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Studying in China: The experience of a lifetime!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sometimes a change of venue is just the thing to enhance your educational experience. Whether you’ve always dreamed of traveling or just need to get away for a few months, Missouri State University-West Plains can give you the opportunity to study abroad in China!

Phoenix-Mountain-China

Phoenix Mountain in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China (Photo courtesy Brett Lair).

Each fall and spring semester, up to six Missouri State-West Plains students can experience the China Semester Study Away Program, spending a semester at Liaoning Normal University in Dalian, China. The deadline to apply for the upcoming fall semester, which begins mid-August and ends early January, is April 1.

The China Semester program grew out of an educational partnership established in 2000 with LNU to provide an associate degree program with an emphasis in business for the China campus and to establish a presence in China for Missouri State University.

“This is a unique opportunity, as is the cost to the students,” Dean of Academic Affairs Dennis Lancaster said, adding that students can use their existing financial aid, such as Pell grants, scholarships and A+ funds, to pay for tuition. Students are required to enroll in a minimum of nine credit hours’, six hours of which are a mandatory management and a Chinese language and culture course. Students also work office hours on campus and have the opportunity to intern teaching English. Travel and housing is provided at no extra cost, although students are expected to pay for their own meals. Food and travel are very cheap, however, Lancaster said, and students are encouraged to tour China or even visit neighboring countries in their free time, as there is plenty to do and explore.

There are many benefits to participating in the program, Lancaster said. “There is something about adapting—being forced to deal with another language and a culture very different from your own—that enhances your experience as a person and a member of society in ways that you just can’t get from a classroom,” he explained. “You’re also taking in sensory information in so many different ways, you don’t have time to take it all in right away, but it can add context to information you gain later. You gain a greater understanding of their culture and how that works. And it’s also beneficial for students to have the experience of being on their own. They leave home in a big way and grow in terms of self-sufficiency and focusing on what they want to do in their lives. It’s an opportunity for a clarification of career and life interests.”

Some students, Lancaster said, are so inspired by their experience they go back to complete their studies in China, or to let the knowledge they’ve gained shape their career paths. “It can broaden minds and horizons,” he said.

STUDENTS SHARE THEIR EXPERIENCES

Shannon Hughes and Brett Lair, both of West Plains, participated in the China Semester program in 2016.

Hughes heard about the program from her older brother, who had attended Missouri State-West Plains before her. “I fell in love with the idea of going from a very young age, so I was ecstatic to be chosen to go!” Hughes said.

For the most part, adapting to China’s culture wasn’t too difficult for Hughes. “Growing up, I moved around a lot, so while the new culture in China was a much more drastic change than the change of culture from one U.S. town to another, I had a bit of experience with it,” Hughes said. “The most difficult part for me was probably just homesickness. I’m a very adventurous eater and made tons of friends there, but just not having my family was rough.”

city-of-Dalian

City of Dalian, China (Photo courtesy Brett Lair).

Hughes said studying and interning at the Liaoning Normal University campus was a great experience. “Our teachers were great and very helpful,” she said. “Interning was a lot of fun, too. We made good friends with the Chinese tutors we worked with, as well as the students who came in for help.”

During her semester in China, Hughes spent a day in Panjin, a city on the northern coast of Liaodong Bay, and spent a whole weekend in Dandong, where she visited the Great Wall.

“Dandong is the closest city to North Korea, split only by a river in most places,” Hughes said. “I went hiking with another Missouri State-West Plains student on a trail at the Great Wall that ran right next to the North Korean border, but we didn’t realize it at first. The river had split into two a few miles back and we assumed the further branch of the river was the border, not the 10-foot-wide bit right next to us. We actually joked about crossing the river to get to the little ‘Chinese’ village off in the distance. Fortunately, we didn’t, because that was actually a North Korean village and the bright blue tower was a manned guard tower to prevent people from entering or leaving.”

Hughes said she misses all the amazing people she met and the food, which she said was “amazing.” She said she would tell those considering the China Semester to “definitely do it,” because it’s an amazing experience most people can’t say they’ve done.

“I would also tell them to pack light, because you don’t need as much stuff as you think you do,” she said. “Finally, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Most of the students you will go to school with speak phenomenal English. The foreigner community is really nice and close-knit as well, so that is another option to meet people.”

Lair, too, had been interested in the China Semester prior to enrolling at Missouri State-West Plains. “I had my eyes set on this program ever since I was in high school. I thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, and made sure to work as hard as I could to get into the program,” he said.

At first, adapting to Chinese culture was a blur. “It was so different being away from my home culture and being thrown into a new one,” Lair said. “Everything was new and exciting, and I lived for about a month in a complete daze of excitement. After getting settled into the culture, the true effects of cultural difference began to show. Even the simplest tasks, like ordering food and shopping, could become hard because I did not have a full grasp on the Chinese language. The most difficult part was not being able to express yourself fully to someone who was trying their hardest to understand.”

Forbidden-City-Garden

Garden at Forbidden City in Beijing (Photo courtesy Brett Lair).

Lair said studying in Dalian was an “interesting” experience. “Internet censorship is huge in China, and I decided to take online classes back at the main campus, which was difficult due to the slow internet speeds and lack of unfiltered websites,” he explained. “The classes I did take at the campus, though, were very interesting, and I definitely felt as if the students there are getting a similar education in China as they would at Missouri State-West Plains. The internship was wonderful, and was one of the most rewarding experiences while I was in China. I truly enjoyed the moments I had with the students there, and it was a joy to see them progress as writers and continue to grasp onto the concepts of academic writing.”

Like Hughes, Lair visited Dandong, and said getting to see the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea up close was a life-changing event. He also stayed in Beijing during his first week in China and cited the food as a prime example of something he misses. “The food in China is absolutely wonderful. It did take a while for it to grow on me, but once it did, it became something I will always crave,” he said.

Lair also enjoyed staying in the international dorms and getting to know the various international students and learn about their cultures. “I would tell prospective students to sign up right away! It is the journey of a lifetime, and it is too good to pass up. There are so many rewarding aspects about the China program, and getting to live in a new culture while earning college credits is great,” he said.

HOW TO APPLY

Students interested in participating in the China Semester Study Away Program should submit an application to the Dean of Academic Affairs along with two letters of academic reference and a statement of why the applicant wants to participate in the program. If selected, the applicant must submit a check for $75 made out to Missouri State University as a non-refundable processing fee. Applicants must be in good standing at Missouri State-West Plains and have completed at least 15 hours of college credit with a minimum GPA of 2.75. They must also have a valid passport and student visa before leaving the U.S. The deadline to register for the fall semester is April 1; for the spring semester, the deadline is Oct. 1.

For more information, visit https://wp.missouristate.edu/StudyAway/china.htm, or contact Dean of Academic Affairs Dennis Lancaster at 417-255-7272.

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