The Springfield College School of Social Work
Study Abroad Program Bridges SSW and The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies
This past summer, I had the unique privilege of joining nine other MSW students, including two young men from Korea University, in taking a course on global aging at the Jesuit-founded The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies (TBC), located at Beijing University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in the Chaoyang district of Beijing. The program was sponsored in part by Loyola University School of Social Work, Chicago campus. For ten days, all but one of us lived in one of the two dorms set aside for international students studying at TBC. The course itself spanned seven calendar days, consisting of three 55 minute classes per day between 9:00 am and 12:00 pm. During that time we were schooled in the richness of Chinese history and culture (pre and post-Cultural Revolution) as well as the role of Chinese government in state politics. Morning classes were lead by program lead Dr. Daniel Lee, facilitated by his successor Dr. Philip Hong and followed by lectures of visiting professors and other prominent staff members, including the Dean of The Beijing Center, Dr. Russell Moses. Afternoons were spent on planned excursions to surrounding sites such as the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, Summer Palace, The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven. My classmates and I were also fortunate to visit a semi-independent, privately funded co-ed nursing home just outside of Beijing proper, as well as engage fellow graduate-level social work students from Peking University at a round table discussion hosted on their sprawling main campus.
As I reflect back on the journal that I kept for the trip, I am acutely aware of cultural changes on the horizon made evident in our lectures and visits. China as whole appears to be not only struggling with adjusting to the needs of a rapidly aging population but accommodating the waves of voluntary migrants to its shores, seeking betterment on their own terms (whether in enhancing their language skills or networking with international interests, etc.). It was not completely uncommon to find persons hailing from England or Equatorial New Guinea speaking fluent Mandarin on local television shows, never mind Chinese language-only classrooms on UIBE's campus. Although the focus appears on melding other cultures into its own socio-cultural ideals, I am almost certain that at some unique opportune moments in next decade, the country as a whole will have to come to grips with the square-peg parts of “otherness” that refuse to fit into the state's carefully crafted round holes. I hope to bear witness to even a small part of that in my lifetime.
Thank you very much for allowing me to share some of my experiences abroad with you. Please feel free to enjoy some of the pictures that were taken on my trip at http://tinyurl.com/BeijingSummer2010/.
More information about The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies can be found at http://www.thebeijingcenter.org/homepage/.