Silk Road Summer

by Lori Stubben

What do teachers do with their long, hot summers? Well most go to 1-3 weeks of teacher trainings, prep for the next grade half of the rest of the summer and enjoy their families and do all the things around the house and land they meant to do all school year but were too busy to get to. As for me I wrote a bunch of essays in December and then went to a group interview which landed me a spot in the Fulbright Summer China Institute.

Sixteen teachers from California met at UC Berkeley for a week of lectures and preparations for a full month is China and Mongolia. We were each to create a lesson plan that would relate to the Silk Road and our subject matter. Our day, week, month long plans were to be based on something we couldn’t create ahead of time or at home- the lessons could only be created from our experiences and gleaned information during the trip.

We started our adventure in the ancient capital city of Xi’an in Central China. The city is full of universities (over 200) and public art along the roadways (thousands of large statues). I got to see the Terracotta Warriors on the hottest day of my trip- 100’ and full humidity indoors with thousands of tourists excited to see the archaeological site first hand. I’ve taught about the first Emperor of China in 6th grade many times, but to see his power in person- the effort of almost a million people for a decade making the largest mausoleum in the world 2200 years ago- incredible!

We then flew to Dunhuang in Western China. This small (200,000 is tiny in China) city is in the Gobi Desert and 20 miles from a UNESCO heritage site, the Mogao Cave Complex.  Almost 500 caves carved out of sandstone cliffs in the 4th-14th centuries house statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas with nearly glowing mineral pigment paintings of the stories of the Buddha in his past lives and of the different Buddhist heavens. Most caves also have 1000 Buddha images painted within them as well.  We were so lucky to be able to visit about 20 different caves and a giant seated Buddha and giant “sleeping” Buddha. We saw their security center, visitor center (with an imax dome theater) thier library, and sat in on a UC Berkeley/Chinese University colloquium. After riding camels in the desert to empathize with silk road travelers we flew to Mongolia.

A week in Mongolia was another highlight as we stayed in a national park in a yurt, as well as visited many remote monasteries.  At least every other day on the trip we visited universities to hear lectures about modern and ancient religion, arts and politics from different professors.  We even brought along our own archaeologist specializing in the Silk Road, Sanjyot Mahendele from Berkeley who is working on many projects in Central and South Asia, a wealth of knowledge for the group.

We then moved on to Beijing to eat the most incredible food from multiple regions of China, saw the most incredible museums and architecture on our planet and prepare our lessons. We then took a 150 mph train to Suzhou, a white walled city full of gardens, where we presented our lessons for two days and gave advice to each other atop a brand new high rise overlooking the new and old city.

Lessons were in music, art history, English, Chinese and social studies or combinations of those.  Mine was a three day roleplay where students fill out a passport about a historical figure that traveled on the Silk Road in a certain time and place at the culmination of a Chinese History block. I set up the interactions for these characters and they have conversations with each other from their previous knowledge of the time, place and character. I liked another teacher’s activity about the statues of the Mogao Caves coming to life so much that I plan to turn it into the 6th grade play this year with some student help.

I then had the only free time on the trip, one and a half days in Shanghai where I visited the largest and most lavish Starbucks (30,000 square feet- all wood, brass and glass) and then to the site of the largest World’s Fair that now houses a contemporary Chinese art museum and was hosting a cosplay convention.

After 35 days together and away from our families we returned to California ready to teach our families and students about our time in East Asia and the highlights of the adventures we had there.  I’ll be block switching for main lesson with Mr. Williams in the Spring to teach the 6th grade about Chinese history and direct their class play. I also plan to add Chinese folktales and Jataka tales (from the murals in the mogao caves) to my class’ first and second grade story curriculum. It was a very worthwhile trip!