Reflecting on the Student Experience – China 2018

Below are testimonials from several of the students that participated in the International Study Tour – China 2018.

Explore the photo album of the entire trip here.

“Professionally, this trip has provided me with better communication skills and expanded my network. It has also provided me with a more global mindset which will help me make important decisions in the future.

Personally, I have gained so much more. I learned how to depend on myself and my skills. I gained confidence in myself and my peers. My previous notions about China were all false and I have made that change. I also learned so much more about myself, my abilities, and my limits. My goals and aspirations also became clearer as a result of this trip.”

“Professionally, I have gained knowledge of how one of the other superpowers of the world works and I have seen how globalization has helped economies rise. I was able to visit the Shanghai Stock Exchange and as a finance major this was very interesting and I appreciate the experience. After visiting China and gaining this experience I would like to work on an international level. To be successful in business, professionals have to be knowledgeable of other cultures and have to be able to understand them as well. The cultural experience I had has changed my perception of the world and I look forward to gaining more experiences like these in the future.

Personally, I feel enlightened and I am more grateful for the sacrifices my parents made to immigrate to the United States. When I was in China I was a foreigner and through that experience I was able to put myself in my parents shoes and I was able to understand how they felt when they came to the United States. For the first time in my life I was not able to read, write, or speak the language of the country I was in and I was able to understand the hardship my parents went through. Sharing experiences with the Chinese students was very interesting and humbling because we are all going through the same things and trying to better ourselves. I believe trips like this aid in combating the negative associations made with immigrants or with people who are of other ethnicities.”

“I have never visited a different country before so this trip was eye-opening. The language barrier made things a little difficult but we managed and were able to communicate through other means. I gained a higher level of appreciation for the U.S.A. I was unaware that other countries are deprived of everyday rights such as free access to the Internet. It was interesting talking with the students and seeing how they are scared to talk about certain topics. We have many opportunities in the U.S.A. and I will certainly not take any of them for granted.”

“Yes! I would recommend it to a friend… it is an opportunity everyone should try to experience and step out of their comfort zone to learn more about the world.”

“I would absolutely recommend this trip. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Not only did we get to experience a different culture, we had the opportunity to see what it was like to be a student in a different country and compare our experiences to theirs. It was also a great bonding experience among our own student group and we really got to make great friends that I hope will stay in contact for a very long time.”

“It was an amazing experience. I saw new things, tried new foods, and met new people. I do not think that it would have been possible to learn and experience as much as I did if I had went to China alone or on another type of tour. I feel that we did everything possible and I did not miss out on anything while in China. This trip also made me wish that I had studied abroad one of my semesters while in college.”

Day 12 – Our Last Day in China

Today is our last day in China. After breakfast, a few of us took pictures by all the cutout signs set up for Sanda University’s graduation ceremony. It was a bittersweet feeling because it finally hit us that we were actually leaving China. It felt like we were, in a way, graduating from the university.

Photo of Students at I Love Sanda U Sign

Initially, I didn’t think much of our dorms at the university. But after spending the previous week there, it became like my second home. To get from the Sanda University dorms to the Shanghai airport, we took a bus, then hopped onto a plane to Guangzhou. We spent over 6 hours at the Guangzhou airport, which we used to eat Chinese/American fast food and Burger King, as well as do some quick shopping to use up our yuan.

Photo of a Shop in the Airport

I wish we could’ve spent another week or two in China to explore the city because there was so much to see. The trip flew by so quickly. China was not what I imagined it to be, with its beautiful architecture, museums and gardens. Compared to LA, the metro and other public spaces were a lot cleaner in China. All the people we met at Sanda University were all so welcoming and friendly. It was especially interesting having conversations with the Chinese students who spoke to us about their education system, Chinese food and the Dragon Boat festival. I enjoyed all the food provided to us, as we always had many options of dishes to try. We never had a dull moment as we were always learning something new about Chinese culture and comparing it to our American culture. We encountered many culture shocks throughout these 10 days. For one, we realized that the Chinese preferred their squatting pans over our western pedestals because the stalls for the pedestals were almost always open. I thought we would be able to meet more individuals who knew fundamental English, but most Chinese were not able to understand us and vice versa. It definitely helped with our communication skills because we had to get by through body language and the occasional use of translators. One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the theme park in Hangzhou where we walked around the theme park, dressed in silk kimonos. Inside the theme park, we were also able to watch the Romantic Show of Songcheng.

Photo of Students at Time Travel Park

This trip truly allowed us to be culturally immersed in China, and I’m excited for the next group that will be given the same opportunity as us.

