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International alumni host 'Back to the Good Old Days' in Beijing

| Emily Wermund

What’s the farthest away any Blugolds have gathered to host a reunion? Beijing might just top the charts.

Several Blugold alumni — all at one point dual-degree international students at UW-Eau Claire — reunited for a gathering, named "Back to the Good Old Days," in Beijing, China, this past June. This summer marked the 10-year anniversary of the inception of the international Chinese cohort at UW-Eau Claire. Shu-Chuan Cheng, program manager in the Center for International Education, hosted the event with the help of the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association. Through the support of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, roughly half the expenses for the event were covered.

Alumni who attended the gathering graduated from UW-Eau Claire between 2009 and 2015. Joe Chang, a 2013 graduate and founding member of the Chinese Culture Club at UW-Eau Claire, organized the event.  Sixteen Chinese program alumni from various graduating classes attended the reunion. Some traveled to Beijing from within China and others flew in from out of the country.

“Just like the name of the event, I knew I wanted to bring alumni ‘back to the good old days’” Chang said.

“I wanted to recreate an environment like UW-Eau Claire was 10 years ago," Chang said. "I found a restaurant in Beijing with a big yard and red bricks — just like the mall of UW-Eau Claire’s campus. I also made decorations like specially baked UW-Eau Claire cookies, put up Wisconsin and UWEC flags, blue and gold balloons, and played the top-20 hits from the 2009-12 reunion years.”

The event consisted of an afternoon gathering, dinner and presentations. Awards were given out to various attendees, including who traveled the farthest distance and the very first student in the dual-degree program. Many did not know each other until the reunion and were able to form new connections with those who did not overlap their time on campus.

One pair in particular, though, did meet and form a connection while attending UW-Eau Claire — a very special connection. Michael Xie and Shelly Yang met while at UW-Eau Claire in 2011. They were married on Aug. 18 in Beijing, with their host family from Eau Claire in attendance. The two Blugold newlyweds have gone on to complete graduate coursework in Paris and now reside in Beijing.

“Those memories are very important for us alumni," Chang said. "Back then, we had all just gotten into college. For most, it was the first time living away from our parents. We lived and studied thousands of miles from home. When we got into trouble or needed help, calling parents wasn’t an option. We relied on each other and ended up sharing much of our experience with each other.”

Chang and several other Chinese alumni hope to continue the tradition of reunions well into the future.

“Good friends and good schools are worth celebrating," Chang said. "That cute, small town in the Midwest gave us so much kindness; from the fresh air and Chippewa River, to a smile and ‘hello’ from neighbors on the streets, to continuous support from faculty and students. Eau Claire can be a very cold city indeed, but we still feel the warmth given by the Eau Claire community in Beijing today.”

Photo caption: International alumni from the Chinese dual-degree program, along with the Foundation and Alumni Association, hosted a reunion in Beijing this summer to connect and reminisce about their time at UW-Eau Claire.