FAIRMONT - Amanda Philipp recently returned from a two-week excursion to China as part of a group of collegiate agricultural ambassadors. Philipp, a 2012 graduate of Fairmont High School, will be starting her third year at South Dakota State University in Brookings where she is majoring in ag leadership and communications with minors in agribusiness and non-profits.
"South Dakota State started to do this four years ago," Philipp explained. "It started to offer a class to study abroad at the end of the semester."
About 30 students, accompanied by four professors and the dean of the SDSU College of Agriculture left Sioux Falls on May 12 for Beijing, China, via Denver and San Francisco. For the next two weeks, the group would journey from Beijing to the Xian and Guangzhou provinces, ending the trip in Hong Kong. They traveled by bus, train and airplane while in China.
"We were moving from north to south," Philipp said. "It's like going from Fairmont to the very tip of Mexico. You travel a lot."
Immediately after arriving, the group was whisked away to attend a banquet with South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who was in China on a trade mission.
"That was a great experience," Philipp said.
A lot of people in Beijing spoke English, the result of the 2008 Olympics being held there, but "that was going to go away once we moved south," she said.
The students experienced a communication shock in China. No Facebook, Twitter or other social media is allowed, and many Internet websites also are blocked.
Philipp kept a written journal, and the group was allowed to blog daily.
Beijing boasts 19 million residents and "only 7,000 taxis," Philipp said. Because of the extreme congestion, driving is limited, with car license plates indicating what days they can be driven.
"And there are no lanes. It's just insane," she said.
The group had practiced using chopsticks before the trip, and Philipp found herself eating some exotic foods. Some of the males on the trip ate fish eyeballs, she said, but she declined that delicacy.
"They had McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut was fine, fine dining in China. It's the only place you can get cheese. Cheese is a very rare commodity," she said.
Milk is processed for drinking or made into yogurt or baby formula, causing cheese to be in short supply.
Land ownership averages only one or two acres per family, and "that family might be 20 people," Philipp said.
Seed corn is blue and is packaged in sacks about the size of a potato chip bag. Each bag contains about 8,500 seeds, or enough to plant half an acre.
Philipp garnered a great deal of knowledge about the Chinese and their lives.
They are very advanced in many ways, but quite primitive in others.
There are no water towers or drainage systems.
When you're tall and blonde like she is, people will want to take your picture. Redheads, too.
Visitors as well as residents are forbidden to mention Tiananmen Square, the site of pro-democracy protests 25 years ago.
Houses rarely have bathrooms; families use public facilities.
Farmers don't get the concept of crop rotation.
They eat more beef in the north and seafood in the south.
"They eat everything. Like shrimp - they eat the head, the tail, the legs," she said.
The Great Wall of China is breathtaking and overwhelming. Steps are very steep and at irregular heights.
Even though it's in the same country, visitors to Hong Kong have to go through customs, a result of its long British rule which ended about 15 years ago.
There is a Disneyland in Hong Kong, but the group opted to spend a very humid day at an ocean amusement park "where locals go," Philipp said.
"We went on a water ride first, and we never did dry off."
The return trip on May 25 started with a 16-hour flight from Hong Kong to Chicago, then on to Sioux Falls.
"In Chicago, the first thing we did was go to Chili's and get hamburgers," Philipp laughed. "We got Facebook back. We got our phones back. We could get text messages."
The time changes did effect the travelers.
"We left at noon Saturday, had a six-hour layover in Chicago, and arrived in Sioux Falls at 8 p.m. the same day," Philipp said. People walking through the Chicago airport during the group's layover probably wondered why 30 people were sound asleep on the airport floor.
To read more about the group's travels and experiences, visit their blog at sdsu2014chinaagtravel.blogspot.com