Shanghai, with a population of 23 million, is the world's largest city. Located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, it is both a world financial center and a leading shipping port.
Lauren said she didn't expect the country to be so modern and bustling. Shanghai "was definitely busy all the time," she said. "That city never slept."
"Where all the skyscrapers are, 20 years ago were rice paddies," Grant added.
From Shanghai, the students traveled to the city of Xi'an, one of the oldest in China. They visited the site of the The Terracotta Army, a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
Discovered in 1974, the huge complex, much of which is still being excavated, was apparently designed as a mausoleum to protect the emperor in the afterlife.
From Xi'an, the students traveled to Beijing, the Chinese capital, which Grant thinks best exemplified the contrast between traditional Chinese culture and the modern nation.
One of the group's most memorable experiences was eating dinner at a host home "hutong," they are small, traditional neighborhoods that are interconnected with one another by narrow streets and and alleys, "and are completely different from the rest of the city," according Lauren.
A large house in such a neighborhood would be about 1,500 square feet, Grant guessed. The host wife, however, managed to cook a meal for 36 hungry exchange students "in a kitchen about the size of a shoe closet. It's just interesting to see how people live on the other side of the planet. It makes you thankful," he added.
Throughout their journey, the students said they were conscious of being in the minority. But they said everyone they encountered was friendly. And curious. Many people wanted to take pictures with the American exchange students.
Grant, however, summed up their travel experience this way.
"I thought the best thing about this trip was actually getting to see things you've only read about in textbooks, and how much more grand they are in real life," he said.
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