Traveling to China gives students life experience

Dwayne Yates

Still time to register for anyone interested in spring 2010 trip

Students learn cultural sensitivity, diplomacy and interpersonal skills by experiencing cultural diversity while studying recreation, park and tourism in China, professor Philip Wang said.

The study abroad program in China is a three-week opportunity for students to experience life internationally and take three courses from three to nine credit hours.

“What they learn in addition to the classes is self-confidence, independence and problem solving,” said Wang, a professor in the College of Education Health and Human Services. “Those are all life-long skills, and I see those skills more important than what they learn in those courses.”

Wang said in one course students get the opportunity to learn American leadership theories and use them while working with Chinese college students at a summer camp. He calls this “service learning.”

In another course, students gain skills in diplomacy by learning business etiquette, as well as how to respect people who have different lifestyles and who do not always speak English.

“People who have gone on these trips will know that language is not really a barrier,” Wang said. “It’s the etiquette. A big smile, handshake, body language – those generally will warm up and people will have very little barriers.”

Any major can go on the trip. Wang and students travel through eight different regions of China.

“When we’re there, we’re going to be based at a university in Beijing, and we have Chinese faculty members come as guest speakers to tell us about their art, music, history and economics,” Wang said.

Wang added anyone who is interested in registering for the spring 2010 trip to China should contact Linda Robertson at the Kent State Center for International and Intercultural Education.

America’s pastime not China’s

Last summer, Kent State student Ryan Rohrer carried a light, plastic baseball and bat around China in his backpack hoping to use them for a game when he visited a summer camp. When it was time to play, he discovered that none of the children knew how to play baseball.

Even though he had run into a brick wall, he and a translator tried their best to explain how to play the game. Rohrer drew a baseball diamond in the play area and allowed the kids to hit and pitch the ball.

“I learned a lot about communication and working with people from different cultures,” Rohrer said. “When we do a game, I’m used to everyone knowing how to do it. When we were there, you have to really explain things. If you don’t explain it perfectly, they’re not going to get it, and it’s just going to cause a lot of problems.”

Rohrer and a group of Kent State students on the study abroad trip to China celebrated the Fourth of July in the rural town Shijiazhuang acting as temporary camp counselors to a group of elementary school-age children. This was the group’s last day in China, and they decided to share American culture with the children.

In addition to playing baseball, the group tossed a football with the children and sat down for a junk-food dinner.

“The original plan was to buy hamburger and hot dogs, but we couldn’t really find that over there,” Rohrer said. He added when the group went to the meat aisle, there was eel and other strange foods. “We just thought it’d be easy to do peanut butter and jelly, chips and candy.”

The children’s parents and siblings joined them at the camp for dinner. The children performed a dance to the song “Lean on Me” for their families. They learned it from their American camp counselors.

“When we got there in the morning, this was the first time any of these kids had seen Westerners, so they were almost a little bit afraid of us,” Rohrer said. “As time started going on that morning, they kind of started warming up to us and playing a little bit more games with us.”

Rohrer has traveled to China once a year for the past three years. He said seeing China in real life opens students’ minds and rids them of negative expectations of what the country is like.

Rorher said before he went to China, he really did not want to go, but his experiences there changed his mind. He added that the students who went on last year’s trip were excited to be going on a trip to China, but none of them had a huge interest in the country. Now they can’t stop talking about their experiences there.

Rohrer said it is amazing that a country that was closed off from outside just over 50 years ago is so open and receptive to American culture.

“Everywhere you look, you see American influence,” Rohrer said. “We were in a really small town, and we were walking down the street, and we saw a huge picture of LeBron James.”

Contact College of Education, Heath and Human Services reporter Dwayne Yates at [email protected]