The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Notre Dame cultivates relationship with China

Caitlin Sisk | Wednesday, November 6, 2013


From the bustling business hub of Beijing to the rural Miao villages of the Guizhou Province, Notre Dame’s connections with China continue to grow and develop. China’s rising importance in the business world, Notre Dame’s mission to serve and the University’s desire to better understand other cultures motivate Notre Dame students to cultivate good relations with China through different service and study experiences.

Dr. Jonathon Noble, executive director of Notre Dame’s Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, said the University works hard to promote and expand opportunities for students in Asia.

“It is commonly recognized that China, and the U.S.-China relationship, is greatly impacting our global reality. Notre Dame International, in conjunction with other units across campus, offers ND students with a broad range of educational opportunities in greater China, including study abroad programs in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei, faculty-led summer programs for business and engineering students, service learning in Guizhou and a growing number of internship opportunities,” Noble said.

Senior Dominic Romeo, who helped set up the Guizhou site of the International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP), said Notre Dame’s relationship with China matters now more than ever. 

“On one hand I think there’s the reality that going forward China and America are going to be two of the most important countries in the world, so promoting mutual understanding among our two nations is going to be essential,” Romeo said. “So little programs like [those offered by Notre Dame], ranging from the business programs in Beijing to the service projects in Miao villages in Guizhou, help foster those relationships from a grass-roots level.”

Senior Stephen Schroder said he wanted to take advantage of these connections by competing in a business case competition over fall break.

“Especially in the realm of business, it’s so important to be able to understand peoples’ backgrounds and different peoples’ cultures and the implications regarding that, and also just being able to work with them and getting that experience before getting into my own career,” Schroder said.

Senior Deanna Kolberg, who also helped initiate the Guizhou program, said she realized the differences between her experience studying abroad in Beijing and doing service work in Guizhou. Although many students think of China as a fully developed nation, few appreciate the true diversity of the nation, she said.

“What people should understand if they’re considering going to China is that there is a wide disparity and just a cultural difference between the east coast and the rest of the country. So if you go to Shanghai or Beijing, you don’t really get the taste of what is most of China without going outside those places,” Kolberg said. 

In order to diversify the programs to encompass more fully the various facets of Chinese culture, several students, including Romeo, Kolberg and senior Phil Hootsmans, took on the challenge of creating a new travel service opportunity in China after being approached by junior Huili Chen, an international student from Guizhou.

“The reason we wanted to do it was because we saw all of these service programs, and they go all around the world, like Latin America, Europe, Africa, but China was very obviously missing, and it was like, how can you leave out one of the most important countries in the world? … especially in the service context, it was a very glaring omission,” Hootsmans said. 

“As Notre Dame, our goal is to be this force for good in the world. It’s essential that we tackle this issue head on and I believe that programs like these through Notre Dame are critical components of doing just that.”

Within the Guizhou region, students visited villages of Miao minority peoples and studied their traditional customs in an effort to work to preserve those customs without hindering the development of those regions, Romeo said. 

“Our goal was to combat this paradox: on one hand, we wanted these villages that were often highly impoverished to have the opportunity to take part in enjoying the fruits of development, but on the other, we, along with many villagers … wanted to make sure these practices did not altogether vanish,” Romeo said. 

Although new projects and connections, like that in the Guizhou region, continue to strengthen the link between Notre Dame and China, Hootsmans said the University still has some work to do.

“Notre Dame doesn’t really have established channels. I think it’s getting a lot better as far as during your time here,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to go there through programs and stuff, and the name is growing, and more Chinese undergrads are going, but after graduation … you’re on your own.”

However, senior Ryan Fish, who spent a semester at Peking University, said the efforts to make connections thus far have shown results in the growing reputation of Notre Dame in China and the growing number of Notre Dame supporters and alumni there.

“It was kind of cool to see the Notre Dame bubble outside Notre Dame in China where you think, ‘Oh there’s no one from Notre Dame there,’ but [through] the networks and the relationships we’re able to establish there, we’re able to bring everything together,” Fish said. 

“That’s important just to kind of take those connections, bring them even further, expand upon them as the partnership between the U.S. and China becomes even more closely related over the next couple of years.”

Contact Cailtin Sisk at
[email protected]