U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

China Blog

Day 13 - Study Abroad in Beijing

China’s National Day (October 1) marks the founding of the People’s Republic of China.  National Day provides a focal point for the fall holiday season.  The day itself is one of parades, patriotic pride, huge meals, and fireworks.  For students in China, National Day marks a highlight in the traditional fall break, which might be compared to the spring break so familiar on campuses across the U.S.   The week or so before and after the holiday are a time for a travel and holidays.  Classes are suspended, and campus life slows to a crawl.  During this time, Bryant’s students studying in Beijing took the opportunity to travel.  In fact, this is the time they took off on their Fall Field Experience with Bing Han, the Resident Director of the Alliance Program for Global Education in Beijing.  I was sorry to miss the opportunity to visit with the seven Bryant students in Beijing this fall.  Actually, I envy them their field experience in Qinghai.  This is one of the westernmost provinces of traditional China.  Remember that Ming wall in Xi’an?  Why was it there?   Answer:  It was there to face the threats posed by nomadic incursions from the peoples of the Tibetan plateau (Qinghai!).  I don’t really like those easy comparisons to American history, but this is a case where drawing a parallel to the warfare with Native American tribes of the Great Plains actually makes sense.  Both the Tang and the Ming saw fit to fortify the passes that could allow the tribes of the Tibetan Plateau to sweep eastward into the land of the Han Chinese.

Meanwhile, back in Beijing, Alliance staff at Beijing Language and Culture University made time to meet with me.  Same with staff from the Education Abroad Network Program.  In this regard, I was most especially pleased when Helen Han of the Education Abroad Network made time to travel across the whole of Beijing’s urban sprawl so we could meet.  Disrupted communication and delayed messages had meant we missed each other in Shanghai last week.  I was glad that she kept trying and that we made the connection.

We connected in Beijing, and this meeting was particularly important because Bryant does not currently have a partnering agreement with the Education Abroad Network.  For students interested in direct enrollment in classes with Chinese students, the Network offers a real opportunity.  As far as I know, the Network is the only program that offers direct enrollment in content courses with Chinese students.  This is done by enrolling students in courses offered in English to Chinese students seeking to improve their language skills.  This practice occurs at both Tsinghua University and the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE).  Network students also have the advantage of Chinese roommates and off-campus housing.  Such options available through the Education Abroad Network will definitely bear exploring in the near future.

Jiawei Guo “Jada” at the Alliance office in Beijing Dining services at the Beijing Language and Culture University.  Jada tells me Bryant students rate the food very highly.

We do enroll students currently with the Alliance in Beijing.  In fact, seven Bryant students are enrolled this semester with the Alliance at the Beijing Language and Culture University.  As with all the Alliance programs in China, the Beijing program is a hybrid that brings the best of an “island” model together with immersion experiences.   Classes are sheltered, while co-curricular activities tilt strongly toward immersion.    The standard curriculum provides nine credit hours of language and two content courses (6 hours) with instruction in English.  The language program connects each student one-on-one with a Chinese graduate student for at least 3 hours of additional tutorial, conversation, and cultural mentoring each week.  The content courses offered this semester include an economics course, sociology, and a course on the environmental movement in China.  The co-curricular program is also very strong, and students have the opportunity to get involved in volunteer activities, community service, and internships. 
The library at the Beijing Language and Culture University.  The library is a popular study site, as is typical at Chinese Universities, but the Alliance staff and instructors work to maintain lending libraries in English for their study abroad population. Dean Lux with “Jada” Guo and Chad Futrell, one of the Alliance faculty in Beijing

Overall, this is a very strong program, and, as with the Alliance sites in Shanghai and Xi’an, the emphasis is on strong language programs and carefully chosen themes for the content courses.   Here, in Beijing, the emphasis is on contemporary society and culture in China.  Chad Futrell, a Cornell sociologist, provides a good bit of that content with a course on social issues in China and another on the contemporary environmental movement.  Chad and Jiawei “Jada” Guo spent well over half a day with me on National Day going over the Alliance curriculum and describing the co-curricular programming in Beijing.  What they described is a strongly integrated program design. 

The residence hall for international students at the Beijing Language and Culture University The residence hall convenience store

I came away from all the Alliance programs I visited with the sense that they had been put together by drawing on local resources to complement the classroom experiences.  The resident directors and staff I met in Shanghai, Xi’an, and Beijing all have a strong academic background.   Although we didn’t get a chance to meet, my understanding is that the same holds true for Bing Han, the Resident Director in Beijing.  All the Alliance staff have also built up significant working experience in global education and study abroad programming.   The integrated approach to the language program under the direction of Tian Zhou is a real plus.  These are programs that “walk the walk” in language instruction as well as in the integration of the academic and co-curricular programming.

These two days of visits with Beijing staff from the Education Abroad Network and the Alliance for Global Education wrapped up my study abroad visits for this trip.  From my perspective, these were visits well worth making.  I learned a lot, and I hope I was able to give our partners a better sense of Bryant and our commitment to global education.    As a final word on this topic, I guess I have to come back to one of the original points I made in discussing the programs in Shanghai.  Study abroad is a very personal and individual experience.  Each student brings different needs and expectations to the occasion.  We can look at the processes, programming, and opportunities in broad brush strokes, but the experience is absolutely personal for each student who goes abroad.  Those of us who work with students need to understand that and bear that fact in mind as we prepare to advise students and recommend programs.  

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