Reading Without Borders is an ideal accompaniment to a Semester At Sea yoyage. It is designed to impart depth and perspective to the students’ experience of the places they encounter. In an era of mass tourism, featuring hasty visits to monuments and malls, a plethora of guides and group trips, the course acquaints students with the work of thoughtful, talented writers who have engaged with these places in a dramatic variety of ways. It comes to this: borders have been crossed by people moving in different directions. You have citizens of foreign countries who leave; rich and poor people who escape. Sometimes they flourish abroad, sometimes they miss what they left, sometimes they return. Some others, motivated by pride or constrained by poverty never leave. Then you have outsiders who come to a country and remain there, expatriates who sometimes flourish and sometimes feel like permanent aliens. These are the dramas that we’ll confront in our readings. People who disembark in a strange place can feel understandably bewildered, especially when the visit is short and tightly scheduled. In the books we will read, students will confront the stories of people who have preceded them and stayed longer as they share their experience, their enlightenment and —sometimes —disillusionment, their love and anger. One of the benefits of reading, I contend, is that it makes us feel less lonely in the world. This course will alleviate that problem. The course will involve three or four short reaction papers to visited countries and a longer 12 page paper in which students visit a location featured in one of the books we’ve read and offer a thoughtful commentary on what they thought and what they read. There may be a written final in which they will be asked to describe which of the places visited they might like to explore more deeply and why.
Field ClassCountry: China
Date: November 24, 2017
By the time students reach Shanghai, they will have crossed their share of borders, as their passports will verify. But in Shanghai they will confront borders of a different kind, borders that once separated colonial zones from Chinese and that now separate the past and present. From the late 19th century until 1943, foreign powers were accorded concessions that were under foreign control with their own Concession. All sorts of people lived there. Gangsters, con-men, White Russian refugees. It was a good place to hide, safe from prosecution for crimes committed elsewhere. The place was home to international figures: Chou En Lai, Mao's Foreign Minister, Sun Vat Sen, founder of the Chinese Republic, Madame Soong, his wife and eventual widow. Their houses can all be visited today. And... where the tour should make its first stop-- is Fuxing Park, where statues of Marx and Engels look down on tai chi and dancing classes, singers, chess and badminton, and domino players. You can walk through the art-deco district, stroll leafy streets and linger in places that invite exploration and generate reflection. In a city of high rises (Pudong) and vintage business buildings (the Bund), the French Concession dispenses a unique and ineffable charm.
1. A sense of the European past, on what was once foreign property.
2. A sense of what has changed in the area... and what has not.
3. A challenge to reporting and writing skills, appraising a place that is unlike any other.