Day 11 – A Rainy Visit to the Volkswagen Assembly Factory

When we woke up today the forecast called for rain, and rain it did. In California, we are not used to rainstorms. The rain was heavy and you were soaked if you went outside for a minute. There was also thunder and lightning with the rain. I have never heard such loud thunder before. You could hardly see the lightning but the thunder made up for it. It was quite the experience.

For breakfast we ate pork dumplings, a fruit salad, white bread, a banana, and green tea. I am not sure what exactly was in the fruit salad but I did like it. The pork dumplings have been my favorite breakfast dish thus far. On that note, I have realized that China does not have typical breakfast dishes as we do in the U.S. It seems as though you can have any type of food for any three meals of the day.

Photo of inside the bus 

After breakfast we took a bus to the Volkswagen Assembly Factory. This was amazing. I have never been inside a factory before and have never seen assembly lines. The entire time within the factory my Systems Operations Management class topics were running through my head. I was also amazed with the robotic style machines that they use within the factory. We witnessed the cars being assembled piece by piece and watched some aspects of the testing.

Photo of students at VW factory  

After the factory we went to the second Sanda University where the freshman study. The students played traditional Chinese instruments for us and then performed a traditional Chinese tea show. We were also given the opportunity to learn how to begin to play an instrument of our choice. I was surprised to learn that tuition for the Hospitality major is the most expensive at the school. The classes for this major consist of tea etiquette, horseback riding, golfing, etc. During this visit we also had a chance to speak with some students. The students spoke English well. My partner’s English name was Eva. It was interesting to learn that they have an English name in which they choose themselves. Eva grew up living at school, as most Chinese students do. She is studying International Economics and Trade. Students in China are only allowed to change their major once and it can only be done during their first year of college. Eva and I exchanged addresses and plan to become pen pals.

After the visit to the other campus, we returned to the main campus. We leave tomorrow so the evening was spent packing. We plan on visiting downtown Shanghai tonight for the final evening.

Day 10 – Case Studies & A Visit to Yu Garden

The day started off at 9am with the case presentations. There were 3 different topics on the case studies which were on K-pop, Xiaomi, and Uber specifically in China.

Student presenting case study Student presenting case study Student presenting case study

After the case presentations, we were left with the day with free activities. The group split into 3 different groups. One group left for Disneyland, the other left to the Yu Garden, and the last group left to downtown Shanghai. I left with the group to go to the Yu garden and do some shopping. During the day, it was pouring rain, but it was humid. This is nothing like the weather in California. What I liked about the trip to the Yu Garden is traveling through the subway because we are so used to having our own car and driving where we want to go.

What I take of this experience is that we are all people that live in different environments. There are different norms and morals that people follow but we are all just trying to live. What I found exceptionally moving was the act of crossing the street. When people are crossing the street the cars continue to pass. People in China see this as normal and do not worry about getting run over.

Day 9 – A Visit to Hanshan Temple in Suzhou

Today, we visited the Hanshan Temple in Suzhou, a Buddhist temple that locals and foreigners visit to pay their respects and make wishes. This is done by lighting incense, bowing in the three directions of each Buddhist temple, and placing the incense in a large box. People also gather to bow and pray to the large Buddha statues throughout the temple, as well as throw coins into a large tower in the courtyard as an offering. Experiencing a Buddha temple was humbling and fully immersive into a part of ancient Chinese culture that continues to thrive today.

Photo of students lighting candles

After visiting the temple, we moved on to visit the temple of the first king of the Wu Kingdom: Tiger Hill. This experience was coupled with urban legend which made walking up the hills to the main tower that much more entertaining. Hearing the legend about how the emperor, his soldiers, and weapons were buried among the hill made it exciting. Our tour guide spoke about how the son of the emperor was worried the laborers who buried the emperor would come back and steal the weapons and treasures that were buried with him. The son decided to throw a huge party for them that ended with their murder. Seeing the courtyard and the huge rock where legend has it that the laborers’ blood was spilled was interesting as well. These cultural experiences were definitely worth bearing the heat and humidity.

  

Day 8 – Tiger Hill and Canoeing

Today we went to Tiger Hill where the leaning tower of china is located. It was very culturally enriching. It all began with about a half a mile hike; as usual, we all made sure we were prepared once there. That sense of comradery – team work- once again in place. Something as simple as making sure everyone had bug spray brought us all together. As usual for every cultural tour we were told the history of the location or if there was a story or tale associated with that place.

