The College of William and Mary received a visit from family this summer.
Students and faculty members from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) – William & Mary’s new “sister university” – visited Williamsburg in July and August to take classes, make friends and share information about their lives, culture and education with the College’s faculty and students.
“Everyone benefitted very much,” said Nancy Yang, a representative from UESTC who organized the trip. “They learned a lot, far beyond their imaginations.”
The visit was hosted by the School of Education and the Center for Gifted Education with support from the Reves Center for International Studies, the School of Business, the School of Law, the physics department, the applied science department, the computer science department, the mathematics department, the Charles Center, and conference services. Numerous other William & Mary faculty, staff and students also provided support for the visit.
William & Mary and UESTC became “sister universities” in December 2010 when President Taylor Reveley and UESTC Vice President of International Affairs Wang Houjun signed a memorandum of understanding in the Wren Building’s Great Hall.
“UESTC is one of the most distinguished universities in China,” remarked Reveley at the ceremony. “We look forward to an exchange of faculty and students in academic programs and cultural exchanges between Chengdu and Williamsburg.”
That cultural exchange began soon after the agreement was signed when Yanfang Tang, an associate professor of Chinese, took a group of William & Mary students to UESTC in June. This summer, UESTC returned the favor by sending 21 students and 18 faculty members to William & Mary for a three to four week U.S. study and tour program.
“The (UESTC) group can bring more diversity to campus,” said Yang. “It is important to bring that cultural exchange to William & Mary for students who don’t get the chance to study abroad or in China.”
The participants enjoyed William & Mary classes, lectures and discussions on a variety of topics, including education in America, U.S political systems, early American history and cross-cultural communication. They also toured the campus, visited sites around Williamsburg and along the East Coast, met with Newport News city officials, enjoyed leisure time (and even a pick-up soccer game or two) with students and faculty, and lived both on-campus and with local host families.
One UESTC student said that she decided to participate in the program because she wanted to know more about America.
“America is very important to the world -- the culture and also the education for us (is especially important to learn) because most students want to further their studies in America,” she said.
Another UESTC student said she enjoyed getting to see a different classroom style while at William & Mary.
“Taking a course with the students here is a good experience for us because we know how to take courses where you just stay in the class and that’s very different from China,” she said. “I really think it’s a good way for both students and the teacher. They have conversation in class. That’s very good. I really like it.”
Nola Liu ’14, who served as the lead William & Mary student volunteer for the program, spent a lot of time with the UESTC students during their visit, getting their schedules ready and helping them connect with other William & Mary students on campus. For instance, she arranged for them to meet with members of CKI (Circle K International), Branch Out and the Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability (SOMOS) so the two groups of students could discuss community engagement in their respective countries.
“In China, they have a completely different perspective on community service, so this was a great opportunity for us to learn about something our organizations are very passionate about,” said Liu. “It was just a good, cross-cultural exchange.”
It was even a good learning experience for Ruoyan Sun ’13, who is from China but has been studying at William & Mary for two years.
“My hometown is another area from where they came from so I’m kind of like them because we have a lot in common and we use the same websites and chat software, but there’s still a little difference,” said Sun, who was on campus this summer through a Chappell Fellowship. “Because I never went to college in China, I see how the college life is an extension of our high school life. It’s just really different from William & Mary.”
Sun said she now thinks “between American and Chinese.”
“I didn’t even realize it because you don’t usually have those deep conversations,” she said. “I feel like I’ve already changed. Like when they talk about politics, I have different views. I don’t have stereotyped Chinese views anymore.”
Lori Bland, director of professional development and practice in gifted education, said she hopes that, like Sun, the UESTC participants learned some new ideas while visiting the College.
“I hope that they took away with them that democracy is extraordinary, and coming to school in a democratic society can truly change the world in a way that is better for all of us,” she said.
But the UESTC students and faculty weren’t the only ones learning during the visit.
“I think what I learned is that China has spent a lot of time educating their brightest students and ensuring that they have the best education possible,” said Bland. “We can emulate each other because they are much more serious about their education than we are. … Chinese culture places a higher value on education than American culture seems to place on education. However, we have better ways of teaching creative thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, and questioning. We teach our children to think critically about what people tell us.”
Liu said she really enjoyed getting to know the UESTC students and learning about their culture.
“Because I am Chinese, but I was born in the United States, I wasn’t fully exposed to Chinese culture,” she said, adding she’s only visited family members in China a few times. “Since (the UESTC students) are all kind of around my age, we can kind of understand each other and learn from each other, especially since the majority of them are interested in coming to the U.S. for graduate school.
“When I go back to China I know I can find them and hang out with them and stuff. Just developing that really close relationship with them is definitely the best part of this.”
Many of the William & Mary students who met the UESTC students hope to remain in contact with them. Additionally, some of the UESTC students are now considering pursing graduate studies at William & Mary. But even if they don’t end up returning to the College for school, many of the students said they greatly enjoyed their time at William & Mary and hope to visit it again.
“It’s a very nice school,” said one student, while giving a thumbs-up. “I love it. It’s awesome.”