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Here and There: Collaborations with China

Each May, Widener undergraduates visit China for both travel and study. The trip includes a stop at the Great Wall before staying at he dorms of Chongqing Technology and Business University.

Chester, Pennsylvania, and Chongqing, China, are literally on opposite sides of the planet: there is a twelve-hour time difference; the cities are 7,681 miles apart; and travel between the two requires flights lasting more than fifteen hours.

But using an online chat application on his smart phone, Widener student Ron Rabena ’16 talks with Zhang Xin Yu, a good friend at Chongqing Technology and Business University (CTBU) anytime he feels like it. Rabena, a Philadelphia native studying international relations and political science, talks to Yu at least once a week. “The world is becoming small because of technology,” Rabena said.

Rabena first met Yu—who goes by the English name Richard—after his freshman year while participating in an undergraduate student exchange program with CTBU. That first trip still resonates for Rabena two years later. “It was absolutely the best experience of my life,” he said. “It was life changing.”

The following year, Rabena spent a semester in London and traveled in Europe, and over spring break, he visited Honduras. “China was the first country I visited,” he said. “Now I’ve been to eighteen other countries.”

In May, he went back to China with a contingent of Widener students and faculty, and was more fluent after completing two semesters of Chinese language study. “I have such a respect for Chinese culture that I didn’t have before,” said Rabena, whose long-range plans include working and living internationally.

Widener-China Programs Vast and Varied

The exchange program that had such an impact on Rabena is just one of more than ten initiatives supported by Richard Tan ’09H, a Widener trustee and founder and president of Pacific Millennium Holdings Corporation of Shanghai, China. Tan and his family committed a $1 million gift to Taking the Lead—The Campaign for Widener in 2011 to expand partnerships between Widener and universities in China with an emphasis on students and faculty learning each others’ languages, culture, and ways of doing business. “I believe partnerships like the ones between Widener and Chinese universities allow participants to learn and respect and work with each other equally,” Tan said. “Education and cultural sensitivity are powerful approaches shaping political and business landscapes. The more we understand the complexities of our cultures, and that issues happening outside of our home country are important, the more doors and opportunities open up.”

Of Widener’s current initiatives with Chinese universities, seven are with CTBU, a university in the town in the central part of the county known as the “Gateway to the west of China.”

In addition to the Undergraduate Student Exchange program that sends Widener students to China and brings CTBU students here, other partnerships with CTBU include:

● A visiting scholars program that brings professors from CTBU to campus from October to March each year. They meet regularly with partner professors from Widener in their respective fields.

● A three-week Summer Faculty Development Institute for CTBU’s English instructors aimed at utilizing experiential learning strategies.

● Collaborations and exchanges between CTBU and Widener faculty and students in the fields of social work, business administration, engineering, and hospitality management. There are a variety of options for Chinese students to earn Widener undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Widener administrators with Buddhist monksChinese Faculty and Students on Campus

Widener students and faculty do not have to leave campus to benefit from the crosscultural immersion programs. Dr. Patricia Dyer, an English professor directing Widener’s study abroad programs, has visited China six times and teaches courses to Chinese faculty visiting Widener. She said the presence of Chinese students and faculty on campus in Chester enriches the experience of the students and faculty. “It wakes us up and makes us part of the real global world,” she said. “We’ve learned from them about learning styles.”

Rabena, who has helped teach English to students visiting from CTBU, concurs with the value of interacting with Chinese students. “It teaches us about how to teach someone else,” he said. “It takes you way out of your comfort zone. It has forced me to open up my mind.”

In addition to CTBU, Widener has a newer partnership with Qinghai University, a university in the city of Xining, the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau. Three visiting scholars—from the fields of English, cultural anthropology, and finance and urban planning—spent January through April living and learning on Widener’s campus. That program included language and culture classes and meeting regularly with faculty in their respective fields.

Jun Ye, an English professor for Qinghai University, said his experience at Widener will be with him for years to come. This was his first time visiting the United States, and he said much about American culture that had been a mystery to him from abroad has become clearer.

“I’ve learned that it does not matter if you are from China or America, we are more the same than we are different,” Ye said. Other programs in conjunction with Qinghai University included a three-week visit by thirteen senior administrators to Widener in the fall 2014 to study leadership, issues in higher education, language, and culture.

Suk-Chung Yoon, Widener’s associate provost for experiential learning and global engagement, oversees the university’s partnerships with the Chinese universities. A native of South Korea who has been a faculty member in computer science since 1991, Yoon said he is thrilled to see the positive experiences of both the Widener students and faculty who visit China and the Chinese students and faculty who visit here. “I came to this country as an international student,” said Yoon. “It is very rewarding to see the success of these programs.”

Widener Research in China

Two Widener environmental science professors, Dr. Chad Freed and Dr. Steven Madigosky, visited Qinghai University in June 2014 to conduct research. They returned this summer to teach courses to Chinese students and do more field work. “When I was in China, I was astounded at the magnitude of everything from building projects to resource acquisition to food production,” Freed said. “Along with the challenges of managing the world’s largest population, the Chinese are now very interested in living sustainably with their environment. We are interested in exploring new models in environmental science for mining and food production that limit the impact to the natural environment.”

As the benefactor who provided some of the spark for this global collaboration, Tan said he is pleased with the far-reaching programs that Widener and the Chinese universities have formed and that it is just the beginning of growth for students on both sides of the globe. “I believe our young people will benefit greatest through a combination of building relationships, learning social and cultural views that will influence their actions, and at the same time, have an experience that may be one of the best in their lives,” Tan said.