Photo of students Photo of leaning tower of china

Later that day we were taken on a canoe ride down the Venice of china, where we actually saw a broken bridge (which I associated with the broken bridge tale we were told the day before). Besides the pleasant canoe ride, we were able to appreciate local foods and entertainment which was rather different than what we experience in the U.S. For example, we saw a man in a monkey mask doing a variety of poses and just watching and as usual – at this point no longer shocking- mopeds and motorcycles everywhere parked on the sidewalks and streets.

photo of venice of china photo of students

What I gathered, not only from this day but the whole trip, was that cultural acceptance is necessary and essential to be able to adapt to a new location successfully. In the real world one hopes that when you find a job somewhere, it is a place that you will be able to work at for a long period of time, but there is an existing culture  there. Of course, if there is room for improvement and you are able to contribute to the betterment of that culture then, go ahead and do so. Yet, if the circumstances don’t allow it or no change needs to be done, it is important to be able to adapt and incorporate yourself to that existing culture in the work place and in life, wherever that may take you. Therefore, I found this trip to be exceptionally useful in cultural immersion and I deeply appreciate the opportunity to be once again feel that culture shock. Some may find it uncomfortable, but I look at it as an opportunity to learn and further my knowledge of the world.

Day 7 – Sightseeing in Hangzhou and Su Zho

Today we took a bus hired by Sanda University that would take us to visit two different cities, Hangzhou and Su Zho. We left early and Sanda University packed our breakfast to go. We had two choices, and we had the breakfast sandwich with milk and sweet cake; it was very filling. On the bus, we met our tour guide that would take us around for the next three days, and Professor Li came with us. China was celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival which is on May 5 of the Lunar calendar. It is a national holiday, and Chinese people celebrate it for three days.

Photo of students

Our tour guide told us the stof Qu Yuan, a faithful advisor and poet of the emperor of the state of Chu, who committed suicide after the emperor was killed. To prevent the body from being eaten by fish the Chinese people would throw sticky rice into the river. The story also mentioned the dragon boats whose paddles were meant to ward off the fish. We learned that Hangzhou is known for its silk and Su Zhou is known for its famous dragon well tea. The legend says that Zhejiang was suffering from a drought. The people all prayed to the dragon who lived in a well and the town eventually got rain, which is where the tea gets its name from.

Photo of boat  

It seems that much of China’s history is tied to legends. Learning about China’s history made our bus drive very entertaining. We had a break stop after an hour to get a snack in a small mall next to a gas station. In the mall, they sold all kinds of food, and they had a big variety of fried animals, but due to the language barrier, we could not tell what type of animals they were. Most of our group grabbed a Starbucks coffee because of its familiarity. We were happy to find that there are a lot of Starbucks locations all over China. After that, we went to a fancy restaurant called Xin Bai Lu where we had lunch Hangzhou style. We had a variety of over 10 different, exotic dishes. We tried most of them, and they were delicious. The large variety of food included duck, chicken, fish, pork, beef, tofu, sticky rice, and much more. After lunch, our tour guide took us to West Lake where we took a boat ride. Our guide told us that we needed to be a “Sticky Rice Group” and stick together because there were a lot people at the place, and she used a pole with Peppa the Pig on top to guide us around. The lake was very nice and peaceful. We were in a very cute boat that looked like an old Chinese house. The little south lake next to the big lake was full of lily pads and lotus flowers. It was a nice place to relax before heading to our next destination.

Photo of mall Photo of students dressed in traditional attire

After hours of driving, we got to a theme park called “Time Travel Park.” Our tour guide told us that the phrase of the park was, “Give me one day and I will give you a thousand years.” This park is located in Hangzhou.  First, we stopped at the costume shop to change and get properly dressed for the festivities. Our whole group got to wear a traditional Chinese kimono, and it was very fun to be part of the celebration.

Photo of students in traditional attire Photo of students at time travel park

After we changed into our attire, we had another traditional Hangzhou feast; it was very good but our appetite was not as big after all the food we had eaten for lunch. After dinner, we had around an hour of free time, so we walked around the shops and took pictures of the place. We took pictures with the group and some of the locals even asked to take pictures with us. During this time, a few of the people in our group had the opportunity to take a ride on a traditional litter carried by a group of men. After our free time, we went to the Hangzhou Songcheng Show. It is a show about a romance of the Song Dynasty, and it was magnificent. It was performed in four acts, and it used elaborate costumes, laser lights, traditional ballet and Chinese dance. There was even a water scene where the audience was misted with water. It was very entertaining. After the show, it was late, and we went to return our costumes. Right after, we went to the Oriental Deluxe Hotel and we spent the night there.

