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Swimming Summer Diaries: Ryann Kopacka and Caroline Jones In China Part I

July 15, 2008

Photo Gallery (last updated July 15)

While many college students use the summer to relax by the pool, go to the beach and work as waiters and waitresses, members of the Georgia Tech Swimming Team are making full use of their time. Some are traveling the world, while others are getting a head start on their careers with some unique and interesting internships or jobs. will give you a feel for what some of these student-athletes are doing with “Summer Diaries.” In part one, rising senior Caroline Jones and rising junior Ryann Kopacka check in from China where they are studying abroad. Check back throughout the summer for more updates.

Hello Georgia Tech Community and Fans,

While our teammates are training at home this summer in preparation for the upcoming season, my teammate Caroline Jones and I have taken quite a different approach.

We have been living in Asia since the spring semester ended in May! We are studying abroad with 28 other Industrial Engineering Georgia Tech students, and we are focusing our studies on supply chain logistics, manufacturing, warehousing, and quality control. Where is there a better place to learn about Industrial Engineering than in Asia, the fastest developing industrial region in our world today?!

Caroline and I spent the first six weeks of the program in Singapore, an island in Southeast Asia about the size of the Atlanta Perimeter with a population of 4 million (Atlanta’s population inside the perimeter is only 500,000)! We studied at the National University of Singapore and spent the weekends traveling to surrounding countries. Apart from going to class, during the week we went shopping during the Great Singapore Sale, ate Singapore’s famous chili crabs for dinner, rode the Singapore Flyer (the world’s largest and tallest observation wheel), and spent a day relaxing on the beach in Sentosa, an island off the coast of Singapore.

For our first weekend of traveling, we visited Phuket, Thailand where we did some parasailing and rode elephants through the jungle. It was a fantastic experience, and the sunsets on the beach were absolutely gorgeous! Caroline and I went back to Thailand the next weekend and stayed in Bangkok. We toured the Summer Palace, the River Kwai, some temple ruins, and played with real tigers at the Tiger Temple Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi Province.

Our next weekend took us to Penang, Malaysia where we visited teammate Way Joe Lee who had gone home for the summer. This trip was by far both Caroline’s and my favorite trip! We stayed at Way Joe’s home, met his family and his friends, and ate some of the best Chinese food that I have ever tasted! Caroline’s favorite dish was Koay Teow, and I enjoyed the Dim Sum that we had for breakfast. Way Joe took us to Botanical Gardens, Youth Park, and Kek Lok Si, which is a complex of Buddhist temples built into a mountainside. The view of Penang from the mountains was so beautiful!

After Malaysia, Caroline and I went to Hong Kong, which was my favorite city because of the incredible architecture and clean and efficient subway system. In Hong Kong, we went shopping in Times Square and at the Ladies Market, and then we took a tram to the top of Victoria’s Peak where we could see the most spectacular view of the city! Hong Kong certainly has one of the most breathtaking skylines in the world. We stayed at Victoria’s Peak for the rest of the day, through the sunset, and into the night to see the city lights!!

While in Singapore, Caroline and I trained with SwimFast Aquatic Club under the instruction of Coach David Lim. We really enjoyed becoming part of the team, and it was fun to swim different practices than we were used to back at Tech. The pools in Singapore are all outdoors, so the water gets hot very easily as Singapore is near the equator. Therefore, the training Caroline and I had at SwimFast was more speed based rather than volume based. We spent more time racing and sprinting than swimming long distance workouts. Coach Lim often used Caroline and I as examples for the team, showing them our stroke technique, our underwater kicks, and explaining to the team how we warm up and prepare for competition. Coach Lim even invited Caroline and I to swim for SwimFast at the Singapore National Swimming Championships! Our professor gave us permission to miss class to swim in one day of the meet. Caroline placed 7th in the 200 Meter Backstroke, and I took 2nd in the same event.

In mid-June, our studies in Singapore concluded, and our group moved on to Beijing!! We are studying at Tsinghua University in the northwestern suburbs of Beijing. Being in Beijing is just plain tough. We do not speak, write, or read a word (or character) of Chinese, which makes it hard to get around the city or order food in restaurants and even in the dining halls on campus. We have learned to say a few things in Chinese, like “Tsinghua University”, “subway station”, and “bottled water.”

