Friday, July 24, 2015

Girl Guest Blog: My Destinations Trip to China

Each year Girl Scouts across the country are given the opportunity to travel to foreign countries on trips designed just for them. Everywhere from Costa Rica, to Whales, to the Virgin Islands, Destinations trips are one of the great opportunities provided for girls who struggle with wander lust, or just want a new experience. This year one of GSSJC's own, Katie H. from Troop #3023, was one of 15 girls nationwide selected from a pool of applicants for a guided tour of China! But being chosen for a trip is only the first step towards getting there. GSSJC donated 1/3 of the costs, while Katie H. raised the remaining 2/3 from her community, ATS Destinations, a GoFundMe campaign she created, and, of course, troop cookie sales--all attributing to her amazing fundraising and organizational skills! Below, Katie H. takes us  through her adventure and gives us an inside to all that she's learned:

"My trip officially began at the San Francisco airport where I met up with the rest of the Girl Scouts going to China. Our 11 hour flight to Beijing was at 3 p.m., June 30, and after landing and going through customs in Beijing, we were supposed to have another flight out to Chengdu. Unfortunately, when we got to our gate we were told the airline would not be sending a plane because they were not going to make enough money on the flight. This was my first experience with the resourceful mindset of the Chinese culture. All of the angry people who were supposed to be on our flight to Chengdu, created a mini mob at the gate check-in counter. Gavin, one of the adults from ATS Destinations, a sponsoring organization partnered with Girl Scouts, told us that the airline didn’t want negative attention called to them for not sending the plane (another interesting observation into the culture), so the passengers were trying to put enough pressure on the airline for them to send a plane. Eventually, at about 3:30 a.m., the airline conceded and we got our flight to Chengdu.
After more than a day of traveling, we finally arrived to our destination the morning of July 2. In Chengdu we met our translator and went shopping on a traditional street where I bought Tibetan beaded bracelets made by local villagers. There they also sold beautiful leaf drawings with hand painted pictures of panda bears, which I also purchased. It was really fun learning how to barter with the shopkeepers! And while out in the city, many people stopped our group and asked for pictures because they liked our lighter hair and complexions. Other people just held up their phones and took pictures as we walked by.
That first day we also explored a monastery not far from the Tibetan markets. The next day, on July 3, we toured our first Giant Panda Center in Ya’an. It was amazing to see this endangered species up close for the first time, ever. The center was one of four run by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. We also visited the center’s veterinary hospital and had a Q&A session with one of the Panda Doctors. 
The next day we went to volunteer at the Dujiangyan base. We spent the day cleaning enclosures, making panda cakes, watching a documentary on the panda release program, and best of all, feeding the pandas. Feeding and scratching the pandas was the absolute best experience in the world! Yet, I was also very flattered when, after complementing another woman at the research center on her necklace--with a little help from my translator--she was so pleased she took it off and gave it to me. Our translator advised me that to not accept it would be very rude, so I said thank you, and the woman and I took a picture together. After we left that evening, we took a well deserved break and went shopping in a few outdoor markets.
July 5 was our second day volunteering. We started off the day by weeding in the center’s tea garden and hiking through the mountains of the panda center. We did more feedings and enclosure cleaning later in the day. After getting back to the hotel we walked around Dujiangyan at night and listened to a couple of street performers. It was magical. The next morning we left Dujiangyan, and drove back to Chengdu, where again we toured the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center and got to see a couple of newborn pandas. Later that evening , we went to a Chinese variety show and saw a Chinese opera with fire eaters, puppets, shadow dancers, and mask changers! 
On July 7 we left Chengdu and flew to Beijing. The next day we had breakfast at a Chinese McDonald! We were all so happy to find something that reminded us of home that even though they sold dishes catered to the Chinese culture, we ate regular, wonderful chicken nuggets and fries. We spent the rest of the day exploring the Forbidden City, some pagodas, and hiking up a nearby mountain looking over the city. We took the subway around Beijing to go to an indoor bazaar. There were mopeds everywhere! And the women in the city were dressed very trendy from their hair down to their shoes--even when riding on the mopeds!
Since we were leaving China the next day, we pulled an all nighter and went exploring in the Beijing night markets until 1:00 a.m . At 4:00 p.m. on July 9 we walked over to Tiananmen Square to see the daily flag raising ceremony. There were thousands of people who came every morning to see China's flag raised, and to hear the national anthem. 
We left the Beijing airport and flew to San Francisco with no problems or delays. I landed in Houston at about 11:00 p.m. after another uneventful flight. I had a wonderful experience in China. I learned a lot about the Chinese culture and a ton of facts about the endangered Giant Panda. Thank you so much GSSJC for supporting me and helping me get ready for this amazing trip!"

The fall application period for summer destination trips open September and close February. For more information, contact GSSJC at 713-292-0300, or send in your questions by following this link