A prize-winning exchange experience

Queen’s development studies’ semester abroad program honoured by the People’s Republic of China

Jonathan Kong participated in the program last semester.
Jonathan Kong participated in the program last semester.
Photo: 
Fudan University is located in downtown Shanghai.
Fudan University is located in downtown Shanghai.
Credit: 
Supplied

An innovative exchange program run by the global development studies department has won acclaim from the Chinese government.

The Semester at Fudan program was recognized this year as a Model Bilingual Education Program by the government of the People’s Republic of China. The program, which began in 2005, was lauded for its modern education methodology and efforts to foster cross-cultural educational experiences.

The program offers a unique semester abroad because it combines in-class learning at Fudan University in Shanghai with practical internship experiences at local NGOs.

Joanna Hunt, ArtSci ’09, was a student with the program in 2008 and returned this year as its designated academic assistant, a position filled by a past participant each year.

Hunt said she was initially drawn to the program because it allowed her to pursue aspects of her economics and global development studies degree.

“I’d never been drawn to an international exchange before that,” she said. “But I felt it would be really interesting ground experience that would unite the two things I was studying at school. I was also drawn to the idea of getting some work experience.”

Hunt said she acted as a teaching assistant and resource for first-timers.

“I just had such a wonderful experience the first time around, and to have the opportunity to share that with new students was really exciting to me. Plus, there’s so much to see and do in China that going there just once wasn’t really enough.”

The University offers an extensive pre-departure orientation session to students, but Hunt said culture shock is inevitable.

“Obviously when you’re immersing yourself in another culture you experience and see things every day that are going to put you outside of your comfort zone and shake up your expectations, and that’s one of the biggest challenges for students participating in the program, but it’s also something that makes it unique and such an incredible 360 learning experience.”

Hunt said the 15 students in the group rely on each other to get through the first few weeks in their new environment.

“There are a lot of comforting aspects to the group—everyone’s there for the first time, so you’re all taking in these new experiences together,” she said. “I had the benefit of my first-time experience, which gave me a greater understanding and enabled me to help the students branch out.”

At Fudan University, students take courses in Chinese history and culture, Shanghai and globalization and optional Mandarin classes. While the introductory Chinese history course is Queen’s students-only, the other classes are taken with Fudan students.

Jonathan Kong, ArtSci ’11, participated in the program last semester. He said many of the most important lessons he learned were outside of the classroom.

“I think the most important thing was how to interact across cultures, how to develop a sense of cross cultural awareness, how to calculate risks in travelling—we travelled a lot and within China itself there are a lot of different cultures and ethnicities and regions.”

Kong, who was born in Hong Kong but immigrated to Canada at age six, said he wanted to visit China to learn more about his heritage.

“I wanted to learn about my culture, reconnect my past, and just sort of experience what my culture is all about,” he said.

Despite his background and the ability to speak Mandarin (Kong took lessons in Canada for six years), Kong said he consistently discovered things he didn’t know on the trip.

“China is totally different. My first impression knocked me out. It was like, ‘Wow I need to relearn this whole culture and re-evaluate what I thought about it.’”

Kong was paired up with a student from Fudan and worked with her at Roots and Shoots, a non-profit organization founded by the Jane Goodall Institute.

“Basically I was helping underprivileged children who came from the rural areas of China into Shanghai, their parents came in for work during the day, and they don’t have any status, so the Jane Goodall Institute opened a school to take care of them. I taught them some English, lessons about health and hygiene, just basic life skills.”

Kong said he’s still in touch with his partner from Fudan University and hopes to return to China this summer.

“I’m hoping to go back this summer for the Shanghai Expo,” he said. “I have been looking into getting a job with one of the companies I was involved with while working there. That’s something I look forward to.”

Kong said the connections and real-life experience afforded by the program were invaluable.

“We met with a variety of business leaders. I was involved with volunteering for the Prime Minister’s centennial dinner with the business community, so we got to see Stephen Harper and other dignitaries in Shanghai,” he said. “The opportunities were boundless; the skills I learned in my placement and the connections I’ve made will last after my time at Queen’s is over.”

Paritosh Kumar, a Queen’s professor and the program co-ordinator for the Semester at Fudan, said the development studies department is particularly interested in the impact of study abroad programs and created a work-placement program prior to this one.

“One of the problems with semester abroad programs is that when students go abroad they kind of hang around together, they live in a bubble and don’t mix with local students. We tried in this program to create structures which would facilitate interaction between students from the University of Fudan and the city.”

Kumar said Shanghai was chosen as a location for the program for a variety of reasons.

“It’s a hub of globalization, with all the contradictions that that entails,” he said. “So it’s interesting as a study. Fudan had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Queen’s which made things easier from a logistical perspective, and Emily Hill, a professor with the history department, had connections with Fudan and suggested the program.”

Kumar said despite some initial difficulties, establishing the program was a relatively smooth process.

“It was a different working environment, but both sides adapted. For example, NGOs are relatively new in China—they’re fairly cautious about those. Creating those opportunities was a challenge. Also there’s no tradition of internships in China, so their understanding of what that meant was very different from what we understand an internship to be here.” Kumar said the award from the People’s Republic of China provided some additional funding for the program, but he was unsure of the amount.

While the recent award provided some funding for the program, Kumar said he is most excited by the positive feedback.

“There’s obvious benefits to this program for our students but it’s gratifying to know that on the Chinese side they see it as beneficial as well. This isn’t a one-way exchange, and we’re happy about that.”

Kumar said he’d like to see the project expand.

“Another country I’m personally interested is India, and we have a course in Cuba that could maybe be expanded. In the long run we have thought about expanding it—to link up with a university in Tanzania for example—as the program grows we would like to create more structured opportunities. We’re thinking of more study abroad programs instead of individual internships.”

Kumar said student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We have had students who went there in 2005 and haven’t come back—they’ve fallen in love with the city and are working there. All the students have developed strong interests; students have graduated and gone to the University of Fudan, students want to research the country and learn more about it. For the students it’s become a passion.”

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