Thursday, March 26, 2009


September is a genius and saw this in the SkyMall catalogue. It's called a DreamSack and it's basically a really thin sleeping bag/linens. Since a normal sleeping bag would be too bulky to carry around with me, this DreamSack would be just like sleeping on sheets at night but it folds up to weigh less than half a pound! I have to get one.

Toilet paper is not always provided in restrooms in China - especially in rural China where we'll be spending most of our time. If it is provided, it costs. So, I have to bring a bunch of these little Charmin To Go. Good thing September gets them in her Christmas stocking every year! We always knew they'd come in handy some day.
Interesting fact: We are strongly encouraged to bring American face wash because while face wash and soaps can be purchased in China, they have bleach in them to help bleach the skin and make the skin 'whiter.' Whoa...  It's so interesting to me that in America, it's the exact opposite. For once in my life, it'll be good to be pale!! 


Ni hao! 
I haven't posted in quite some time because I have been bombarded with school work, exams, projects, papers... the typical UM busywork. Only 4 more weeks of school and only 64 DAYS UNITL CHINA! 

There's much to update on: 

First, the past 2 weeks or so, we have had some delegates from China in to visit our team here at Michigan. Dr. Lu Sr. is here with his wife, there are some staff and volunteers from GCI and they have been shadowing us around campus. My friend Ellen (the girl who I am traveling with after our program) and I have taken 2 of the GCI staff around campus to get smoothies, play monopoly, etc. They are very sweet, funny and offer great insight on our project and Chinese views of Americans. They are leaving next week but we will be meeting up with them again when we arrive in China in June. 

Secondly, we have started to put together our teaching modules for the kids. I'm not sure if I wrote this in a previous entry, but we are no longer going to work with elementary schools. Only high schools. I am extremely disappointed about this but high schoolers will still be fun. We are teaching at boarding schools in rural China outside of Beijing and staying on campus in the dorms with the kids (only 20 minutes from the Great Wall!). Each of the teaching teams have great ideas for projects to do with the students. The arts & crafts team are doing things like gingerbread houses, friendship bracelets, popsicle stick picture frames, and magazine collages. The singing team is going to teach the kids the 'Hokie Pokie' and 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' as well as some Disney songs. The theatre/games team is going to show the kids how to make musical instruments, play charades, improv theatre, and skits. And my dance team is going to focus on hip hop and dance team dances to do with the kids. I am going to incorporate some games I used at Coit (the elementary school I taught at the last 2 years), exercises from Interlochen (with regards to improvisation and movement), dance team routines and YouTube videos. We all presented a 10-minute synopsis of our teaching modules to Dr. Lu Sr. and the Chinese delegates and they seem very impressed with our ideas for the kids. Now, we're all even more excited for the trip than we were a week ago! 

Next, we got Chinese names! Dr. Lu assigned us special Chinese names that we are going to use overseas this summer. They're so awesome! My name is Mo Chou and I guess it means 'no worries.' There are two characters but I will have to practice writing it because it seems very complicated. At our meeting next week, Dr. Lu Jr. is going to explain in further detail what the names mean to the Chinese and why they were chosen specifically for us. I love that my name starts with 'Mo'... that's what people used to call me in Philadelphia, so it's cool that it's reintroduced now for this trip to China. 

Lastly, I am putting together a list of things I need to take overseas this summer. I am basically going to be living out of a backpack for 6 weeks because that will be the easiest way for me to transport my things from site to site. If anyone has any advice on what to bring, what not to bring, how to backpack, stories (good and bad), etc. I am all ears. What the delegates said on Tuesday was LESS IS MORE. Space is limited, accessibility to things like running water is limited, everything... so we have to pack very light but very intelligently (as if we are only staying 1 weeks -not 6). So, any of you with camping experience, you're input is much appreciated! 

One last thing, if anyone has ideas on small gifts to bring over that are particularly American, let me know! We might be staying in some of the children's homes for a few nights and we are encouraged to bring some sort of thank you gift/compensation to our hosts. What would be something cool and thoughtful to bring? 

Hope everyone is enjoying Spring! More updates to come. 

Zai jian! 
Mo Chou

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chinese Opera With Dr. Lu Senior

 This character is actually a monkey from the Monkey King story. I guess it's very popular in China - especially among the children.

