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Julio: Life Changes and Revelations from China Travel

Article #2 in the Student Travel Stories Series from our tour of Beijing, China.
By Julio, Age 16, 9th Grade in Boston. Born in the U.S. to parents from El Salvador.

Julio bravely scaling the Great Wall of China!

Julio bravely scaling the Great Wall of China!

Q: What was the best part of our week in China for you?

A: Honestly, a highlight of the whole trip was the Silk and Cotton Markets because something very unique to China was the bargaining. Most kids in the U.S. never get to experience bargaining because we have set prices in American stores. But in China, we all enjoyed bargaining and were proud of our accomplishments!

For example, in the Cotton Market there was a pair of DC shoes starting at 700 Yuan (over $100). Throughout trip, we’d developed bargaining skills because we practiced each day and became more confident. I gave the vendor a price of 80 Yuan, not to be mean, but to set it low. She set it to 600. What I’d usually do is give in, but instead I said “100 Yuan,” then: “I’m the customer, you can’t force me to buy!”

The vendor replied, “If I do 100 I’ll be out of business!” She put in 580, but I didn’t give in, and I said, “I’ll do you a favor. The brand of shoes you’re selling is not popular and won’t sell a lot. As a gift, I’ll go up to 120.” Then she started laughing at me. She replied, “I will lower it to 200.” And that’s when my friends and I used the Pretending-to-Walk-Away Trick! The vendor started lowering the price by intervals of 10 Yuan. When she got to 180, she said, “Final price! Buy now!” and I said, “No, use MY price!” and then we agreed on 170 Yuan. I felt so happy that it was the first time I didn’t give in and I got the price I wanted! It was a feeling I never had in the States. It was something unique to China. I’d developed a new skill!

Julio in the Forbidden City, wearing a bargained hat.

Julio in the Forbidden City, wearing a bargained hat.

Q: What was the most fascinating historical site you saw?

A: The Hutongs (old-fashioned neighborhoods in Beijing) were the best historical site because they have been there so long. It’s a contrast to how China is trying to candy coat their city with all those skyscrapers and the fact that you don’t see poor people on the street. In the Hutongs, the families have been there 4 generations and decided to stay even though they are very cramped and share a public bathroom, and could move to other places. This stood out to me because even though they live in these conditions, it’s so relatable to other countries.

If you check out my background, my family is from El Salvador, and I’m used to seeing these sights, and what most people think is poverty, I would call something different. I noticed, in the Hutongs everyone was happy and loved where they lived, and that was something so important to me because I felt the same way. It’s like the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This relates to what people would call the “slums” of El Salvador and the pueblo my dad is from. I would call it a beautiful place. It’s a community, and people are able to trust each other and depend on each other. Unlike where people live in a wealthy family and they don’t have trust in their neighbors, these people connect with their neighbors, and this is what I think keeps people in the Hutong happy.

Q: Can you reveal the crazy thing you did on the Great Wall of China?

Preparing to slide down the Great Wall banister!

Preparing to slide down the Great Wall banister!

A: The Great Wall of China was the most exhilarating part of the journey because it was the most overwhelming, emotionally. Climbing to the top with my friends was something really special that I enjoyed along the way. Once we were at the top, it was so beautiful and you could see the whole landscape. You could tell, “I’m really in China!” and it was so beautiful.

So the funny thing that I did at the Great Wall is that when I was walking down, I became tired and wanted to add my personal flair to the mix, so I decided to slide down the railing! And I didn’t think it would work out, but I was really able to slide! A lot of people say, “I climbed the Great Wall, but I can say I SLID down the Great Wall!”

Q: What are your future travel and career plans?

Julio listening intently during a tea ceremony in Beijing.

Julio listening intently during a tea ceremony in Beijing.

A: Overall, China has been a very great, delightful place, and I will continue to travel around the world. China was an eye-opener in seeing the lifestyle of the people and how government works and how they control and keep it peaceful, and how they mix the city with nature (they even incorporate buildings with trees!). The most important thing I want to take from this is that China offers so much History: China is one of the first civilizations, and has lasted for so long, and that really stands out for me.

I think personally, I would like to come back again to China, but next time I plan to see more rural areas and ruins. I’d like to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, and get to know other parts of China.

In the future, I would like to work for EF Tours as an international businessman, and I want to say that John, our tour guide in Beijing, was a real inspiration to me. I used to think one person couldn’t really make that much of a difference, especially in an international trip, but now I’m able to see that an individual can make the difference if willing to put in the effort to make the journey for everyone better. John went out of his way to organize all these places for us, to get the tickets, and even pack up our breakfast on our last day even though the kitchen of our hotel was closed. He was able to react to situations in an upbeat, positive way, and to help us with things like vendors. Simply that attitude is able to leave a mark on people in a positive way. He has become a role model to me: someone I want to incorporate in a future version of myself. I want to be well rounded, happy, enthusiastic, and if I am going to be an international ambassador like John, I want to be like him!