The pollution in Beijing is certainly apparent. We arrived in Beijing on June 24th, and July 12th was the first day that we saw a blue sky. We were so excited that we ran around campus taking pictures! We had no idea that our university was surrounded by mountains! We had never seen them before when it was all smoky and foggy. Luckily, the pollution has not affected Caroline and I too badly. We get the occasional cough, but nothing too unbearable.

It is so exciting being in Beijing at the start of the Olympics! Just yesterday, men were working throughout the entire city hanging “Beijing 2008” banners along the lights posts lining the roads. The colorful banners are making the city so beautiful, and so are the cleaner streets, new subway lines, and abundance of Olympic merchandise. Beijing is becoming a great place to visit, but the Olympics are making Beijing a difficult place to live. There is tightened security all across the country. Our school textbooks were stuck at the border for the first few weeks of class, and there are security checkpoints at every subway station. Even worse, the Tsinghua campus recreation center is closed to the public. The Chinese Olympic team is training there, so the pool and weight room is completely off limits to all students. Caroline and I have not touched the water since we left Singapore, and it has been a hard reality to face. Since we cannot swim, we have been running, biking and working out at a gym a few blocks off campus, and our coaches back at Tech have been very supportive.

Caroline and I have remained busy while in China. Our coursework has definitely increased, but it has not stopped us from visiting Tiananmen Square, the Mausoleum, the Chinese Art Museum, the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Beijing Zoo to see the pandas, and my absolute favorite- the Great Wall of China!! Hiking along the Great Wall was such an amazing experience, and the views were incredible! I love how the Wall curved along the mountain ridges as far as the eye could see, and it was so steep at some parts that it is a wonder how it was built and defended so long ago! We have also spent lots of time shopping at the Silk Market and the Pearl Market! Bargaining has now become one of my favorite past times. We’ve certainly racked up our fair share of souvenirs and gifts for our families, teammates, and friends back home.

Last weekend we took an overnight train to Shanghai where we visited the Urban Planning Museum, the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum (my personal favorite), the Orient of the Pearl, the Nanjing Lu shopping district, and the Bund, which is an older section of Shanghai. I did not think it was possible, but I enjoyed Shanghai’s architecture more than the architecture in Hong Kong! The buildings in Shanghai were so interesting. One of the buildings has a square in the top of it, but it was originally supposed to be a circle. During the building’s construction, China was on poor terms with Japan, and the circle looked too much like the Japanese Rising Sun, so Shanghai changed the circle to a square at the last minute. How interesting! Also in Shanghai, we met up with another study abroad group from Georgia Tech to celebrate the Fourth of July, and we also took a day trip to Suzhou, a city built along canals just like Venice, Italy. In Suzhou, we visited the Northern Temple Pagoda, Lion Grove, and Tiger Hill.

What we miss about home the most:

  • Our families. China is 12 hours ahead of Atlanta, and I enjoy emailing my mom while she is at work just beginning her day while mine is coming to a close. I also enjoy writing letters to my brother and his friend Garrett who are going through Basic Training right now at the Air Force Academy. USAFA Class of 2012: Never Falter, Never Fail!
  • Our teammates. Congratulations to Onur for making the 2008 Olympic Team for Turkey!! We can’t wait to see you in Beijing!!!! To my GT S’Women, I BELIEVE!!!!!
  • Twice-Baked Potatoes.
  • Being able to read a menu in a restaurant, and talk to the waitress instead of having to point.
  • Real bathrooms with toilets, toilet paper, soap, and paper towels.
  • Being able to see the sun and blue skies every day (pollution is terrible!)
  • Spending time with my family.
  • Real chicken.
  • Drinking water from the tap instead of buying bottled water.

What we will miss about China:

  • Being tall, well taller than the average Chinese person. It is helpful when walking through crowds.
  • Being an American. The Chinese like to take pictures of us!
  • Eating everything with chopsticks: Rice, Noodles, Soup, you name it. Yes soup… with chopsticks. Caroline is a chopsticks master.
  • Meeting 28 awesome GT students and sharing once-in-a-lifetime experiences with them!
  • Cheap food. An entire meal for 75 cents!
  • Riding bikes all over the city.
  • Efficient public transportation.

We have a final this week in our manufacturing class, and then Caroline and I will spend the weekend far outside the city, riding horses across the grasslands of Mongolia, riding camels in the Gobi desert, and seeing stars for the first time all summer! We miss everyone at Tech and can’t wait to see everybody at school in August!

God bless,

Ryann and Caroline


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