A lesson in Chinese culture
Graduate students and faculty from the College of Education and Human Development at The University of Texas at San Antonio spent three weeks in China this past May as part of a college- wide study abroad opportunity.
The College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) sponsored the study abroad trip, which was held in conjunction with a special Maymester health and kinesiology course, for the purpose of understanding and experiencing the educational and cultural systems in China. Drs. Wan Yao and Page Smith led the group of thirteen graduate students, which included five master’s students and eight doctoral students.
“I think China was a fantastic experience for the students,” said Dr. Page Smith, associate dean of Graduate Studies and professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. “Our students had a good experience that was balanced between seeing China and the Chinese culture and connecting deeply with the student population in China.”
The study abroad trip, which took place from May 13 to June 1, also served as a way for the COEHD students to apply what they have learned in the classroom in real-world situations.
“This trip was something that the students could not get from just learning in the classroom or just looking at the Internet,” said Dr. Wan Yao, department chair and associate professor for the Department of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition. “It was quite a learning experience.”
During their time in China, the COEHD students had the opportunity to stay on campus and work one-on-one with peer students at Tianjin Normal University. This was the first time COEHD students and faculty were able to stay on campus at a Chinese university since COEHD first offered the study abroad opportunity in 2009. The group stayed on campus for four days, and according to Yao, this allowed the COEHD students to fully immerse themselves in Chinese education and culture.
“Our students and the Chinese hosting students worked one-on-one with each other,” said Yao. “That was probably the best part of our trip: Our students being able to understand the Chinese students, and how they study, how they live.”
The Chinese students from Tianjin Normal University served as “language buddies,” and provided the COEHD students with insights into life as a college student in China.
“I think for me, my favorite moment of the trip was meeting with our language buddies,” said Allegra Montemayor, Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching doctoral student. “Pairing up not only allowed us to get to know a Chinese student and get to know a little bit about their program, but I think it was also a personal perspective. They talked to us about China and their culture, what they do day in and day out.”
For Paul Rodriguez, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Higher Education Administration program, staying on campus at Tianjin Normal University also meant gaining first-hand insight into China’s higher education system.
“It seems that China is in a state right now of their system growing tremendously, just like ours,” Rodriguez said. “More and more universities are becoming very trade specific for students to be able to pursue very specific certification-type programs in addition to higher-level training and degree programs. They are also trying to broaden their access to more populations, to people in rural communities as well.”
Like Rodriguez, all of the COEHD students conducted research pertaining to their particular area of study in order to receive credit for the Maymester course.
Much of this research, Smith said, was applied during their time at Tianjin Normal University and their time at Beijing Sport University and Peking University, two other universities visited during the group’s time abroad.
“Visiting Beijing Sport University and watching the Olympic team work out right in front of us was pretty neat,” said Daniel Gonzalez, Bicultural-Bilingual Studies graduate student. “We got to go into labs and classrooms and facilities. We got as close as we could to seeing it through their [the Chinese students and faculty’s] eyes.”
Aside from their research, COEHD students and faculty also visited several Chinese archaeological sites including the Terracotta Army, the Forbidden City and the Xi-An City Wall.
“I think our students got a great understanding of the depth of Chinese culture,” Smith said. “We got a really good look at history. The students got to look at thousands of years of history rather than hundreds of years, like we have here in the United States.”
According to a number of trip participants, one of the most memorable places the group visited was the Great Wall of China.
“We went to the Great Wall our second day in China and that was fantastic,” said Rodriguez. “The physical climb of it was so impressive. It was really, really challenging because the point they took us, the peak of that area, was actually the highest point of the entire wall. So, I was really surprised at, physically, how hard it was to get to that point. It was really impressive. I thought the great wall was fantastic.”
This year marked the third year that COEHD has sponsored the study abroad trip since it was first offered in 2009 and is an opportunity that both Smith and Yao hope they can continue to offer in the future.
“It was a great experience,” said Smith. “I think my favorite part of the trip was probably seeing the communion that occurs and the transformation that occurs when we go with our students. When they get off of the plane, they were a little bit pensive, a little bit apprehensive, and by the end of the trip, they had not only digested China, but had risen to the occasion.”