We had another team meeting tonight where we met Dr. Lu Sr. (former dean of Beijing Opera), Dr. Pong (Dr. Lu Sr.'s wife - a renowned physician in China), Dr. Lu Jr. (founder of Golden Courage International). It was so great!! All are very nice are so excited to have us come to China this summer. Dr. Lu and Dr. Pong spoke little English, so Dr. Lu Jr. translated for most of our conversation. Since they have much experience with Chinese Opera, Dr. Lu (Sr.) shared a powerpoint presentation, complete with clips and videos, of what opera is like in China. 

Classical Chinese opera is very different than what Americans think of opera. In China, it includes singing (in Mandarin), dancing (Chinese dance), acting, Kung Fu (Asian stage fighting), and acrobatics/tumbling. The costumes are very intricate and actors usually have their faces painted. Each color of paint has a different meaning. For example, red is courage and bravery; blue and green represent fierceness and astuteness. Yellow is a sign of a violent temper. And silver and gold are colors of gods. If interested, this website is a really good resource for Chinese opera:

So after the opera presentation (Dr. Lu Sr. even acted out a scene and sang for us!) we learned how it is going to play into our trip to China. Before today, I believed our team was going to watch performances each night our first week. But it gets even better.... that whole first week in China, it is going to be like we are opera students. We are going to watch the various classes (singing, dancing, acting, Kung Fu, acrobatics). We also are going to shadow the performers and learn their parts!! We get to try on the opera costumes and even get our faces painted with our favorite colors!! I cannot believe it. It all sounded so exciting while Lucinda was telling us, that I wanted to squeal. Trying on costumes and make up?! WOW!

Towards the end of our meeting, we all went around the room and introduced ourselves to our guests. After introducing ourselves, Dr. Lu Sr. asked if we wanted Chinese names for our time in China! Apparently, Chinese names are taken very seriously and a lot of thought is put into a person's name. Not to say that names aren't important in America, but Americans probably do not care quite the same way about a name as the Chinese do. So Dr. Lu Sr., Dr. Pong and Dr. Lu Jr. are going to look at our pictures, read our biographies and they are going to assign us our Chinese names next week! When we are in China this summer, we will be able to get "chops" (I guess they're like stamps) that we can use to stamp our names back in the states. We'll also learn Chinese calligraphy so we can write our names with their special brushes and ink. This is going to be great!

I posted pictures of what the face paint looks like in traditional Chinese opera. It's very intricate and symbolic. If you have any suggestions on what colors/designs I should have my face painted like this summer, I'd love to hear them! 

Xie xie! (Thank you!)


Day 3 of retreat

For our final project of the retreat, we had to complete what was called a Religious Immersion Project. We were instructed to visit a religious service/celebration that is unfamiliar to our own and participate/observe/interact. Some places people visited included the Baha'i temple, a meditation and relaxation gathering, African Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist church, Hindu commission, the Salvation Army, the Quaker house... everything sounded so interesting. Unfortunately, many of the [cool] places were far away and required a car. So, I was unable to get to any of those. Also, there was a cap of 2 people allowed per location. All excited for my possibilities, I found my top choices were taken and my plan B was shot down because the buildings were off campus. So... I went to the First Baptist Church. It wasn't exactly the exotic experience I was hoping for, especially since I grew up with a Catholic upbringing - I was hoping to experience something different than Christianity. But it was okay.

The service was early, and with day light savings time, I felt like I was getting up even earlier. Not to mention it was POURING rain outside and I had to walk a mile away. What a nightmare. I made it in time for the service but was completely soaked and freezing. I found the service to be quite similar, actually, to a Catholic service (although the Catholics would probably disagree with me. So might the Baptists.) But I could definitely pick out similarities between the two. Again, I was rather disappointed that I could not attend something like the Zen Buddhist Temple or the Baha'i center but the one woman who introduced herself to me at the Baptist Church was very nice. I had expected a service in a mega-church, complete with lights, a rock band, and movie theatre screens (we all have stereotypes and generalizations) but I was pleasantly surprised to find the perish/congregation to be no more than 50 people and rather quiet. No tv's, loud music (except the organ was pretty loud), in-your-face preaching... it was completely different than I had envisioned. The woman I spoke to encouraged me to come back and join the church for 'college night' (somehow I don't think their idea of college night involves $3.00 pitchers and $1.00 jello shots), and she said she hopes to see me every week. I think next weekend I will try to visit a different service to see what kind of celebrations are offered in the Ann Arbor area. 

