Volleyball team helps kick off China Semester

The Missouri Southern volleyball squad poses in front of the Great Wall of China this past summer. Sports is integral in Chinese society.

The Missouri Southern volleyball squad poses in front of the Great Wall of China this past summer. Sports is integral in Chinese society.

Amye Buckley

The Missouri Southern Volleyball team traveled to China during May, 2007 in preparation for the China Semester.

“Going over there and playing was just an amazing opportunity, it’s something that we’ll never get to do again,” said Katie Gage, junior biology major.

Chris Willis, head volleyball coach planned the trip, in part, because of that very reason to give the girls’ team a chance to see something they may have never seen on their own.

The upcoming China Semester, the 2008 summer Olympics in China were also deciding factors.

Sports are an integral part of Chinese society, both participation sports with an emphasis on community and wellness and competitive sports, which are becoming increasingly more popular, especially for young people.

Although the Chinese players were very competitive, their pre-game approach was different from the smack talk and rivalry seen in American games.

“They have pride in their team, in their school and their nation,” Willis said. “It’s not so much about me, me, me.”

Even on the professional level, athletes who take endorsement deals or excessive personal recognition are looked down on, to the extreme of removing the individual from the team.

Ashley Hill, junior elementary education major, also went on the trip. She said the players in China put friendship first and competition second, spending the time before the game visiting and even encouraging the other team. “Humble” is the way Hill described the players’ attitudes.

During its trip, the team played against several Chinese teams and found them challenging opponents.

“They just have so much control, and so much ball skill. You look at their attire and their shoes and you think they won’t be very good,” Gage said. Some of the players were short or skinny but were “crazy jumpers” and played very well.

The coaches’ behavior was also very different. Willis found ashtrays around the court and the players said their coach smoked during practice.

“The coaches beat them and they were all yelling ‘Get your legs higher, get your legs higher,'” Gage said. “We thought that was really odd and really eye opening to see just how good we have it.”

Recreational sports the team saw included flag dancing with a long ribbon-like flag, and sword practice in a city park.

“It’s really awesome to watch, it’s a dance, it’s athletic,” Willis said, describing the way people handled their swords.

“We went to an acrobatic show, it was just so interesting,” Hill said. “The people can climb up poles and twist and turn their bodies in all different directions, just crazy.” The acrobats begin their training in Kindergarten and retire at 16 or 17.

The group toured gardens, sports facilities, temples and historic sites in both Shanghi and Bejing. The upcoming Olympic games are making changes for the Chinese. The government is trying to train millions of people to speak English before next year. They are also trying to fix problems like spitting in the street and cutting in line. The 11th day of each month has been designated as a day, where people learn to stand in line.

“If you do not force yourself into the bathroom you’re not going to get into the toilet,” Willis said. Shanghi also wowed the group.

“I’ve been to New York City and it makes New York City look like a suburb,” Willis said adding that much of Shanghi’s growth has occurred in the last 17 years.

“In Shanghi and in China overall, they build things a lot faster,” Willis said, comparing the building progress made in China digging a canal the length of the country with only hand tools in eight years versus the slow progress made constructing the cathedrals of Europe. Although he questions their labor practices, Willis says the Chinese know how to get things done.

They found China to be a land of contradictions, one day they saw a large ship sailing up and down the river with a boat-sized television screen, broadcasting a constant stream of commercials. The group learned the Chinese words for hello, thank you and to tell vendors they were not interested.

Team members were surprised by the lack of food variety. “I was really weird that we ate the same thing three times a day,” Gage said. Breakfasts in China were the same as the other meals, but overall it was a positive experience.

“I would go back any day,” Gage said, but she would bring her own food.