Study Abroad in China: Students from Five Colleges Explore Beijing Together

March 2012

Dr. David Mozina, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, and Dr. Jing Wang, Assistant Professor of Chinese, taught  “Beijing in the Mirror of Time: Glimpses of Old China in a Modern Metropolis” in spring 2012 course which culminated with a study abroad experience in Beijing in March 2012. A diverse cohort of undergraduates in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Belk College of Business, the College of Arts + Architecture, the College of Education, and the William States Lee College of Engineering, most with no prior experience studying Chinese language, history, politics, or business, enrolled in the course.

“Wow!” “Fantastic!” “It goes on as far as you can see—so impressive!”

Exclamations echoed off the grey stones as 15 intrepid undergraduates braved cold and wind to hike the Great Wall of China.  They made their way up the steep steps of the famous rampart, which stretches from the East China Sea over 5,000 miles west to the Gobi Desert.  After hearing student presentations on the history of the Great Wall from its origins over 2,000 years ago to its renovations in recent decades, members of the class wandered the ancient turrets and searched for traces of the military brigades that once manned them. 

Religious Studies major Honey Lee voiced the impressions of many:  “It’s unbelievable to know that you’re finally here after so many pictures and videos.  This is IT . . . and it’s unbelievable!”

 “I thought [the trip] was awesome!” said Sociology major Danielle Dolphin. “We got to see firsthand what this city is like.  We’ve seen the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and many great sites.  I think students should definitely do this.  It’s very eye opening,”

The class spent the week of spring recess exploring vestiges of China’s imperial past and monuments to its recent history.  Students took turns sharing prepared presentations of the sites while visiting them.  They learned about the political intrigues of the Forbidden City, the lavish home and court of China’s emperors from the 14th century until 1912; about the architectural splendor and economic controversy surrounding the Summer Palace, the country residence of the imperial family; and about the triumphant and tragic events that took place in Tiananmen Square, the political heart of the modern nation.

But the course was not simply a tour of famous sites.   
“I think it’s more of an immersion program coming here,” said Katie Bourgeois, an International Studies major minoring in Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights. “I’ve gone to other places and you definitely get a different cultural experience here.  We got to see how Chinese live.  We really just felt like part of the city,”

Dr. Jing Wang, co-instructor of the course and Director of the Chinese Language Program, notes, “Study abroad courses are privileges.  For our 15 students, China is no longer an abstract concept; it is a real place filled with real people with real stories.  Each of our students is now personally connected to that place, and any reading here at UNC Charlotte on the history, religion, politics, and business conditions in China—not to mention any Chinese language work—should feel very different from before.  We encourage our students to continue the relationships they began in Beijing by seeking out China-related courses offered throughout the University.”

“One of the great virtues of studying abroad,” said Dr. David Mozina, co-instructor of the course and assistant professor of Religious Studies, “is that it makes one feel on a gut level that the assumptions each of us takes for granted do not necessarily apply to all people at all times.  I think one of our students, Katie Bourgeois, put it well: ‘We’re on the other side of the world, entirely, and it feels that way.’  Great swaths of people in the world have been formed by very different histories and live their lives in very different ways.  Our adventures in Beijing made the students in this course feel some of those differences.  Hopefully, they will now see Charlotte in a different way, and notice peculiar cultural assumptions and practices that they would never have noticed before.  The real value of traveling abroad is the perspective it lends upon coming back home.”