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Saint Mary’s connects with Asia

| Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Art Troupe of the North China Electric Power University performed at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind. on Sept. 22, and Alice Siqin Yang, Saint Mary’s assistant director of global education, said the event reflected the growing opportunities for Saint Mary’s students to learn more about Asian cultures, particularly through the College’s study abroad programs.

Yang said the performance at Northridge High School was not only meant for attendees to see a high-quality performance but also for the increased visibility of a unique culture. The Confucius Institute, which coordinated the performance, primarily “seeks to promote Chinese culture,” Yang said. The organization has established relations with more than 400 universities worldwide, with three located in Indiana at Indiana University Bloomington, Purdue and Valparaiso, Yang said.

The Confucius Institute focuses on increasing Chinese and American students’ knowledge about one another’s cultures through education and performance, which is a goal Yang said she also shares. She said she helps promote these types of cultural events in the South Bend area through advertising at Saint Mary’s.

“For Saint Mary’s, we emphasize internationalization and diversity, so I’m glad that students are interested in Asian cultures, for China is now the second largest economy … and developing fast,” Yang said. “It is essential that we help students make mutual understandings with different cultures.”

This idea of mutual understanding parallels some of the activities in which the Saint Mary’s study abroad groups in Asia are able participate through excursions into other parts of the region, Yang said. One example of this is a visit students make to the Guizhou Shenghua Vocational College, Yang said.

“This college … is Christian based, and they recruit students from the poorest provinces in a mountainous area … for almost free tuition,” Yang said.

Yang said the Confucius Institute, which strives to provide realistic education centered on vocational learning, supports the Guizhou Shenghua Vocational College’s mission.

“[The Vocational College] now [has] five majors; a few are: technology, hotel management and travel souvenirs,” she said.

Yang said this college is also special because the institution recruits 20 to 30 international volunteers every year to help teach students English. She said many of the Saint Mary’s students abroad in the past expressed an interest in being a part of this program and were able to participate.

Saint Mary’s students also played a role in the U.S.-China Student Summit in May, Yang said. The Summit brought together students and top leaders from both countries to speak on topics having to do with the relationship between America and China from a political, business and cultural perspective.

“Saint Mary’s being a part of this is a big deal, for there had been around 200 American students attending, and Saint Mary’s itself had nine representatives including the faculty,” Yang said. “… [This was] an interactive session. The focus [was] student leadership, cross-cultural learning and business.”

Yang said the dialogue created by the summit was effective in bringing the students of both countries together in “cross-cultural team building activities.”

Dionne Bremyer, assistant professor of English, went on the study abroad trip to China. She taught travel writing as a course to help the students better understand certain aspects of their experience.

“We looked at what it means to be a traveler versus what it means to be a tourist,” Bremyer said. “We also think about what it means to engage with experience and different cultures and how we process that through a lens in which we study and look at different cultures.”

Bremyer said she found Saint Mary’s students were admirable because they were willing to live in a place with very little connection to western culture where they might at first be uncomfortable.

“I think more than anything the open attitude to new experiences is more important than having a full understanding,” she said.

Bremyer advocated cultural exchange and the importance of the China study abroad program for students.

“I think it is the goal of study abroad for students to learn and understand the world better, than they should go places that challenge them,” she said. “The world can be very small and we are at a small school, so I think sometimes we feel very interconnected and interlinked, and I think one thing that is important about study abroad is seeing the world as a larger place where people have all kinds of experiences.”

Like Yang, Bremyer sees the relations between the people of China and America as vital to global understanding and expansion. She said these growing relationships were reflected in the U.S.-China Student Summit.

“It was amazing for [the students] to make connections with people from China and to think about all the places in which cultural exchange could happen … [not just through business and politics, but] through language through literature, through wanting to have a better understanding of each other as human beings,” Bremyer said.

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