For the first week of its cultural exchange trip to China, the Kentucky volleyball team bounced between bustling big cities. Thursday was different.
The Wildcats traveled six hours through the Yin Mountains to Zhangjiakou. The city is still home to nearly a million people, but Zhangjiakou is much more remote. Once the Cats arrived and got settled, they went for a hike on which they saw parts of the Great Wall and a garden with statues of all the Chinese zodiac signs.
For dinner, the Cats spent time with the three teams they'll be competing with in Zhangjiakou. It was a chilly night, so all four squads joined together for a post-dinner bonfire that featured dancing and karaoke.
The Kentucky volleyball team got a firsthand look at history on Wednesday.
As the Wildcats continue their cultural exchange trip to China, they went to a small town outside of Baoding to visit a museum. The museum was entirely dedicated to the tunnel system the Chinese built to avoid Japan's invasion during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which took place before and eventually as part of World War II.
The museum even afforded the Cats the opportunity to walk through one of the tunnels for more than a half-mile. With the majority of players and coaches standing over six feet tall, they all learned the tunnel system was not built for a volleyball team.
Later on Wednesday evening, the Cats returned to more familiar surroundings for a match against Hebei, another team from the Chinese Volleyball League. In an environment similar to Tuesday's, UK fell, 3-1, in spite of playing well. Lauren O'Conner was the headliner, tallying 19 kills and 23 total points, but the experience of Hebei was too much to overcome even as Jackie Napper and Alyssa Gergins turned in solid matches.
On Thursday, more travel is in store for the team as the Cats will depart Baoding for Zhangjiakou. Continue to check in on UKVBtoChina.com for updates.
Got an early morning tomorrow headed to Zhangjiako, our last city before we go to Beijing! 🏯🇨🇳🉐 #UKVBtoChina
As Kentucky's cultural exchange trip to China wears on, the volleyball is getting more intense.
On Tuesday, the Wildcats took on the Henan team from the Chinese Volleyball League. The result -- a 3-1 loss -- didn't end up going their way, but the match was extremely competitive.
Lauren O'Conner and Morgan Bergren were standouts, thriving in a loud environment for the evening match. UK and Henan played on campus at a local university in Baoding in front of a loud, volleyball-savvy crowd comprised of nearly all students. Check out the two videos below to get a glimpse of the environment.
The rest of the day, the Cats took it easy, relaxing at their hotel and making a quick walk to a nearby mall in Baoding.
We've had limited access to Twitter, but the trip to China has been incredible so far. Truly a once in a lifetime experience! #UKVBtoChina
Understandably, the Kentucky volleyball team hasn't been its sharpest on the court so far during a cultural exchange trip to China.
On Monday, the Wildcats took a big step in the right direction.
Before a lengthy afternoon of traveling, UK took on the Jiangsu Junior Team on Monday morning. Led by Kayla Tronick and Emily Franklin, the Cats found the form that has established them among the nation's elite in Craig Skinner's tenure as head coach.
"I thought my performance was good but not great," Emily Franklin wrote. "There are things I need to improve on and that will take time while adjusting to the different style of play. Overall, I felt like I did give it to my team!"
UK is adjusting to a new pregame ritual while in China that features meditation, as well as the lighter balls used there.
After the match and lunch, it was off to Baoding, a smaller city of about two million people, via bullet train and bus. In transit for the better part of the afternoon, the Cats didn't have time for much more than a short walk around a bright downtown area and dinner.
The team did, however, take time to write their thoughts about their time in China so far for a blog dedicated to their trip. Here are a few thoughts from the student-athletes themselves:
So far this China trip for me has been interesting in a good way. I have learned so much and a lot of the questions I had about China I have been able to answer myself just by observing the cities and the people around me. The sightseeing has been incredible. There is so much more in our world that we do not know about and I am enjoying the opportunity we have right now to experience it. Besides the food (which is not horrible, just different) my time in China has been a blast.
I have been surprised by the differences in our lifestyles compared to those living here. Not necessarily the lifestyles but the differences in the environment, the food, everything really. I was shocked by the way people drive idiotically through the streets and the food has been a huge challenge for me because I have not been able to eat much at all. I really enjoyed visiting the temple, but I would also like to visit other places that are interesting but not necessarily dealing with their religion.
China has been interesting so far. I am really enjoying seeing the city and the culture. I am disappointed in the food and wish that it were more appealing to me. However, I really am having a good time learning and observing the Chinese way of life and seeing the things that we were taught in class firsthand. So far I have had a great time bargaining for souvenirs and trying the exotic foods! I would like to learn more about the history of the temples that we visit. I wish there was more English at the temple so that I could understand more of what I am seeing.
