Two weeks in China
My experience traveling abroad with the chancellor and faculty
Revised article reprinted with permission of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram (Originally posted Nov. 25, 2012)
Until I was handed an opportunity to travel there, China had never crossed my mind as a destination I’d someday hope to cross off my bucket list. Like most other wide-eyed 20-somethings, my travel aspirations lie primarily with the dreamy European scenes I’ve been presented with in books and films. But last November, when UW-Eau Claire’s Interim Chancellor Gilles Bousquet presented me with an opportunity to travel with a small delegation to China for two weeks, it felt like all I’d ever wanted.
I had been offered the opportunity as a journalism student at the university and after an interview process was picked for the job: a two-week field reporting assignment alongside UW-Eau Claire faculty as they traveled through China, strengthening already-existing university partnerships and aiming to forge new ones.
I joined Bousquet and his wife, Deborah Johnson-Bousquet;Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education;Shu-Chuan Cheng, Chinese program coordinator for CIE;Tim Vaughan, associate dean of the College of Business;and Linda Young, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. While this wasn't the first trip to China UW-Eau Claire faculty have made —and won't be the last, as Bousquet said he hopes university faculty return every six months to continue strengthening connections abroad —it was the first to include members of the university's academic departments.
From my perspective, it was an excellent decision. When visiting Chinese businesses and medical schools, respectively, Vaughan and Young approached setting up collaborations and opportunities for their students through a lens that only they could closely understand. Specifics like credits, equivalencies and degree requirements could be addressed with immediate ease, leaving plenty of time to discuss potential projects and partnerships for UW-Eau Claire students and Chinese students alike. Their presence added enormously to the trip's success, as we came home with groundwork laid for business internships as well as nursing course collaborations.
It also was the first time a delegation included a student, and I was thrilled that student was me. My role was to document the trip, bringing my bulky camera and audio recorder with me everywhere we went. I blogged daily on my own (twoweeksinchina.tumblr.com), wrote blog posts on behalf of the chancellor, and submitted stories to the university News Bureau, WUEC's Blugold Radio show and The Spectator student newspaper.
Ever since I was a kid —truly, I've aspired to be a journalist since elementary school —my dream job was to be a travel writer, and this trip gave me a small taste of what it's like to truly report while on the road. For me, that was the best part. I found that being the journalist on the trip allowed me to ask the questions I really wanted to, and that led to some unforgettable conversations. Whether it was asking the person sitting next to me what a dish on the dinner table was —the answer to which was often "chicken feet" or "jellyfish" or even "bird saliva" and, yes, I tried it all —or discussing domestic violence in China with the dean of a university's nursing department, the conversations I had with Chinese natives were the highlights of the trip for me.
I was struck most by the warmth of everyone we met. Just as I learned that Chinese college students view American college students as outgoing, adventurous and, yes, a bit raucous, as an American college student I believed Chinese students were shy, quiet and reserved. And I would still say they're more reserved than their American counterparts, but that doesn't make them difficult to talk to and get to know. I found everyone I met not only willing and eager to connect but also easy to connect with. Students were genuinely excited to talk to me, just as I was enthusiastic about talking with them.
Everywhere we went, I felt a lot of love for my university. Because some of our partnerships have been going strong for decades (like our 23-year partnership with Jinan University in Guangzhou and Zhuhai), our alumni events in China drew upwards of 40 people. Every single person I met at the alumni dinners —there were two during the trip, in Hong Kong and Guangzhou —had only wonderful things to say about their time in Eau Claire. Many people called it "heaven," others referred to it as a "dream." It's hard not to feel love for this place when you're surrounded by others so enamored of it.
I've always heard that the Eastern and Western worlds are very different, and in a lot of ways, that's true: food, culture, mannerisms, language. But what's most rewarding about traveling abroad is the realization that we all have more in common than not. We all care deeply about our families, we all value higher education, and we all utilize a good meal as a time to get to know one another. Maybe it's naïve —again, I'm a wide-eyed 20-something —but I believe that the more we get to know people inhabiting other parts of the globe, the better united we'll all become.
