China summer programs modified to increase cultural contact

Sichuan Group Photo

Refinements in the Sichuan Language Exchange Program, inaugurated last year, and the ongoing Exploration Seminars to China promise increased fluency and greater potential for deeper cultural exchange. Thanks to the commitment of Prof. Zev Handel and Instructor Yu Liping, in addition to increased language fluency, students will be afforded greater opportunities to deepen their understanding of and connections with China.

The Exploration Seminar and the Sichuan Exchange are complementary programs intended to answer the varying needs of the University’s students. The Seminar provides a structured three-week excursion to Beijing for Chinese-language students to learn more about the culture, while the Exchange provides an eight–week intensive program of language study that is equivalent to a year of study at the University.

This summer, the 17 students traveling to Sichuan University in Chengdu are being housed on the main campus and have the support of a permanent on-site manager. Returning participant Vivian Ta, an undergraduate majoring in Chinese and minoring in international studies, is encouraged by the changes to the program. She notes that last year program participants were housed in a facility for foreign students on a branch campus. She anticipates that the improvements will make the program even more productive than last year. Other improvements include greater free time for students to study and explore on their own, and the expansion of the program to include students from the University at Albany-SUNY. Last year, students from the University of Washington and the University of Arizona were the first participants in the program.

The 22 undergraduate Exploration Seminar students traveling to Beijing spend about three weeks at Tsinghua University. Mornings are devoted to language study tailored to help students appreciate their immediate environment, while the afternoons are dedicated to excursions to various locations around Beijing. For example, this year, students will meet and talk with the architect of Olympic Forest Park. Instructor Yu, who has organized and led the Exploration Seminar for the past three years, notes that the program is invaluable because “it provides an opportunity for students to learn a lot of things about China outside the classroom.” She notes the surprise students sometimes express at the differences between their expectations of China and their actual experiences.

Olympic Forest Park outside Beijing

Undergraduate Steven Kwan, who is majoring in computer engineering and minoring in Chinese, participated last year in both programs. He notes that the experiences built his confidence in his spoken Mandarin. “It helped me step out of my shell and interact more. It helped me understand more about my culture.”

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