The itinerary for the Kentucky volleyball team's trip to China said "all day free" on Sunday, but the Wildcats hardly sat around.
It began with practice at a training center in Nanjing before a lunch the team very much enjoyed. After four days of trying authentic Chinese food, the Cats ate at a Western-style restaurant. Burgers, fries, pasta cheesecake and coffee never tasted so good.
Well fed, the team then went to a museum in Nanjing for an educational tour. In the first picture at the bottom of the post, you can see the jade suits put together gold thread in which some members of the upper class were buried.
For dinner, it was back to authentic Chinese cuisine. The Cats ate with the heads of the training center where they are staying in Nanjing and exchanged gifts. The final second photo below shows Craig Skinner giving a UK volleyball t-shirt to one of the Cats' hosts.
Monday is set to be another busy day for UK. The Cats will play a match in the morning before traveling by train from Nanjing to Beijing and then by bus to Baoding. Check back in on Monday for an update on UKVBtoChina.com.
Internet issues persist, keeping the Cats from posting any thoughts of their own, but continue to check in on UKVBtoChina.com to stay updated. A big day of sightseeing is ahead of Sunday, so we hope to have plenty of good stuff to share.
It was another busy day in China for the Kentucky volleyball team, as the Wildcats moved to a hotel in downtown Shanghai during a packed day of activities.
Friday began with 90 minutes of study on campus at Shanghai University followed by lunch. It was then off to Shanghai Training Center to play with the Shanghai Juniors, the team the Cats beat in their first match on Thursday. Afterward, the Cats took a riverbank tour of Shanghai and saw the Chenghuang Temple, as well as the Oriental Pearl Tower.
Spotty Internet kept the Cats from posting any thoughts about the day, but they did manage to sneak a few posts out on Twitter and Instagram.
Some internet issues here in our hotel today.The blog may not get updates until tomorrow. Great day at the Pearl Tower #UKVBtoChina
The Kentucky volleyball team spent its first full day in China on Thursday and the Wildcats have already been exposed to a brand-new world.
After a much-needed night of rest, the team met in the morning to ride a bus to a Buddhist temple in Shanghai. Touring the grounds for two-and-a-half hours, the Cats learned about the traditions of Buddhism and took plenty of pictures along the way.
They then returned to their hotel near Shanghai University for lunch. The culinary adventures continued.
Continuing the educational portion of the trip, the team spent three hours studying at Shanghai University before dinner and the first volleyball match of the trip against Shangai Juniors. The Cats got the win in a performance that pleased head coach Craig Skinner.
Good to get off to a solid start in our 1st match beating Shanghai Jrs. #UKVBtoChina
After almost 18 hours of travel, the Kentucky volleyball team landed in China on Wednesday.
The Wildcats arrived in Shanghai around 2 p.m. local time (2 a.m. ET) and took a 90-minute bus ride to their hotel at Shanghai University. They then settled in their rooms, ate dinner at their hotel and took in some of the sights around the world's most populous city.
Still adjusting to the time change, the team was surely in need of some sleep before a busy Thursday when the Cats will study at Shanghai University and train at the school's gym. But before bedtime, they took to social media to update their followers on their first hours in China (and their culinary adventures).
A special two weeks are ahead for the Kentucky volleyball team.
Before sunrise on Monday morning, UK student-athletes and coaches began the first leg of a journey to China for a cultural exchange trip. After a long day of travel, the Wildcats will arrive in Shanghai around 2 p.m. local time on Tuesday.
From there, the team has a packed schedule, combining learning, competition and sightseeing.
The Cats will study at Shanghai University, learning about Chinese culture and sharing some of their own as well. They will also play six matches over the course of two weeks against some of the top volleyball teams in the world. And when they aren't in the classroom or on the court, the Cats will be taking in some of China's most famous landmarks, from the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square.
Traveling with the team is UK's Andrew Maske, an art history professor who specializes in the arts of Asia. Professor Maske spent time with the team for the week leading up to the trip, teaching the team some basics about Chinese philosophy. The team also practiced tai chi and brush calligraphy to prepare to head to the Far East.
Throughout the trip, the Cats will be chronicling their experience through a series of blogs. We will be sharing them here -- as well as other social-media, photo and video content -- on Cat Scratches. We've also created a special URL -- UKVBtoChina.com -- so you can find all of the entries in one place.
To get it started, here are some tweets from right before the team departed and the week of preparation for the trip.