One thing I can't remain naïve to is the fact that I only saw one side of China, and I know it. Because we toured only academia, a privileged echelon all its own, I was lucky enough to see only urban China, with its Westernized economy and obsession with material goods. Rural China is a very different place, preserving the version of China we've read about in textbooks —fields and factories and all. I hope to return and experience that version of China, "real" China, where poverty is still very blatant.
In the days since I returned to the States, everyone I know has asked me, "How was China?" I've found it to be a surprisingly hard question to answer, probably because I can't yet answer it myself. I find myself still mulling over everything I saw and experienced, unable quite yet to pick my "favorite part," "best memory" or "weirdest food," as I'm often asked. To me, that's the mark of a truly great trip: one that stays with you, one you can't shake.
Alumni ties strengthened during China trip
Editor's note: While in China, the UW-Eau Claire delegation hosted alumni receptions in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. UW-Eau Claire has approximately 125 alumni in China, many of whom participated in dual-degree programs in which they studied for a portion of their undergraduate years at UW-Eau Claire and for another portion at a Chinese university, and then received degrees from both UW-Eau Claire and the Chinese institution.
Once a Blugold, always a Blugold. That motto was reiterated this past November at alumni events in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China, when more than 40 Blugolds dating back to the 1970s gathered at the two events to celebrate their love for their alma mater.
The seven members of the UW-Eau Claire delegation to China, led by Interim Chancellor Gilles Bousquet, hosted two alumni banquets during the first week of their two-week trip to China to reconnect with UW-Eau Claire students of the past.
The delegation traveled to China to continue strengthening partnerships with Chinese universities and create some new programs for both U.S. and Chinese students.
During the trip, the delegation placed importance on reaching out to UW-Eau Claire alumni and maintaining those relationships.
"I think it's very important for the university to remain in contact with its alums regardless of where they are," said Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education and member of the China delegation.
"It's been particularly challenging for most American universities to stay in contact with international alumni. They tend to be mobile, and once they return home it just becomes harder to stay in contact with them."
Markgraf noted the importance of maintaining those connections, as it helps build universities' global competence.
"International alumni can do so much for us or for any American university as it tries to accelerate its global learning and as it tries to reach out and build and create and extend a network of opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage in the world," Markgraf said.
The delegation met with 17 alumni in Hong Kong, a meeting that proved to be momentous, Bousquet said.
"This is a historic moment, the first time that the alumni in Hong Kong came together," he said.
But what was an even greater achievement, according to Bousquet, was the formation of the first-ever international alumni chapter, which was officially created at the dinner event. The group even named its leader that night.
"Out of the enthusiasm of the alumni group came a chapter president-elect who is very enthusiastic about solidifying the relationship between the alumni, bringing the older generation and the newer one together," Bousquet said. "I think it's going to be a great asset for us here in Hong Kong."
That president-elect, Joey Yeung, said he's happy to do the job. Yeung, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1992, studied management information systems and now works at an information technology company in Hong Kong.
"I'd been wanting to get the Hong Kong-based alumni together for some time now," Yeung said. "This gives me a reason to do that. I'm really looking forward to our future alumni gatherings;they're going to be a great way to catch up with one another and reminisce about the happiest four years of our lives."
Markgraf said the formation of a Hong Kong alumni chapter is a major milestone for the university.
"I think the creation of an alumni chapter in Hong Kong is a first step toward our beginning to build a sustainable network of alumni in this area," he said. "When the alumni came together in Hong Kong, the room was full of love for UW-Eau Claire."
An alumni gathering at Jinan University in Guangzhou was similarly successful, as 40 former students and faculty attended the dinner.
Jenny Chen, who studied at UW-Eau Claire from 2003-06, drove an hour to attend the event just to catch up with old friends.
"I made some of my best friends at Eau Claire," said Chen, who majored in marketing and now works for the Dongguan government in China. "Those relationships last a lifetime."
Alumnus Xiaojie Li ended the event with a toast to Bousquet: "As a Guangzhou native, I want to welcome you to Guangzhou. As a Jinan University alum, I want to welcome you to Jinan University. And as a Blugold, I want to welcome you home."
Photos by Taylor Kuether
Image two: Members of the delegation posed with their Jinan University counterparts at a restaurant in Guangzhou.
Image three: Blugold alumni in Hong Kong gathered at an alumni banquet hosted by the UW-Eau Claire delegation.