Coming to the U.S. from China and studying here for my fourth year, I found that my study abroad experience has taught me numerous things. Every day I am here, I am learning the language, sharing the traditions, experiencing the culture and discovering the differences and similarities between the U.S. and China. I find studying abroad truly beneficial.
According to the Office of International Programs at Ithaca College, 545 students studied outside of the U.S. for the 2010-11 academic year. That is about 10 percent of our total student population. I have no doubt this number will constantly grow every year. However, after hearing the college is planning to expand its study abroad options with a new satellite campus in China as part of its IC 20/20 initiative, I strongly feel the college is not ready for a China program.
Most students who study abroad usually chose countries in Europe because they are familiar with the culture and language. Many have been learning about Western history and customs since middle school.
Here at the college, we only provide two years of Chinese language courses, which restricts students who have finished the courses and are unable to obtain further language training here. In addition, we do not offer any Chinese culture-related classes, and students have very limited resources to learn about Asian cultures. We have a small amount of faculty on campus who teach courses related to Asian cultures. We often do not invite speakers to campus to talk about relevant issues, and we only have one Asian cultural-related club — and most of its active members are already familiar with the culture. Overall, I don’t expect many students will be interested in the China Program, simply because of the lack of learning opportunities and cultural awareness on campus.
According to the IC 20/20 initiative, the China center will join the London Program as the second overseas satellite campus operated by the college. Provost Marisa Kelly believes China is an ideal study abroad location and stated earlier in a story in The Ithacan “the increasing importance of understanding China if you are going to understand the world.”
The college currently offers an affiliated study abroad program to China. However, compared to the London Center, it is definitely not a popular choice. To attract more students into the China program and prepare to operate its first Asian satellite campus, the college should begin making changes on campus.
Without thorough audience research or a situational analysis on campus, the college may want to consider having more resources available to students, such as providing more cultural events, speakers and learning programs before joining the popular trend of American colleges offering Asian study abroad opportunities.
Here are some possible solutions to consider: Finalizing the approval of the Asian-American Studies minor would certainly help students learn more about Asian culture. Hiring faculty with Asian educational program experience would strengthen the new minor, and the faculty can host information sessions for all students.
Enhancing the Asian language program on campus by offering more Chinese language courses and adding other Asian language options to the program would help students become more prepared for taking courses abroad. Overall, the college definitely needs to work on designing a series of cultural classes for students before sending them away for the “Asian international experience.”
Yiwei Zhu is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.