Photo of students at the feast

Day 6 – Shanghai’s Financial District, Aquarium and the Maglev Train

Friday, June 15, was an unusual day as most of the morning, the entire afternoon, and evening were open for students to do whatever they wanted. Seventeen of the twenty students decided to use this free time to visit Disney’s Shanghai theme park. They had a great time. The remaining three students, David Murillo, Hayden Warlick, and Ekene Akpati, decided instead to explore downtown Shanghai’s Financial District and improvise their itinerary for the day.

As usual, our first activity after breakfast began at 9:00am. This activity consisted of an open lecture delivered by Professor Li. The topic of the lecture was System and Operations Management. Throughout the lecture, the majority of students took notes, asked questions, and contributed to the discussion. Once the lecture was concluded, we all headed back to our dorms. The seventeen students prepared for their day at Disneyland while the three of us remaining decided to do laundry since the machines were now all available. There was a minor complication in setting up the laundry cycle so myself (Ekene) stayed behind with Professor Li to solve the issue while Hayden and David walked to the nearby bank to exchange US dollars for Chinese yuan. The clothes were successfully washed with the aid of one of the dorm assistants. She was extremely cheerful and glad to help.

Photo of Professor Li Lecturing

While the batch of laundry was in the dryer, we joined Professor Li on the sixth floor and received our choice of Sanda University t-shirts. The majority of our fellow students were at Disneyland so we had first priority in selecting our shirt color and size. After receiving and trying on our shirts we ate a quick lunch, provided by the dorm cafeteria. By then our laundry was done. We packed our clothes away and prepared for our subway trip to the Shanghai Stock Exchange. After mapping out where we needed to go and getting off the subway, we headed up onto the street. We walked several blocks behind apartment buildings and a construction site.

These apartments were our first exposure to lower income housing in China. Very nearby was Shanghai’s financial district. There was a sharp contrast in the quality of the buildings as we transitioned to the main street to see banks and other financial institutions. Eventually, we arrived at the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

  

Unfortunately, we could not see much of the exchange once inside. We saw trading boards, statues and the building’s architecture. But the trading floor was not open to the public. Next, we decided to go to the Shanghai Aquarium. After a 35 minute walk, we entered the aquarium and saw some exotic fish exhibits. While many of the fish were similar (as China shares the Pacific coasts with the US) there were some breeds we had never seen before. The soft-shell turtle stood out the most. The most interesting exhibit at the aquarium was the underwater tunnel. At 509 feet, it is the world’s longest underwater aquarium tunnel. The tank was filled with tiger sharks, hammerheads, stingrays, sea turtles, and countless smaller fish.

After we finished with the aquarium, we took the subway to the entrance of Shanghai’s Maglev Train. It took us a very long time to find the entrance to the Maglev because we walked the wrong way out of the subway. We did not have any phone signal and very few signs were in English. After a long time, we found the entrance and bought tickets to the train. It turned out to be well worth the wait, as the train ride was pretty interesting. Even at a max speed of 430kph, the Maglev train feels quite smooth and is surprisingly stable. It was only when another Maglev passed us, and a very loud sound broke out, that we realized how fast we were going. The speed of the train was illustrated by the difference between our train ride and the subway home. It took us 8 minutes to get to the airport from the Maglev entrance. It took 55 minutes to travel the same distance back by subway. All in all, we had a very full day and were glad to get home and rest. I think all three of us were glad we chose to spend our day traveling around the city.

Day 5 – A Day of Sightseeing & Learning

  1. People’s Square Park

The People’s Square Park is located nearby the Shanghai Museum. As a group, we walked around the park and fed the doves who resided there alongside many locals. It was an exciting and thrilling experience for many students because it was their first time feeding birds out in the open. Although I have fed doves before, I had a great time seeing the other students enjoying themselves.

Photo of People's Square Photo of Student with Dove

Photo of Student Feeding Dove

  1. Shanghai Museum

Shanghai Museum is a large museum that showcases a variety of historical sculptures, porcelain, jewelry, artifacts, and artwork. The museum had four levels with a small shop on each floor. What was surprising was the availability of English, Japanese, and Chinese pamphlets and English descriptions of all artifacts and artwork in the museum. This made the experience much more worthwhile for all the students.

