International Field Experience “Reflections”

Jen Farb – Freedom

As I was celebrating our nation’s Independence Day this weekend, I began thinking about just how lucky we are to live in a free country where we have such a thing as freedom of speech.  Our recent trip to Asia truly made me realize how jaded we have become to this fact in our country and how thankful we should be to those who gave up their lives for our freedom.

Walking around Beijing, although it is an amazing and historical city, you can feel the hand of the government on your back.  In all of Mainland China, such things as Facebook and Google suddenly are illegal and you only can access by creating a virtual private network (VPN).  There are also still government imposed restrictions on the number of children that you can legally have as a Chinese citizen in order to maintain control of the population.  Everywhere we went in Beijing, there were cameras and police spread throughout in order to maintain order. Freedom_1

The first stark difference was felt as we stepped onto Hong Kong soil, and the western influences came flooding back.  The culture in Hong Kong is much more diverse than in Beijing and the British influences are still prevalent in everything from the taxi-cabs (organized by color to ensure traffic efficiency) to the language (every sign had both Cantonese and English).

The downside of a beautifully clean, organized, and efficient city is that it is very expensive to live there and there is quite a disparity in wealth.  There is quite a bit of change coming in the future for Hong Kong as it is scheduled to officially rejoin Mainland China in the next few decades.

Taiwan, like Hong Kong, also lives in the shadow of Mainland Chinese rule as it is in an awkward limbo between a free independent nation, and a territory of the PRC.  During our trip around Taipei, we were able to see how much the economy is growing and differentiating from Mainland China, and in the coming years it will be interesting to watch what happens.

In Thailand, even with a peaceful, Buddhist culture, you can go to jail for insulting the royal family in any way, and words can be easily misinterpreted.  A few times when we asked our tour guide questions, she would tell us “I will tell you on the bus” in order to ensure her words were not overheard by the wrong people.  The political situation is also extremely unstable and even though we saw no sign of the military coup, we all were aware of its impact.Freedom_2

As I was flying home from the other side of the world, I quickly read through the opinion section of the Orlando Sentinel and discovered an article where the author was outwardly disagreeing and truly bashing President Obama’s foreign policy in great detail.  At that moment, I realized how truly amazing it is that we are free to speak as we wish, specifically about our Head of State, through a nationally distributed and legal newspaper.

In America, we have the ultimate freedom to choose how we want to present ourselves to the world through our words and many of us choose to take this for granted every day.  Maybe one day in the future, there will be people in these Asian countries that are brave enough to speak up and take action for their freedoms as many did and continue to do today here at home.  I know that after this amazing opportunity to explore and learn from 4 very different cultures, I am walking around much more thankful for those sacrifices and to have the freedoms we do here in America.