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'It was a special experience' | Emory student reflects on time in Beijing before Olympics

Since 2004, students at Emory have traveled to Beijing and spent weeks learning the language, tasting the cuisine and making connections.

ATLANTA — From ancient hutongs to Tiananmen Square, Michael Cerny explored the history, food and culture that defines the city of Beijing. 

"We would just get on the subway and pretty much visit as many different kind of cultural spots and historical spots as we could," said Cerny, an Emory University graduate. 

He saw parts of the Great Wall, walked through the Ming Tombs and toured the Forbidden City palace.

As a political science major with a few years of Mandarin under his belt, Cerny fell in love with China's second largest city.

The Emory graduate is one of many who traveled to the ancient city over the years through the University's study abroad program.

Since 2004, students like Michael traveled to Beijing and spent weeks learning the language, tasting the cuisine and making connections right in the heart of the country's capital. 

Emory professor Dr. Hong Li is from Beijing and said taking her students out of the classroom in Atlanta and bringing them to her hometown helped them develop a deeper understanding of the city's roots. 

She added that she hopes people watching the Winter Games appreciate and understand what makes the city special. 

"It's important for people to understand the impact of history on the way people in Beijing or people in China generally live their lives," she said. "History, culture and traditions are truly part of the way that people live their lives, even though the city is changing rapidly."

However, Emory's program is also changing. Dr. Li said the pandemic forced the school to put the trip on hold, but they are working to bring it back soon. 

"Fingers crossed we're going to run a new program in the summer of 2023," she said.

Graduates like Cerny said they hope to return to see more of the city in the future as well.

"I look forward to going back again once the pandemic subsides," he said. "It really was a special experience."

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