A Country of Study

China Trip Connects Students Across the World
China Trip Connects Students Across the World

When UNC Asheville students traveled abroad this summer on the first faculty-led trip to China, they found themselves the focus of study as much as the subjects on their syllabus and undergraduate research projects. 

Shelby Vecchio ’14 studied the architecture in each of the four cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Ha’erbin and Xi’an. Comparing the landscapes and cityscapes, the new media major was struck by the disparity in the places   they visited—shacks and subsidized housing cheek to jowl with skyscrapers. Nonetheless, Xi’an and Ha’erbin reminded her of Charlotte or Atlanta.

“I honestly didn’t expect to see so much tourism and so many places that reminded me of the U.S.,” Vecchio, from Lawrenceville, Ga., said. Still, she definitely felt like she wasn’t in Asheville any more. 

“I got a lot of looks and double takes. People would stop and take pictures of me, because it was obvious I was from another country,” she said. The experience gave her a sense of what it’s like to be stereotyped because of nationality.

Justine Reid ’14 noticed what women were wearing, as part of her undergraduate research examining the verbal and nonverbal ways that China communicates with itself and the outside world. Observing the bold colors and stylish clothes that young, rural Chinese wore to historic sites, Reid noted that Chinese women in their dress exemplify the new China, rushing to catch the modern world as the old China disappears.

But the study abroad was about more than observations. As part of the Asian Studies and International Studies Programs’ efforts to globalize the UNC Asheville campus, the experience gave students the opportunity to learn aspects of Chinese language, culture and society that they can apply to their academics and careers. 

Senior Shelby Vecchio learns to write "beautiful tree" in Chinese.“China is becoming an indispensable part of the world now,” said Jinhua Li, lecturer in international studies and director of the Study Abroad to China trip in summer 2013. “Our students gain an in-depth understanding of the country and culture through their engaged individual research projects, and then obtain a unique perspective as cultural explorers and ambassadors, which connects them to the larger world.”

That’s part of the reason why UNC Asheville students choose to study abroad. The three-week trip was organized and led by Li and facilitated by Lei Han, associate professor and director of new media. The 11 students, many of whom had never been out of the country, met May 13 for a one-week program on campus before leaving for the international experience. They received six credit hours for two courses—Exploring China and New Media (INTS 376/NM 376).

UNC Asheville has study abroad programs in more than two dozen countries. Studying in another country, whether for a few weeks or a semester or two, gives students new perspectives and dovetails perfectly with UNC Asheville’s liberal arts orientation, Han said. The liberal arts and sciences are all about drawing upon a wide variety of studies and experiences to think critically and creatively. Travel is an excellent way to augment and appreciate classes that students have taken in fields that include language, business and culture.

“A liberal arts education teaches students to be lifelong learners, to constantly seek new knowledge and experience,” said Han. “Study abroad in China enhances our students’ ability to become global citizens. It prepares our students for vocation and employment in the global economy.”

The peer-to-peer experience was particularly beneficial. Students get a perspective from other students that they can’t get anywhere else, so Han and Li made sure the UNC Asheville students spent lots of time with their peers at Xi’an University of Posts & Telecommunications and Harbin Normal University.

Li recalls listening in on a conversation between a small group of UNC Asheville and Chinese students. They were talking about education and job prospects in China and in the U.S. Traveling abroad and pursuing a liberal arts
education isn’t possible for most Chinese students, the UNC Asheville students learned. From talking to her students later, Li knew that they had been changed by the discussion, as well as by the overall trip. Not only did they understand more about Chinese culture; they also realized how lucky they are. 

“There’s nothing like going to a different continent to make you think about your own culture,” Reid, a Hendersonville native, said. “For a lot of Americans who haven’t left the country, it’s hard to realize how much of the things you think about and do are the result of your culture. You think everyone thinks the way you do. When you go to a different country, it shows you a lot about who you are.”

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