EVENT RECAP: The Future of American Study Abroad in China with Sino American Talks and Project Pengyou

by Karisma Wilson on March 7th, 2017   928 views

On Sunday, March 5, Project Pengyou joined with Sino-American talks, a group focused on exchanging perspectives of Americans and Chinese, to discuss the growth and the challenges that Americans studying in China face, and how to ensure that the next generations of cross-cultural leaders have a positive experience in China.

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On Sunday, March 5, Project Pengyou joined with Sino-American talks, a group focused on exchanging perspectives of Americans and Chinese, to discuss the growth and the challenges that Americans studying in China face, and how to ensure that the next generations of cross-cultural leaders have a positive experience in China.

The discussion covered a variety of issues, including the imbalance of China-US student exchange, how to continue student engagement post study abroad, international and public resources for study abroad students, and how to manage expectations. There were representatives from several study abroad organizations, exchange programs, including CIEE, CRCC Asia, and The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies as well as the US embassy and students from both China and the US.

The dialogue featured speakers Uchechi Kalu, the PR/Marketing and Alumni Relations Manager of Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA), David Moser, Academic Director of CET Chinese Studies, and Brent Haas the Resident Director of Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies (IUP), all bringing different perspectives, ideas, and solutions to the conversation. Read on for highlights to where study abroad might be heading and what steps should be taken to guide its path.


It’s All About Immersion

Each speaker made a point of noting immersion is key to truly understanding and appreciating a culture. Brent Haas observed that “students who choose China are brave, they have already developed sense of adventure,” but it is essential to take the experience a step further. By bringing students out of their comfort zones they learn the words in Chinese that’s essential to every day life and gain autonomy which makes a lasting impression.

There’s no question that China can be challenging, but it can also be transformative. The speakers all agreed the best way to combat the gap between expectation and reality is preparedness, and creating normalcy within the culture. When students are fully immersed they are able to obtain the real, developmental experience they want. The speakers stressed that students want more than just a visit to China, they want hands-on involvement. The study abroad experience should be framed as a comprehensive, immersion activity. Uchechi Kalu says:

“[You can] market it as a tool for language or culture, but for some people this isn’t enough, so stress the development and long term connections.”

Learning from challenges is what motivates many students who want their time abroad to be evolutionary. “Students listen to students,” Jim Caime, director of the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, stated. There was consensus during the discussion that presenting the real-life benefits of a challenging study abroad experience is what truly attracts people. They want to understand and know the culture, and immersion is the best way to achieve this.

How to Diversify the China student

Some students are drawn to China no matter what, but how can we attract those who wouldn’t see China as a natural first choice? All of the speakers agreed that diversifying and increasing the number of Americans in China would create more discussion and more understanding.

To attract more students and keep them engaged long after they return, Brent Haas suggested advertising more than just the well known, stereotypical Chinese culture. Allowing people to find their interests within subcultures, like the punk rock scene in China, and learn within what they enjoy in China is what inspires a return. He stressed, “Advertising the diversity of Chinese experiences.”

It was also mentioned that because China is considered a “non-traditional” study abroad location, there is a larger number or scholarships and grants available for China and Chinese language study, making China a great option for those students who might normally be financially unable to study abroad.

Many speakers also emphasized the ability to create your own experience in China. Project Pengyou Community Engagement Manager Devin Nickell noted, “Most students who come know someone else who already had a successful experience, they come based on word of mouth.” When students see and hear from friends and acquaintances having transformative experiences in China they are inspired and encouraged to come themselves.

By enhancing student’s experiences abroad it can become a long-term, developmental experience that ultimately inspires the next generation to come. It is also important to note that that there is an aversion to study in what is considered a difficult environment with a language that requires intensive work, so showcasing the surprising, exciting, adventurous side of study abroad in China is essential. The speakers agreed program-led excursions into areas that are difficult to access are the best way to do this. Not only do they expose students to a more authentic culture, they give them a China experience that demands to be shared.

The Panelists of "The Future of American Study Abroad" event

The Panelists of “The Future of American Study Abroad” event


The Right Age to Study Abroad?

As Uchechi Kalu represents an organization that focuses primarily on high school, short-term study abroad opportunities, there was some discussion on when the right time to go abroad might be. One attendee noted that longer-term college study abroad could be declining because so many students have already experienced short-term travel opportunities and programs. Uchechi insisted, however, that studying abroad in high school can actually have the opposite effect. She stated, “The younger someone has an experience that shapes them, the more they will want to return.” These programs may be short term, but giving younger students the autonomy to grow and develop on their own within a foreign environment allows China to become a part of who they are.

Finally, Joseph Lemien, founder of Sino-American Talks, also noted that these programs are more accessible to a larger crowd. He affirmed, “Study abroad is a spectrum. Some people can come for a week, some come for years, but all is beneficial to improving China-US relations.” The ultimate goal is to bring as many students as possible into the China conversation and create globally experienced trailblazers.

We hope to continue this conversation as we look to how we can all play a part in promoting the future of American study abroad in China!


About the Organizer:

Sino-American Talks is a project spearheaded by long-time Beijing resident Joseph Lemien, who is dedicated to improving the relationship between the Chinese and American peoples through hosting candid and constructive discussions aimed at strengthening mutual understanding and respect. Through intimate and live events in Beijing featuring speakers from both China and the USA, there is no single focus on one topic, but rather on a wide range of topics that relate to the two countries and the intricacies of their relationship. Previous topics include Chinese soft power in America, cross cultural views on mental health, and looking past the stereotypes of each education system. For information or to help plan an event, contact Joseph at joseph.lemien@gmail.com

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