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Ivy League students gain new insights after China tour

By Xinhua writers Zhong Qun and Han Xiaojing (Xinhua)

09:23, August 10, 2012

BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- Before coming to Inner Mongolia, 21-year-old Avalon Owens was both nervous and excited. She said she had been looking forward to discovering the mysterious land, but worried that there might be no hot water or air conditioning.

But after spending a whole week in the vast autonomous region in north China, the Harvard student came away with a new perspective regarding the seemingly undeveloped region.

Owens's summer tour is part of the Harvard-Beijing Academy (HBA), a program sponsored by Beijing Language and Culture University and Harvard University that allows students from Ivy League universities who are interested in China to experience the country for themselves.

Established in 2005, the HBA program takes Ivy League students on a nine-week tour of the country that includes intensive language class, as well as a weeklong social study project that gives them the chance to conduct social research in a location of their choice.

Owens and fellow students Amy Sparrow and Ashley Wu elected to conduct their research in Inner Mongolia, as they were curious about both the region's exoticism and its actual conditions.

Owens said she was surprised to discover modern cities like Baotou and Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, as she previously believed the region was significantly undeveloped.

She said that although she was not shocked to see a lack of bathing facilities in the yurts, or tent-like housing units used by herdsmen, she did not expect to see modern domestic appliances or private cars, which some herdsmen own.

"It turns out that life there carries both traditional and modern tunes," she said.

Sparrow said that while chatting with local herdsmen, she learned that most of them are eager to send their children to schools to obtain a good education.

"They told me that the Chinese government encourages younger generations to attend school for a better education," Owens said.

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