Demystifying the Dragon:
From St. Joe’s to China

Over 7,000 miles away from the United States, across the Pacific Ocean, lies a country with over 1.3 billion people and 56 different ethnic groups; a country that contains some of the world’s highest mountains, biggest desserts, and largest prairies, yet also has the most skyscrapers in the world. It is the country that I call home: China.

“What is the biggest difference you find between China and America?” “What is China like?” Many times I find myself unable to come up with adequate answers to those questions. For me, it is impossible to express in words what my home country is really like. There are so many aspects to China’s current state. The country is struggling between preservation and renovation while also seeking the balance between growing global responsibilities and domestic issues. However, one thing is for sure: China has opened its doors in recent decades, not only letting its people out to learn about the world, but also letting the world in so others can appreciate its true color. If I represent the first trend, then the trip that University President C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J., along with Vice President Dr. Cary Anderson, Ms. Mary Ann Cloney, Director of China Programs Office, and Juan Julie Yu, Director of Summer Academy Chinese and Language Professor, took during the past winter break represents the latter.

“Dr. Anderson, Ms. Cloney, Professor Yu, and I went to China to explore ways to open up greater avenues of understanding,” explains Gillespie. “Like the broad avenues we saw in Beijing, we believe that our trip broadened avenues of understanding between China and the United States in general and in particular SJU and Chinese educational institutions.” The Saint Joseph’s delegation visited four cities, seven universities, and fifteen high schools, and held two alumni receptions while they were in China. In Beijing, Saint Joseph’s sponsored a concert featuring a number of accomplished young Chinese musicians performing both classical Chinese and Western music. Multiple media outlets, including the Xinhua News Agency, the most prestigious national news agency in China, covered the alumni reception and the concert. In the report, Xinhua News praised Saint Joseph’s as an institution that pushes students to go above and beyond to achieve their potential – in short, “to live greater.” Professor Yu, who directed the Beijing event, said, “The concert was a gourmet’s feast for the eyes and the ears, with a standing-room only audience of over 200. It was a fascinating journey through both Eastern and Western music, with the music serving as a cultural medium to connect the two cultures. Through shared aesthetic experience it facilitated a cultural exchange and also provided a platform for the meeting and networking of Saint Joseph’s graduates and prospective students in China. The well-attended event provided an opportunity for more people in China to learn about Saint Joseph’s University.”

International outreach is the most direct way for Saint Joseph’s to attract more interest from international students, and thus, to enhance the diversity of the student body. Saint Joseph’s is already hosting approximately 200 graduate students from China, and based on statistics from the Office of Admissions, it is evident that the number of undergraduate students from China is growing as well. The school hopes to attract more attention from Chinese students and parents. Dr. Anderson explained, “Our trip was to raise awareness of Saint Joseph’s. I describe Saint Joseph’s as a hidden treasure. Once people discover us and what we have to offer, they are impressed and want to learn more.” In addition, Dr. Anderson revealed Saint Joseph’s plans for a summer academy for Chinese high school students: “On a practical level, we were also recruiting for a summer academy for high school student to come to Saint Joseph’s for a 3-week college immersion program to learn firsthand about U.S. higher education in general and SJU in particular.”

However, recruiting more prospective students from China was not the sole purpose of the trip. Gillespie emphasized, “There are so many reasons why it is important for Saint Joseph’s to develop relations with Chinese educational institutions. Besides enhancing greater intercultural understanding between American and Chinese cultures, we believe it is important to cultivate programs in and with China.”

Going abroad is becoming a trend for current college students, and China is definitely one of the most popular destinations. College is the one of the best times to see and learn about the world, so why not take advantage of the opportunities that the school provides and experience a different culture?

As Dr. Anderson remarked, “Anyone who wants to be a world citizen needs to know China.” So don’t let the 7,000 miles stand between you and your next adventure. Explaining China is like trying to explain authentic Chinese food: it is something you just need to go and taste.

Originally published in The Hawk on January 29, 2014.