Our retreat officially didn't start until about 1pm yesterday, so I had some time from the end of the service to the start of the retreat. We had to make posters of our experience to share with the group and briefly discuss similarities and differences between the service we attended and any service we were familiar with. All very fascinating. 

After the presentations, the retreat started to come to a close. We went over some last-minute details about what's to come of GIEU between now and the end of April, journaling, essays, requirements, etc. And then we were dismissed early! 

Overall, the retreat was an interesting experience. It was not at all what I had expected and some parts turned out to be even more fun and interesting than I had thought! I met some fun people (one girl I went to Interlochen with!) and learned more about the different field sites and projects. 

Next month, on April 30 we have our GIEU convocation. It's the official send-off for our field sites as it will be the last time we all meet before we go on our trips and reconvene in the fall. We have to give presentations on our projects, discuss who we'll be working with, what we'll be doing, etc. Parents, family, friends are invited to come! So if you're interested or in the area (and want to celebrate my 22nd birthday a day late) you're more than welcome to come!! 

Much love,

Day 2 of retreat

After the first day of the retreat, I was pretty annoyed to be going back again at 9 o'clock Saturday morning. But everything turned out to be good, actually. 

We had 2 guest facilitators from the campus group called IGR - Inter Group Relations and they met with us for about 3 hours working on social identity awareness, conflict resolution and teamwork. I felt like I was a few steps ahead of the group because I had just completed the same activities at my Intercultural Leadership Seminar over spring break. We spent the first part of the morning filling out and discussing our social and personal identities with one another. Then we did an activity called, "Who Owns the Zebra, Who Drinks the Water?" - another activity I did at ILS. The large group was divided into 3 teams and given about 40 minutes to try and figure out the puzzle. I was in charge of watching how people interacted, conflicts, teamwork, etc. The puzzle is so fun if you haven't done it before! You can check it out at this website:

I made a list of all kinds of observations and after one of the teams solved the puzzle, we spent another 40 minutes discussing the teams' work. Other student fellows and site leaders who were present also made observations and shared their thoughts. It was funny to hear everyones interpretations of how their groups worked through the problem because most were very different than how we, as observers, interpreted their actions/facial expressions/body language.

During and after lunch, we were shown a painting and in teams of about 8, asked to discuss what the painting was about and perform our interpretations in front of the entire group. There were some really creative ideas and a couple of the skits were hilarious. It was a good team bonding activity and also tested our creativity. Definitely wasn't something we ever considered doing in art history class. 

After the skits we were told it was time for another movie. Afraid of what this one could possibly be about, we all reluctantly walked into the auditorium. The movie was called Baraka and I am happy to say, it is now in my list of top 3 favorite movies. It was absolutely incredible. There is no dialogue - instead it is a series of photographs, some time-lapse video, of all different places on Earth, people, religious practices, museums. It was breathtaking. The video opened with shots of the Himalayas to Japanese flute/meditation music. It showed various religious practices from all over the world, waterfalls in Africa, temples in Thailand, the lush vegetation of Indonesia, Buddhist monks, Indigenous tribal dancing, people crowding in subways in Japan, Ayers rock, the Australian Outback, Auschwitz, Times Square, burning oil fields in Kuwait, everything. It was mesmerizing. I highly recommend it - for the photography, the music, the meaning.... at one point, my friend Stephen turned to me and said, "I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to be feeling right now." It is one of those films that takes you on an emotional roller coaster. Because there are no words, no explanations of what is happening, why those sites are being filmed, the interpretation is left to the viewer. It was, by far, my favorite experience of the entire weekend. 

If you're interested, you can read more about the movie here:

Post-movie, we learned about our Relgious Immersion Project for Sunday. More info in the next blog entry (Day 3 of Retreat).

Saturday night, I went to a Chinese film about love and relationships in China in the 21st Century. As part of our team requirements for China (separate from the GIEU retreat), we have to go to at least 3 Chinese films held every Saturday evening and write a 2 page reflection on one of them. This was the first one I attended. Next week, is one about the Bird's Nest - the Olympic Stadium. Should be interesting. After the movie, I met with my co-facilitator for the dance module for our trip and we planned what we're teaching the kids in China. Details on that to come as things are not finalized yet. But I can't wait!!! 

