks, it is time to leave. The closing ceremony proves to be one of the most emotional experiences of my life. When the farewell song is finished, some students burst into tears, and soon every student is crying. Moved by these strangers in their midst who have come to one of the remotest corners of China to help them, these shy village children cling to us and hug us, and one of the quietest boys in my class looks at me and says simply, "I will miss you."

Now back in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, I still can't convince my friends that what we did this past summer in China was of significant benefit to the children there. Indeed, there's no certainty how our brief interlude there will affect my students. But I know that I have benefited. I saw a part of my native country that until now had been alien to me and which has attracted little attention even from within China. I saw how people struggle with an unfriendly natural environment and try to be as resourceful as possible. I saw how students struggled against both natural and economic constraints to receive an education in an attempt to better their lives. For me, "poverty" and "development" are no longer just words; when I read a paper about economic and social development, it is real and tangible.

A fellow UCLA student on the trip, Grace Jun, told one of the leaders of this program that we are all changed in different ways from the experience. Grace, a Korean American, began to learn Chinese this quarter and plans to return to China to learn more about the people and the culture. Another student, Vivian Zhan, says she will never complain again about lack of material things. Kevin Johnson is working part time in Beijing to help prepare for the 2008 Olympics.

As for me, I am currently reading up on rural development and thinking of future fieldwork on the SDA as a case study of successful nongovernmental organizations in China. And most importantly, I'm thinking up new games for my students in Qinghai.

Xin Zhang is a doctoral student in political science. Grace Jun, a senior in international-development studies, contributed to this article. The trip was partially funded by donors Howard and Norma Lee, Robert and Patsy M.L.S. '64 Sung and Richard Barnard, as well as by a grant from the UC Pacific Rim Research Program.

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2005 The Regents of the University of California