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Study abroad programs weighed

Updated: 2015-01-27 10:37
By HUA SHENGDUN in Washington (China Daily USA)

Study abroad programs weighed

Brennan Murray (right), a senior undergraduate student at the George Washington University, has spicy small lobster, a typical Chinese snack, with his friends in a night market restaurant on Shouning Road in Shanghai in August 2014 when he was enrolled and attended the summer program of Chinese language study in Shanghai Jiaotong University. Provided to China Daily.

American student Brennan Murray completely reframed his view of China after his experience in Shanghai last year.

"I learned much more this past summer out and about talking with people on busy streets in Shanghai," said the senior at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs.

Funded by a Zhou Qiuguang Fellowship for Chinese Language Study, Murray studied Chinese culture at Shanghai Jiaotong University, one of the top schools in China.

Murray was first exposed to Chinese language in high school. After that he chose Asian studies as his major in college and in 2013 spent a semester at Minzu University, a Beijing-based, ethnic minorities studies-oriented school.

"The program was absolutely unbelievable and I had such an intense experience in Beijing, but I wanted to see more of Chinese culture," said Murray. "So I then went to study in Shanghai."

"It's a pretty global city, representing modernity more than any part of the world right now," he said. "So it's very easy to stay in that circle and hang out with people from America. I blame myself a little bit for not getting out of that more."

About 10 undergraduate and graduate students at GWU qualify each year for sponsorship to East Asian countries, including China, Japan and South Korea.

Included are two each summer to study Chinese language in China through the Zhou Qiuguang Fellowship, named in honor of Zhou, a professor of modern Chinese history at Hunan Normal University and visiting scholar at GWU Sigur Center for Asian Studies in 1997 and again in 2004.

"There are more people who apply then we have money for, but we try to make sure that people who are really qualified and interested in going have the opportunity to do so," said Bruce Dickson, professor of political science and international affairs and director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies.

Dickson said the center worked with students to help them learn which programs are best and most suitable for them to apply to.

Most, he said, "choose to study in big cities, for in most of Asia, the major universities are in the capital cities or big cities, like Shanghai or Nanjing".

"Some say if you want to study Mandarin in China, you really have to do it in cities like Beijing, because if you go to rural areas, people don't speak Mandarin there," Dickson said.

New fellowship programs have been offered this year for China-US cultural and educational exchanges, including the recently-reached 100K Strong Initiative to promote US President Barack Obama's 2009 goal of sending 100,000 American students to China over a period of four years.

The 2014 Open Doors report released by the Institute of International Education (IIE) showed that China was the 5th most popular destination for US students going abroad, trailing Britain, Italy, Spain and France.

In the 2012-13 academic year, more than 14,000 US students studied in China, making up 5 percent of all US students studying overseas.

The IIE report did not count an estimated 10,000 US students studying in China each year for non-credit and short-term language and volunteer programs.

"One of the best ways to invest in the next generation of leaders is to develop language and cultural skills through study abroad," said Carola McGiffert, president of the 100K Strong Foundation.

She said that the US could do more to make sure young US citizens have the cultural understanding and China skills to compete, collaborate and succeed in a world where China plays a huge and growing role.

Murray said it was a pity that the Shanghai summer program he was on did not offer trips to rural areas, as he would have liked to have lived and studied outside of the city.

"When I was in Beijing, I went to Nongcun, which is like rural neighborhoods, and those experiences were amazing," he said.

After class in the summer program, Murray went out often to museums or other spots in Shanghai to learn more about the city's history, though many foreigners may "presume the city to be just the economic hub, very Westernized and might not have a lot of history".

"Shanghai does have a lot of history, and it's super fascinating," said Murray. "I probably learned more in the thirty minutes I was in the museum than I have in any single lecture at GWU."

Stephen Dutton, a graduate student in Asian studies, said the six-week program "refreshed" his Chinese after he'd been to China a lot of times.

Dutton attended Fudan University in Shanghai for seven months in 2014. Prior to that he studied in Beijing and Chengdu as an undergraduate.

"I do recommend Shanghai for studying abroad as a city you can get different experiences in," he said.

"Studying abroad was one of my best experiences in college," Murray said. "If you have time under your belt, just go there."

Sheng Yang in Washington contributed to this story.

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