Two History students have experienced life at a Chinese university as part of a prestigious academic trip to Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
Sichuan University (SCU) is one of China’s foremost research universities with more than 40,000 undergraduate students and a history that goes back to 1740. Each year it opens its doors to academics and students from all over the world for a two-week Global Immersion Programme, designed to share international perspectives and give participants the opportunity to experience education in a different cultural setting.
Dr James Renton, a Reader in History at Edge Hill University, was among 150 international academics invited to teach on the programme.
The programme is designed to expose students to expertise and different approaches to University teaching from around the world. It is a wonderful way, I think, to broaden the horizons of the excellent study body at Sichuan University, a top ten university in China, and give our own students a rare and valuable learning experience.”
The Department held a competition for students who wanted to take part in the Summer Immersion Programme. Candidates had to explain why they should be selected for the trip, as well as showing their experience or capacity for independent foreign travel and excellent academic performance.
“We work very hard in the History Department to help our students become independent thinkers with a desire to learn new ways of seeing the world. I was impressed by my students’ thirst for seizing this incredible opportunity and delighted to select Joe Powell and Patrick Boss to represent Edge Hill on this prestigious programme.”
The students enjoyed a mix of study and cultural activities designed to give them a taste of life as a Chinese university student. As well as classes on history, philosophy and religion, Joe and Patrick also took advantage of lectures on subjects as diverse as linguistics and environmental science. The programme also included trips to famous sites such as Jinsha, the home of the ancient Shu people, the Zhuge Liang Memorial Hall and the historical street of Jinli, which gave a glimpse into the China of the past.
Second year student Joe Powell said:
We took part in several lectures on elements of Chinese history, as well as Chinese views of European history, which was all new to me and very interesting. It was a great way of learning about subjects that we might not have access to otherwise.”
“We really got into student life,” added final year student Patrick Boss, “from eating the best dumplings on campus to learning about Taoism and Buddhism. The best part of the trip, however, was visiting the panda base where we saw all ages of pandas, including newborns. China has a great enthusiasm for giant pandas and to be able to see their conservation work and the pandas up close was fantastic.”
Each student was allocated a ‘buddy’ for the duration of the programme, who acted as tour guide, study mentor, Mandarin teacher and social secretary.
They were the heart and soul of our trip. They took us to amazing sites and helped us find our way around the campus. They showed us the local side of Chengdu, as well as the main tourist spots. They were not just brilliant hosts but fantastic students too. We could tell that they had a great work ethic towards their studies that was quite inspiring.”
Both students feel the programme had a beneficial impact on their studies and plans for the future.
“The trip has impacted very positively on my studies,” said Joe. “It’s easy for people to say they can see things from an alternative point of view, but actually being immersed in someone else’s culture gives you that opportunity to see it from another angle. I will now move forward with an appreciation of the need for different cultural perspectives in my research. The experience is something I will remember for the rest of my life, and something that really whetted my appetite for travel and experiencing new cultures.”
The trip showed me that there is definitely a need for students (and Westerners as a whole) to broaden their knowledge of China. My knowledge had been based on limited information, mostly to do with where it intersected with British and American foreign policy. I wanted to rectify this by learning something about China itself, not just its history but its people as well. In the future I would like to study for a Master’s and this trip has sparked an interest in China that will definitely affect my choice of Master’s programme.”
Dr Renton, who taught a module on the fall of the British Empire attracting 100 students, summed up the trip, saying: “For me, it was a fantastic experience to teach at one of the top universities in China. I had the opportunity to meet excellent scholars from SCU, to teach students from a range of backgrounds who were fascinated to hear why the British Empire came to an end, to explore a city with a 3,000-year history, and to eat the food of Chengdu, which is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site for gastronomy!
“Even though it has a population of about 12 million, Chengdu is a stunning place that is wonderfully green but also manages to look like a city of the future. I’m really looking forward to developing our connections with SCU, and returning to the Sichuan capital.”