By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
After graduating from Kenwood Academy on June 10, Miaa Cheeks prepared to attend Alabama State University to study forensic chemistry in the fall. Before heading off to school, Cheeks took a two week trip to China.
Cheeks was given the opportunity to go to China through the Chicago Urban League’s Project Ready program, the program has sent students to China for the past seven years. From June 16 to June 28, Cheeks and 15 African American students explored historical and culturally significant sites in Beijing and Tianjin.
Cheeks heard about the program from Derrick Fleming, director of college access at Chicago Scholar, “I’m in Chicago Scholars and [Fleming] called me one day and was like, ‘Do you want to go to China?’ I’m like, ‘China? Yeah! Who is going to say no to China?’ He was like ‘I’m going to send all the information for you so you can do the application.'” Without any hesitation, Cheeks applied and was selected for the program.
Prior to heading to China, Cheeks was a bundle of excitement, saying “Everyone calls it a graduation gift.”
“I don’t know how China will be. I’m really excited to be in another country. That is my first time ever traveling outside of the US besides Jamaica, but that’s small in comparison to China. I know that it is going to be different because we’re going to be in a different country, culture and everything. I don’t think it’s going to be too bad or uncomfortable. I’m more so excited than nervous,” said Cheeks.
Cheeks packed for the hot weather in China, noticing that it was significantly hotter than Chicago, and planned to sleep most of her thirteen-hour plane ride.
Once she made it to China, Cheeks and her peers went to Beijing for three days, where she saw historical sites like Tiananmen Square and The Great Wall of China. Then she went to Tianjin for nine days and stayed at a university.
Cheeks’ favorite memories from her travels were taking a boat ride in Tianjin and bonding with her peers, she said “We went on a boat trip and Tianjin at night time. Riding around and seeing the city life there. It was really pretty and the atmosphere was really nice. Unrelated to the trip, we would always go to somebody’s room and have a game night or a movie night that just made us closer as a group. Those were always fun.”
Upon returning from China, she was delighted by her experience and hopes to travel around the United States and travel to other countries. Cheeks said that she would love to go back to China, she is interested in seeing Shanghai, Hong Kong and more of Beijing.
“I would go back but I would want to know more Chinese, the language barrier was extremely hard. Trying to ask for tissue or for more towels at the hotel was hard, I had to look it up and hoped that they understood me.”
For those who are interested in traveling to China, Cheeks suggests that you go see The Great Wall of China and if you like ramen noodles, to travel to a noodle factory. “Everybody knows, especially being from America, we love ramen noodles. So going to a factory that was making it, was a cool experience.
After traveling to China, Cheeks believes that everyone should travel, she said, “Even if you don’t go to China, you have to be open with to new experiences. Even if it starts in Chicago, go to Pilsen or go to Chinatown. Try something new because you never know what you’re going to like and what you’re going to learn from stuff and what that can make you want to do in the future.”