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BW Students Make Long-lasting Connections Through Study Abroad Trip to China

By Jenna Burnett '15

The long-lasting impact of one study abroad experience continues to play out for the Baldwin Wallace University students and faculty who traveled together to China in spring of 2012. Together, they have collected almost $500 as a Chinese New Year gift for the Dandelion School. That modest amount is enough money to support six students studying for a full semester at the school, which was a highlight of the 18-day study tour. And, now, one member of the group, December 2012 graduate, Jordan Kit, has decided to spend a year volunteering to teach at Dandelion.

The Dandelion School, located in the Daxing District on the outskirts of Beijing, serves the massive community of China’s migrant population, people who have moved from the rural parts of China to work in the major cities. Kit, an international studies major, says that while Chinese law requires about nine years of compulsory education for all children, many migrant children are left behind due to a complex and rigid registration system. According to Kit, the school, which operates out of a repurposed and overhauled factory, opened in 2005 with the goal of “giving back the right to quality education to migrant children.” Kit will begin teaching at the school in August.

The Trip Really Began Back in BW's Classroom

The visit to the little school was just one stop on the Explorations/Study Abroad program, "Discovering China." Kit said the trip to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing really began back in the BW classroom with the semester-long course, “Modern China,” taught by Dr. Liya Wang and John Fuehrer.

According to Kit, the goal of the class was to introduce participating students to China’s history, geography, culture, economy, politics, and other current issues through weekly discussion topics ranging from articles in the "Wall Street Journal" to chapters from the textbook. In addition to discussions and lectures, students were also given opportunities to listen to guest speakers, give presentations, and experience Chinese culture though food, art, and films.

Towards the end of the semester the class focus narrowed to preparing for the trip. Kit worked with Wang to compile some crash-course instructions in Mandarin to develop a “Mandarin survival guide” to distribute to his classmates.

After a semester of preparing, students gathered at the airport to begin their lengthy travel process, which included a long layover in Newark, New Jersey and an eighteen-hour international flight.

Students Travel to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing

Once in China, Kit said they fist spent time in Hong Kong, traveled to Shezhen to visit Wynnewood Toys factory, went to Shanghai, and finally voyaged to Beijing. Shannon Fee, a graduate student at BW who also participated in the trip, said a great part of the experience was seeing things “the average tourist” doesn’t get to see, like tours of businesses, schools, factories, hospitals,

In Hong Kong, students experienced the diversity of the modern metropolis, which uniquely blends traditions of both the East and the West. Fee said, “ In Hong Kong, I really felt as though I could have just as easily been in San Francisco.” Historically a Western “gateway” to China, Hong Kong serves as an important financial services center and plays a key role in China’s rapidly economic development.

Shanghai, largest city in China, offered students a great opportunity to study China's rapid urban development and some of the challenges faced by urban planners and policy makers alike.

In Beijing, China's capital, students were given the opportunity to understand modern Chinese history and politics, observing what life is like in a city where both capitalism and socialism strive.

Fee said the cities the group visited in China were very similar to many big cities in the world, complete with “skyscrapers and traffic, shopping malls and parks, cultural sites and pollution.”

Kit said his favorite part of the trip was, “getting the chance to see my studies come to life. I got to talk politics with students from the Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, barter in Mandarin in the markets, and actually experience the majesty of some of these historical sites like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City that just never comes across in pictures or words on a page.”

Fee on the other hand said, “I really can’t choose a favorite part of the trip itself, because I am just so in love with international travel that I am fascinated by every moment of it.”

Exploration Exposes Students to New Culture

Exposing BW students to a wide variety of cultural and historical attractions throughout China helped them to better understand and analyze the cultural dynamics at play in China’s social and economic transformation.

As Kit said, “You can read about how much China is changing every day, but it's something that doesn't stick till you see it. Students doing anything related to a foreign country really owe it to themselves to round off their education with some first hand experience.”

Fee said, “I really don’t think people are all that different the world around. They work, they play, they love their families, go out to eat with friends, strive for a better life. Every time I travel I am reminded of this. China was no different.”

Posted April 2013

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