Southeast Students Travel Silk Road, Explore Chinese History, Culture


Nine students and faculty from Southeast Missouri State University recently completed a two-week study abroad trip in China, where they explored the history and culture along the Silk Road.

During the trip, students learned about the ancient and modern Silk Road that changed the world history and visited UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the Terracotta Warrior Museum, Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, Great Wall of China, and Mogao Caves, all along the ancient trade route.

The students included Ryan Begley of Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Grant Burrell of Bloomington, Illinois; Angel Haslett of Beecher City, Illinois; Heather Meadows of Scott City, Missouri; Sarah Portell of St. Louis, Missouri; Alyssa Smith of Festus, Missouri; and Minna Straus of Cape Girardeau; and were led by Dr. Toni Alexander, chair of Southeast’s Department of History and Anthropology, and Dr. Shu-Chuan Wang-McGrath, instructor in Southeast’ Department of History and Anthropology and advisor in Southeast’s International Education and Services.

The trip was an opportunity to expand their global cultural awareness and understanding of Chinese history. The students earned class credit, and completed assignments, travel journals and research projects about their experiences.

The students began their visit at the ancient Chinese capital city Xi’an, where the Silk Road started.

“Xi’an was home to the Qin, Han and Tang Dynasties, the latter of which epitomized the past cross cultural and economic connections of the Silk Road,” Alexander said. “Xi’an also represents the future of the Silk Road as one of the fastest growing cities in China, and as the home city of Chinese President Xi who is encouraging the economic growth of the region and who has implemented the Belt and Road initiative that will promote China’s reconnection to Central Asia.”

In addition to visiting significant historical sites in Xi’an, including the Terracotta Warrior Museum, a Muslim market district and the Shaanxi History Museum, the students spent time at Chang’An University interacting with administrators, faculty and students and received instruction about Chinese cultural traditions.

To better understand the extensive and diverse geographical, cultural and economic past and future directions of the Silk Road, the students traveled approximately 1,000 miles by public transport trains and buses westward to the communities of Zhangye, Jaiyuguan and Dunhuang.

“Each location allowed students to interact more with the themes introduced in Xi’an and experience the physical geography of a region challenged by extreme desert climates but nonetheless having adapted and thrived,” Alexander said. “The same route we took was also the means by which not only economic trade, but also cultural exchange took place with the introduction of Buddhism and Islam to China. Importantly, this particular travel route is one seldom taken by western travelers and tourists as the usual plan of travel offered by commercial tour companies focuses upon the contemporary centers along the eastern and coastal areas of China.”

The trip was a great opportunity for Southeast students to experience new things and step out of their comfort zones to connect with local residents, Alexander added.