Photo of Students at Shanghai Museum Photo of Student at Shanghai Museum

Photo of Students at Shanghai Museum Photo of Exhibit Piece at Shanghai Museum

  1. Yu Garden

The Yu Garden was exceptionally beautiful. Although it was a highly populated attraction, I was extremely impressed by the amount of tour guides who spoke in different languages. I was amazed by one Chinese tour guide who spoke fluent Spanish.

Photo of Yu Garden Photo of Students at Yu Garden

  1. Yuyuan Bazaar

After exploring the Yu Garden, all the students went to the Yuyuan Bazaar which was nearby. The bazaar was a large outdoor shopping center where many of the students bought souvenirs. We all had the choice of eating lunch on our own, however the majority of us went to eat at a local Chinese restaurant. I was amazed by how open the students were to trying new types of foods such as chicken feet. I also found it interesting how we had to pay for our meal beforehand rather than after.

Photo of Student at Yuyuan Bazaar

  1. Jin Mao Tower/Skywalk

Once we finished eating, all the students had the option either to go to the Bund or the Jin Mao Tower. About half of the students went to each destination. At the Jin Mao Tower, a few of the students went on the famous Skywalk. It was interesting to see the process. Additionally, while inside the tower, we got the opportunity to look down 88 floors; it was not as scary as I had imagined. While we were waiting for the Skywalk, we interacted with Chinese children who sat next to us. It was nice to know that despite the obvious differences between our cultures, the children were still open to interacting with us. There was absolutely no discomfort between us. I feel as if this is incredibly important to note because as these children grow up, they will be more open-minded towards foreigners making it easier to build lasting business connections and friendships.

Photo of Students at Skywalk Photo of student looking through a telescope

  1. Oriental Pearl Tower/The Bund

Although I was part of the group who did not walk to the Bund, I still had the opportunity to see the Pearl Tower from the Jin Mao Tower. The view was undoubtedly breathtaking. We later ate dinner near the Metro station and enjoyed the sights of Shanghai from the outside patio.

Photo of student at Oriental Pearl Tower Photo of view of the Bund

Day 4 – A Visit to the Shanghai Supercomputer Center and Learning from Sanda’s Students

This morning, we started by visiting the Shanghai Supercomputer Center. We had a tour of the facility and the museum they have inside the company building. At some point, the guide who gave us the tour showed us real time videos of the Bund, shot by cameras they have on site. She then said that on average around 800,000 tourists visit the Bund per day. That statement confused me, as I thought to myself, how can they tell whether the person visiting the Bund is a tourist or a local? So I asked her and she said their cameras have facial recognition features so they know exactly who’s a tourist and who’s a local. I found that to be impressive yet somewhat intrusive and concerning at the same time. Then we had a walk around the Hi-Tech park area where the supercomputer center was located. It was massive!

Photo of CapitalLand Building in Shanghai  

After lunch at the university, we met some Chinese students from Sanda. We had two different activities: the women went to play ping-pong, the national sport, and the men went to have a basketball match with the university’s team. I was a little nervous about playing ping pong because I didn’t feel like I had enough hand-eye coordination, but once I opened up to it, and with the help of Dr. Li, I actually found it to be enjoyable (and difficult too! I was sweating from just running to pick up the ball when I missed, which happened quite often). We saw students from the university’s ping-pong team play and it was really impressive. They were so fast that it was almost impossible to see the ball. Then we went on to watch the guys play basketball. It looked like they had fun and I must say that our guys represented CSUN very well. Even though we lost, it was a close call, and I think that’s impressive considering the fact our guys are not part of a basketball team. Then again, the Chinese students might have taken it easy on them, which I won’t find surprising as they are such incredible hosts.

  

After the match ended we went on to meet more Chinese students, which was organized by Sanda’s student union. We were given some topics of discussion, one of them being the current trade war happening between the US and China. I could tell the students were nervous to bring it up thinking we may support the president and his actions and were surprised and relieved to hear we didn’t, along with many other Americans. It was an experience I was really looking forward to, as I wanted to see if and what were the differences between us. I learned there are many differences between the American and Chinese student experience. For example, the Chinese students don’t get to pick their classes, their schedules or professors. They have classes for 12 hours a day sometimes! They have absolutely no time to do anything other than studying, and they were surprised to hear most of us work while attending school. We also met them during finals, which take over a period of a few weeks, and they were under a lot of stress. They were shocked we had all our finals in just one week. I feel that having those meetings with the Chinese students are going to be something I am going to remember for a long time, as it had a big impact on me. One of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip was to have a cultural exchange experience and meeting the students definitely fulfilled that. I wish we had more time with them, maybe an organized outing or taking classes together.