For well over two decades, Hirsh Diamant has been teaching students at The Evergreen State College about the culture, history, and philosophy of China through the Silk Roads program. “Silk Roads,” is a metaphor that describes a network of trade routes east and west that were central to the world’s cultural, religious, political and economic interactions.
The program offers an opportunity for students from Evergreen to learn and collaborate with students from WuYi University in China. Diamant, for the past 10 years, has even arranged for Evergreen students to visit China and see in person the landscape and people they have been learning about. When COVID-19 hit, Diamant had to dig deep to figure out how students would still be able to get an experience that would match up to previous years without the benefit of travel.
He worked with colleagues from WuYi and Mumbai, India and together they developed a program where students from Evergreen, Wuyi University in China and Amity University in India would be able to work together during three international symposiums where they would talk and learn about each country’s culture, health and … tea.
Tea is something that many countries have in common. It is one of the world’s most-loved drinks and considered a staple in kitchens all over the world. The history of tea goes back thousands of years and is something that most people can connect with.
Besides the pandemic, one of the barriers faculty had to plan around was how to deal with three different time zones. Another was finding a platform that would work in all three countries. Teams and WhatsApp, both of which are very popular in India, are not allowed in China. Luckily, Zoom was available in India, China and the United States.
After much brainstorming, the International Symposium on Health, Tea and Culture was created. With the sponsorship of Evergreen, WuYi and Amity Universities and the Confucius Institute of the State of Washington, 90 people took part in 3 symposiums. The first meeting happened in November 2020 and students were virtually placed into breakout rooms so they could speak to one another and get to know each other, their cultures and their countries. This first symposium allowed students to gain a global awareness and discover the human commonalities amongst people from three countries that are so remarkably different.
The second symposium took place over two days, one each in March and April 2021. This time students were broken into workgroups based on topics of interest such as music, mental health, public health, etc. Each workgroup met weekly to prepare a presentation, which they would give during the final session of the symposium.
The students within these workgroups again had to maneuver through three different time zones to find meeting times that worked for all participants, so their presentations would be ready by the final part of the symposium in May.
The final symposium dates were in May – in India, participants attended from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday; those attending in China attended from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, but the United States participants participated from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The students from the U.S. enjoyed getting to see into the future quite literally with their interactions from their peers in China and India.
During the two days, participants shared their presentations, and one group even composed a musical piece called, “Summer Love,” that melded music from all three countries into a beautiful melody. The second day was a “tea party,” where tea, poems, art and commonality were shared amongst the group.
This experiment in collaboration during a time that many felt isolated and alone in the midst of a pandemic had a real effect on the students who took part. One Evergreen student reflected on their experience during the symposium by writing: “I am incredibly grateful for the chance I was given to come into a community with students from around the world to create something which resonated with all of us. In the absence of class-related socializing in the last year, I do believe that having such regular meetings with students across the world, made the limited socializing so much more impactful. This project was something that I do not think the conclusion of my education at Evergreen would have been complete without.”
Those interested in the Silk Roads program can learn more by emailing Diamant at email@example.com for more details. Currently, if the pandemic situation continues to improve, he plans for students to be able to sign up for a four-credit International Study program and go to China and/or Vietnam for three weeks during the break between winter and spring quarters. There is also a plan to include Vietnamese students in the Symposium on Culture and Place that is scheduled to take place in December 2021.
For more information on how Evergreen can expand your world, please visit The Evergreen State College website.