Watch Baraka! 

Day 1 of retreat

I was unable to access this blogging website much this past weekend so I am writing now about the retreat I just finished. Every year, as part of the required obligations of attending the GIEU field sites (because GIEU is also considered an academic class - we get 2 credits for it), students are assigned a weekend for a retreat. These retreats last all afternoon (4-10pm) on Friday and all day (9-5pm) Saturday and Sunday. They are designed to aid in team building skills, intergroup relations, intergroup dialogue, social awareness, cultural awareness, among other things. There were about 35 students at the retreat this weekend and it was lead by 2 main facilitators along with about 10 guest facilitators throughout the weekend. 

Friday was pretty boring. Not to mention it was about 65 degrees outside and all of us wanted to be playing frisbee, not doing icebreakers. We were paired up with another random, unfamiliar GIEU student, someone going to a different field site than ourselves, and we had to 'interview' them - the facilitators idea of an icebreaker. We sang some chants and the director of the program opened the whole retreat with a libation (in a plant.) He apparently lived somewhere close to Uganda and at the beginning of each group meeting there, the leaders would pour water into a plant and then sing chants. It was interesting but confusing. Because only 1 or 2 other people from each field site were there, the retreat was not intended for me to learn more about China. Instead, it was to help me build skills that I can use not only in my trip to China but also in my life (or so they told me.) Needless to say, I was skeptical of the entire weekend. 

Two other China team members were also at this retreat and at one point, we were all instructed to draw a picture of what we are doing overseas this summer. It was cool to go around the room and listen to all the projects. They sound so NEAT and much more interesting than they did on paper in the original field site descriptions. After our drawing/sharing session, we watched a horrible movie called Black Robe. I found it extremely offensive and completely irrelevant to the GIEU program and our field sites. By Friday night, I was ready to scream. In fact, I actually might have at one point while venting to September on the phone that night. However, Saturday would prove to be much better.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Golden Courage Website

Ni hao!

Ni hao! Wo jiao Morgan! (That means, 'Hello! My name is Morgan!' in Mandarin).

We had another team meeting tonight and our first Mandarin lesson! I learned the 5 tones of Chinese and how to say some basic phrases. I've downloaded a couple Podcasts and free programs from the internet to aid in the language-learning process. Learning Mandarin is proving to be quite difficult for me as it is completely different from my English and French background. It's very interesting, though, and I look forward to learning even more of it from the kids in Beijing this summer.

We also had a visit from some Golden Courage guests this evening. One woman, Lucinda, is the executive assistant to the founder of GCI and two other staff flew in from China to help us develop our curriculum and serve as translators for us. They're going to be shadowing us and our every-day routines to get to know us better before we go overseas this summer. They staff hope to sit in on some of our classes, go out for lunch, and hang out with our team members to learn more about what/how we're planning on teaching this summer and to give us more background information on the children and GCI. 

We also talked more about the kids and how to be culturally sensitive to them and their past experiences while teaching this summer. Lucinda shared stories with us about some of the children and their traumatic pasts - and how learning fine arts opened helped them in their healing processes. The stories are utterly heartbreaking. It's so unfair that children as young as 5 years old are forced into the sex industry or forced into working 60 hour work weeks just to have enough food to survive. The experience thus far has shown me how fortunate I am to live in a country that values freedom, to have parents, and money, and food, and shelter, and an education. I am so lucky to be able to make this trip to China this summer to help give back what I have learned in the arts and in the American school system, so I can help others (ie: children) improve their lives and give them a future to look forward to. And in return, learn from them and their culture. 

The movement/dance team I am on for this trip consists of 3 people. (I guess not that many people wanted to bust the moves in a new country). We're going to meet on Saturday to discuss our curriculum and how we're going to go about implementing the National Standards for Arts Education (it's intense.) I like to think of myself as pretty competent in dance and movement but I am a believer of the theory that you do not know a topic until you are able to successfully teach it to another individual. The standards are really pushing me out of my normal context of thinking when it comes to dance. Some of the standards can be found here:

While this project is already proving to be a challenge, I cannot wait to meet with my group and start planning our lessons. 

That's about it for now. I have my GIEU retreat all weekend where we will discuss more cultural competency  (like the conference I attended over Spring Break) and strategies for effective teamwork. 

Zi jian! (Goodbye!)