BYU-Hawaii Study Abroad group returns from China

[Story and photos by Mike Foley, who accompanied the group: Published originally in the BYU-Hawaii “Newsroom” in July 2006]

Eleven BYU-Hawaii students and alumni, accompanied by two International Cultural Studies professors and their respective families, recently returned to campus after spending four weeks studying intensive Mandarin in Shanghai and another week visiting historic sites in Beijing. One of the faculty members called the trip a “life-changing experience.”

In Shanghai, a city of approximately 17 million people marked by explosive economic development over the past 10 years, the students enrolled in Fudan University’s international center for Mandarin language studies where they joined several hundred other students from around the world — many of them foreign-born Chinese who spoke Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese as their native languages, as well as Japanese and Koreans.

At least once a week the language school arranged for Chinese cultural activities such as tai chi and martial arts, traditional Chinese music and instruments, and calligraphy, as well as tours to cultural events and surrounding cities. The group also met in Dr. Chad Compton’s weekly forum-style class on Emerging China and Globalization, and attended the Shanghai Branch of the Church.

In Beijing the group toured some of China’s most significant historical sites, including the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China at Simatai, as well as a Tibetan Buddhist lamasery, a 1,000-year-old Moslem mosque and the Beijing Branch of the Church, which was recently authorized by the government to open the first Family History Center in China.

“For me watching the students be there and experiencing China on the streets, in the books and the language, was a great equation for success; and as I’ve read some of their thoughts, it looks like it was a great experience for them also,” said Dr. Compton, chairman of BYU-Hawaii’s International Cultural Studies program.

A Shanghai street market near Fudan University
where our group studied for a month.

The students agree. Kynaston Kaika Lindsey, a junior exercise science major from Waimea, Hawaii, who is part-Chinese and had completed Mandarin 201 on campus, said he “loved the language learning experience at Fudan University. It suited my style and I really enjoyed learning more Mandarin.”

“This was my first trip out of the U.S., so I really didn’t know what to expect,” he continued, marveling with other members of the group how modern some aspects of Shanghai were, such as super malls bigger and better than Ala Moana.

Wes Nye, another participant, received word of his call to the Kaoshiung Taiwan Mission while he was in Shanghai; and Whitney Moore, a senior political science major from Yuma, Arizona, who had not previously studied Mandarin, said, “Study Abroad got us out of our own little world and helped us see that other people have a different point of view that we can respect. My attitude about China has changed. I would definitely go back.”

Kristina “KC” Folsom, a 2006 ICS: Anthropology graduate from Shelbyville, Kentucky, said she loved “the interaction with the native Chinese I got to know. For example, I got involved with some old tai chi people at the stadium near our hotel. I also loved the Great Wall.” Folsom also said she’s going to work for a while and then plans to serve a mission, adding “it would be awesome” if, like Nye, she’s called to a Chinese-speaking area.

ICS professor Dr. Yifen Beus, co-director of the China Study Abroad Program, who was raised in Taiwan but whose father is from mainland China, said “going back to teach students about my own culture is a very unique and satisfying experience for me. I have always had a very personal and intimate tie with China.”

Three generations in Shanghai

“This was my first long stay in Shanghai, and I really got to know the city well,” she added, noting it was interesting “to see familiar things from the west they have there, how contemporary Chinese negotiate through this modernization process and how they take in all these western cultural and economic aspects into their lives.”

After the first four weeks in Shanghai, the group took the overnight express train to Beijing, which Dr. Compton described as “rich in the ancient history of China, and a testimony to what was through millennia a great society — a great civilization really second to none in terms of the development of technology, new science and amazing architecture.”

Dr. Beus said in Beijing she enjoyed eating Chinese cuisine with the group. “We got to know each other on a more personal level, and we enjoyed the food. The main difference between Chinese and western eating habits — and I think the students learned this the hard way — is the Chinese typically do not drink cold beverages during their meals.”

“By eating together we also got to know the Chinese philosophy of eating: Why they eat certain dishes at the beginning of the meal and not others. Typically, a Chinese meal will start with cold dishes, then hot ones. At home, we always eat rice, but at a banquet nobody eats rice or any kind of grain because that’s considered home-style food. At the end, we always have soup to wash down all we’ve eaten, and fruit for dessert.”

Dr. Compton said a personal highlight of the tour for him was similar to “putting together the pieces of a puzzle” on the modern economic, political and cultural history of China. “Teaching the class was the pleasure of feeling the puzzle, and beginning to feel I’ve got a grasp on it.”

He said also enjoyed watching the students and his own family “encounter China, a really quite different place than most of us have been before, and the emotions you feel, the smells, the noise, the crowds, the heat, the large cities, the language, the cacophony of sound and movement we had to deal with. It’s always a struggle to deal with that in ways that are productive, but I found a lot of satisfaction in watching the students and my family go through that in a positive way. I feel very positive about the experience and the growth.”

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