Hooray for the life-changing power of travel!

Hooray for the life-changing power of travel!

Q: What insights will you bring from China back to Boston?

A: This trip has been very fantastic and awe-inspiring, and opened my eyes to a part of the world I never knew.

I will now take a bigger look at how government runs, because a lot of people (including myself before this trip) think that U.S.-style Capitalism and Democracy is best for everyone, no matter who. But now, taking in China and also Latin American countries I’ve visited, I’m able to see there are other options of government and economics that work for other countries. U.S.-style Capitalism can’t always work for everyone. It’s more important to listen to what the people need rather than what other countries say. That’s something I’ll be keeping in mind in my future adventures.

Q: How was it for you traveling with a big pack of Boston students?

Eating a cozy dinner in a small Hutong house with friends.

Eating a cozy dinner in a small Hutong house with friends.

A: I think traveling with friends is sometimes more beneficial to a person than traveling as an individual. Though as an individual you get to do what you want, it’s not as fun, because in a group, you can talk through what you see and brighten each other’s mood. For me, this was a good experience. Now, when you room with a close friend, you may get on each other’s nerves, and we started to annoy each other, but as we reflected back, we realized it was silly. And we see living with friends can get you in fights and make it rocky, but in the end the gratification is the friendship will be more fortified because you’ll surmount obstacles together. That means traveling with other students, getting to know them, arguing and making up is something that’s one of a kind and is something everyone should get to experience.

Q: What was a difficult part of the China trip for you?

A: At the Temple of Heaven, I was feeling a little down. I started thinking about myself as a person in comparison to everyone in the world. It was a day of reflecting and asking personal questions: what do I want to do, how can I get there… That was the most difficult, but the best thing that happened to me on this trip, internally speaking. It helped me answer a question: How am I a Global Citizen? With travel to China, I was able to include a little piece of the puzzle to that answer. I was able to get that through observing people and their lifestyle in a country so different from America, and I’m able to see that what’s best for a country that’s rich and prosperous is not always the best choice for other countries. Whatever the richest country does isn’t the best choice for everyone.

Q: What advice would you give to students who dream of travel, but have worries or financial constraints?

At the Temple of Heaven, thinking about life.

At the Temple of Heaven, thinking about life.

A: I have to say, the last day we were in China, I was thinking of so many things at that point, especially in the bus drive at night. I looked out the window while my friends were sleeping and I thought, “This is like a dream.”

For students who are thinking of traveling, when you arrive, you’re going to be overwhelmed, but not to the point you can’t handle it. You’ll be happy. Our adventure in China was like a dream that became a reality! The best part is it makes you question yourself in a way you can’t otherwise. For students like me interested in international studies and relationships, traveling to any part of the world will truly be a building block to that goal. My final words to students are: Don’t ever hesitate to go somewhere, even if you think “There’s no way I could get to that place.” Don’t ever think you can’t do it. If you think that there’s only one possible way, that’s wrong. There are always alternate routes, whether they are clear or disguised.

For example, personally I never thought my family could afford this trip (let alone the other trips I’ll go on in the future). I thought the only alternative I’d have would be to fundraise, which to me was overwhelming because I’ve never done that. But that all changed last summer when I was offered an internship with EF Tours and the Pearson Foundation. That program alone was able to change me completely as a person. I became someone who wants to go around the world to help teach students about culture and help people come together! And that internship funded 95% of my trip to China!

The last thing I want to add is a quote that I really like by Dwight D. Eisenhower:

Julio with friends at Beijing's Olympic Center.

Julio with friends at Beijing’s Olympic Center.

“I have long believed, as have many before me, that peaceful relations between nations requires understanding and mutual respect between individuals.”

This quotation means that people can go out into the world, ourselves, just people, and WE can bring people together. It doesn’t take a nation to bring people together, it’s just humans like you and me, looking at the little ways we’re similar. I believe it’s individuals like us that make the building blocks to bring us together.

For any kids who think you can’t do it, just believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter who you are or what background you come from. Just believe in yourself. You might just meet someone or find an opportunity that will change you and your potential forever.

Such powerful words, Julio! Thanks for being great, and thanks to EF Tours for planning our trip.

Readers, what questions and comments do you have for this wise young man?

John (on the left) at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing!
John: How the Great Wall Made Me Appreciate Teachers
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Michelle (far left) in the Forbidden City of Beijing, China!
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