CCI sends largest student cohort ever to Sichuan University’s Summer Immersion Program

As part of its commitment to building global scholars and citizens, CCI sent the largest cohort in the college’s history to Chengdu, China, this July to participate in the prestigious Sichuan University Summer Immersion Program (UIP). CCI’s Sichuan Scholars took classes with a cohort of students from select programs around the world, taught by faculty from top universities across the globe. Twenty-three CCI students, four students from the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising and three students from Kent State Trumbull were selected to be CCI’s 2017 Sichuan Scholars. Each received scholarships from CCI and Sichuan University to make this study-abroad program more affordable.

CCI faculty members, professors Mark Goodman and Thor Wasbotten of JMC joined the CCI Sichuan Scholars and taught courses during the UIP, and administrative assistant Alice Kopunovitz of Communication Studies chaperoned the group – the first time a CCI staff member has accompanied a cultural-exchange trip to China.

Sichuan University, in Sichuan Province, is the most comprehensive and largest in Western China, with a student population of more than 70,000. The university’s College of Literature and Journalism, one of CCI’s international partners, is ranked fifth in all of China. Faculty and student participation in the UIP is by invitation only, and only a handful of U.S. universities are invited to participate. CCI’s robust partnership with the College of Literature and Journalism has allowed the summer immersion program to thrive and grow.

Sichuan Province is the fourth largest province in China, with 81 million people, and Chengdu itself is a 2,000-year- old city and one of the largest economic, commercial and cultural centers in Western China, famed for its Szechuan cuisine and giant panda breeding center.

‘An Opportunity of a Lifetime’

Each of our Kent State CCI Sichuan scholars pursued this opportunity for different reasons. Melissa Agner, a senior communication studies major, said the two-week duration and financial aid allowed her to take part in the trip without impacting her graduation date. “The scholarship was critical. I could not have gone without it.” Agner said. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime.” Sophia Adornetto, a sophomore journalism major, decided to travel to Chengdu to learn about a different culture and meet new people. “I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to expand my perspective on the world, meeting and getting to know people I never would have met if it wasn’t for this trip and exploring a different part of the world that is so rich in cultures, places and people.”

Melissa Agner, a senior communication studies major, said the two-week duration and financial aid allowed her to take part in the trip without impacting her graduation date. “The scholarship was critical. I could not have gone without it.” Agner said. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime.”

The cultural diversity of China was on full display from the start of the UIP. Each year, the program opens with an impressive ceremony that celebrates culture and friendship. This year, for the first time, Kent State students were invited to perform at the opening ceremony. They chose to lip-sync to “Hang on Sloopy,” with choreographed moves that spelled out O-H- I-O.

The first week of classes featured cultural exchange sessions. These discussions gave students an opportunity to learn about Chinese culture, tour Sichuan’s main campus and learn more about the city. Our students also had the opportunity to share aspects of American culture, ranging from fashion and architecture to health and the environment, with their Sichuan University peers. The following week, students attended a variety of classes, including offerings such as Bioengineering Textiles, Philosophy of Friendship and Multimedia Techniques. Our students learned from international faculty and studied with international peers.

On weekends, Sichuan University arranged excursion trips to allow students to visit the world’s largest Buddha statue at Leshan, and to visit the province’s giant panda reserve. While these excursions were remarkable, our students and faculty believe the greatest experiences came from absorbing the local culture and making new friends.

“I chose to go to China because the program gave me the opportunity to interact with students and faculty from around the globe. In addition to this, I met many great people from Kent that I otherwise wouldn't have met,” said Alex Hatfield, a junior who studies at Kent State Trumbull. For Hatfield, the greatest highlight of the China trip was “playing tug-o- war and dancing on a skyscraper in the heart of the city. The entire trip was a surreal experience!”

“The students I met in class the second week I have added on social media and I am still in regular contact with them,” said Agner. “All of us developed relationships with our Chinese professor, Professor Jixiang, and our student liaisons, including Kayla [Xinyi Yao], who will join us at KSU for the 2017-2018 school year.”

Ginger Stanciel, a sophomore fashion design major, enjoyed having time to practice Mandarin and mingle with locals while traveling through the city. “My favorite part of the trip was not the panda park, even though pandas are my favorite animals,” said Stanciel. “The best part for me was when a few friends and I would take the Chengdu Metro to explore the city.”

Adnornetto loved mingling with locals and exploring a different culture. Being able to travel to China fulfilled a dream she had since she was eight. She hopes to one day return to Chengdu. “The people were so friendly, the food was great and Chengdu has a relaxed, friendly vibe that was infectious,” she said. “I would love to visit again and explore more of the city and surrounding areas.”

For faculty members Wasbotten and Goodman, the experience was equally transformational. Although both had taught previously in China, the trip was their first experience teaching in Mainland China.

“It was one of the best teaching experiences I’ve ever had,” said Goodman. “Although the students were very quiet and didn’t talk much in class, they were engaged and extremely intelligent.”

Wasbotten said being able to teach students while having Kent State students in Sichuan added a new level of excitement to teaching abroad. He believes studying abroad transforms students by exposing them to places and people they never would have met otherwise.

“The whole idea of why students should do this is because of what is in the classroom, or preferably outside of the classroom. There is so much to learn about different cultures and different political systems and different people,” Wasbotten said.

For future students and faculty hoping to travel with CCI to China, Goodman has a few words of advice: “It really is as hot as everyone tells you. Plan accordingly! And try to interact with as many Chinese people as you can. You’ll find you have more in common with them than you might imagine.”

POSTED: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 11:01am
UPDATED: Tuesday, April 2, 2019 - 2:07pm