Expanding horizons to the eastern world

*This is an extended version of the article printed in Issue 11 of The Scroll.

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Photo by Kelsie Ammann

A Chinese proverb states, “Reading 10,000 books is not as useful as traveling 10,000 miles.”

Come Christmas Break 2013, a group of Bethany faculty and students will take a literal interpretation of the proverb.

Psychology Professor Dr. Jennifer Wosmek in conjunction with the Office of International Education is offering Bethany students the opportunity to spend two weeks in China; however, it will not be in the traditional sense as a tourist.

Wosmek said, “The title of the course is “Understanding the Chinese Experience” and that underlies my entire approach to this course. The approach to the course is to see and not to be seen. In order to achieve that goal, we are going to pack light. We are really going to try to blend in as much as we can.”

To go on the trip, students will enroll in a cross-listed Psychology and Sociology class at a 200 or 400 level. The class will meet 10 times for one hour every Monday before leaving for China. Each period will delve into topics about Chinese culture.

Wosmek said, “The topics that we will address here [in the States] and there [in China] include community, work, family, faith, gender, education, etiquette and cultural norms. We have outside reading and videos for the students to complete, and they will be practicing how to use chopsticks. We plan to have chopstick races before we leave because when we are there, the goal is fitting in, and in most cases that means using chopsticks, not forks,” said Wosmek.

Students will also Skype with Chinese students at United International College (UIC), an English speaking Liberal Arts College in Southern China. This will provide students with information about what it is like for someone their own age to be living in China. When in China, students will meet their UIC counterparts face to face.

The format to the hour meeting period here at BLC will carry through nightly when in China. Each night in China, students will end their day with a devotional piece to provide perspective and focus.

“We have a really great devotion book that we will go through and that will kind of ground the course as to why are we doing this,” said Wosmek.

Junior Grace Merchant is one student interested in the China tour.

“At the moment, I’m still undecided whether I’ll be going or not, but it sounds like a great experience for personal and professional growth. I like the challenge of traveling through the back door and living like the locals do, rather than stopping only at the tourist sights,” said Merchant.

Currently, at the top end, the cost will be $3,500 per person, but the more students that go, the less expensive it will be.

When it comes to luggage, each student will be limited to a carryon. For each day of the trip, one student will have the primary responsibility for taking photos. In addition, students will be encouraged to form groups of three to four, instead of a mob of 15. These steps are all to help students blend in.

When it comes to the trip, students first explore Hong Kong.

“We are going to start off in Hong Kong. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has an Asian seminary there, as well as churches connected with their church group. In Hong Kong, we are working with them to select some English speaking young adults to help tour our students around in small groups. Rather than being on a tour bus, they will go on public transportation with local young adults,” said International Education Coordinator Kathy Bruss.

Then a 90 minute ferry ride will bring students to mainland China. Across the way is the city of Zhuhai, where UIC is located. While at UIC, Wosmek said UIC faculty takes over in teaching students the same topics pertaining to Chinese culture.

Photo by Kelsie Ammann
Photo by Kelsie Ammann

Next, students will go to Beijing and visit more of the traditional tour sites, but with an intentional role as an observer of Chinese culture. There students will see the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Terracotta Warriors and the 798 Art Zone.

Wosmek said, “The 798 Art Zone is an old factory complex that in 1995 was refurbished to become China’s artistic community. They are trying to make it like a Greenwich Village or SoHo. That will give us a taste of where they are right now because you can tell a lot about people by how they express themselves through their art.”

“When we travel around town, I will provide students with observational assignments, so they can more readily see culture being lived out. So, when we are standing at the Great Wall and we are taking in the beauty, landscape and history of the Great Wall; we are also taking in the people around us and we are listening and observing,” Wosmek said.

When the students get back, they will invite friends and family to show off posters they constructed to display their learning in the course and discuss their overall experience.

Wosmek said, “I am not putting a lot on our schedule because I want us to really take in where we are at and not feel like we are rushed,  which would be distracting to those around us. I really want it to be a relaxed experience where students can really absorb everything around them.”

Sophomore Melissa Owen finds the tour to be convenient with her college schedule.

She said, “It’s impractical for me to study abroad for an entire semester and still expect to graduate in four years. This China trip allows me to travel during break so I don’t have to take any time off and still earn school credits. It’s very possible that I’ll have to take out a loan for this trip; however, I have the rest of my life to work. Why not make it worth my while?”

Plans for the trip started in the summer of 2011, when Wosmek received a phone call from Bruss, asking if she would be interested in being part of an institute. The institute combined UIC and Minnesota private college faculty.

“The goal of the institute was to bring the groups together and the two groups of faculty to learn from one another and strengthen their role in the classroom and services they provide to students,” Wosmek said.

When at UIC, Wosmek met their Psychology department faculty. They had few meetings and saw an opportunity to help both students in China and the U.S. Out of this came the China Tour.

“Since I have had a longer history with UIC, I have some logistical knowledge [Wosmek] has not yet had a chance to develop. While she was working on course content, I helped with connections with the college and think along the lines of developing meaningful relationships with Chinese students,” said Bruss.

Students can also get involved this summer. In July, UIC students will come to Bethany as part of a sister program.

“I would love to have Bethany students befriend these students and take them home for a night and take them out to their favorite restaurant. Show them the same hospitality that I hope and pray we will have in China. Give them a taste of the Minnesota experience while they are here,” Wosmek said.

In addition, a lot infrastructural development is occurring in China that can provide college students many opportunities, one of which is mental health infrastructure.

Wosmek said, “They do not have mental health services and it is not in their culture to really seek out help. So this is going to be quite new for them [that] we have this and have a lot to offer. Professionally and personally, it is an opportunity for students.”

If interested or for more information, contact Wosmek at jennifer.wosmek@blc.edu.

Bruss said, “We see this study tour as helping to prepare students for the world in which we live. China is an economic powerhouse and will only continue to increase in influence. Being able to work together well helps everyone, including to help maintain peaceful relationships in the world.”

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