A visiting group from Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, USA, arrived in Zhuhai on 10 June and began their classes on 12 June. Seven students from Trinity University and six from UIC were instructed by a committed team consisting of four faculty members, two instructors and two teaching assistants.

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The students visit annually for a special three-week summer programme called ‘Ecology and Bio conservation in China’, which aspires to expand to be a collaboration among several liberal arts colleges in the US and UIC. This programme is a real collaboration between US and Chinese professors, students, instructors, ideas, philosophies and administrations. The students, along with UIC Environmental Science students, took part in courses on environmental science, Chinese language as well as Tai Chi, which were supplemented with day trips and field visits to the surrounding areas.

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Trinity University students take a photo with the iconic Zhuhai Fisher Girl

To start off their visit, the Trinity students took part in a day trip in Zhuhai, visiting famous sites like the Zhuhai Fisher Girl, Zhuhai Opera House and the Putuo Temple. They finished the night with a welcoming dinner with UIC staff members. Trinity students supplemented their science programme with introduction to culture and language as the UIC contingent completed exams. Trinity students began the first day of classes with an introduction to Tai Chi with WPEO Facilitators, Mr Lin Boyu and Ms Zhuang Anjuan. Later on, the group began the first class of their Chinese language course. Associate Professor of Chinese at Southwestern University, Dr Carl Robertson, introduced and supplemented the Trinity students’ language with rapid introductions to spoken and written Chinese, with a special emphasis on ordering food and purchasing, with detours into broader cultural perspectives. Students kept notebooks with at least one question or observation per day, including an impromptu poem composition (in English) after the rice farm field trip. Throughout the course Dr Robertson provided short supplementary activities to encourage self-learning in an immersion context, with activities on signs and license plates, the components in characters for fish and birds and basic communication and so on. The structured language component of the course was intentionally secondary to the initiative and interactions between UIC and Trinity students as they worked in close cooperation on the science projects. UIC students improved their academic and conversational English and the Trinity students received encouragement and guidance on Chinese.

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Dr Carl Robertson teaching the students Chinese language

At the beginning of each Tai Chi class, Mr Lin and Ms Zhuang guided the students during the warm up exercises, which is known as Chinese Traditional Fitness. The Tai Chi class included three parts: Chinese Traditional Fitness, Standing Stake and Tai Chi 8 Forms. At the end of the course, Mr Lin and Ms Zhuang held an examination to test the students’ learning.


Mr Lin and Ms Zhuang teaching the students Tai Chi

The core of the programme is an intensive course on the science and hands-on study of environmental science, or “ecological civilization” in China. Associate Professor of the Division of Sciences and Technology, Dr Siu-Tai Tsim, and The Chair of Biology at Trinity University, Prof Jonathan King, provided lectures and guidance in the frequent field studies, which were facilitated in large measure by the staff of the International Development Office (IDO). During their first week of classes, students were introduced to the local ecology through in-class lectures and a field trip to study and take precise measurements in the local seagrass beds. On the weekend, they headed to Hong Kong for several field visits, including a Chinese white dolphin-watching tour and visit to Tai O Fishing Village. The next day they examined the secondary forest on Victoria Peak, and learned about the urbanization and land reclamation of Hong Kong Harbour, after which they observed human effects on wildlife in Goldfish Street and Bird Garden Street.

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Dr Siu-Tai Tsim teaching the students about the local ecology

The next week of classes began with an evening field study on nocturnal wildlife in southern China, where the students identified and counted amphibians living in and around the UIC campus. They also had the opportunity to visit Kaiping Diaolou to see world heritage sites, where they observed the intersection of nature, social development and culture.

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There were plenty of field trips to various places

Students then returned to UIC to take precise micro-climate measurements in the woodland surrounding in Huitong village and in the village itself to assess possible effects of fengshui practices, including traditional Chinese lychee farms. They then took up Chinese Calligraphy, taught by Chinese Language and Culture (CLC) Assistant Professor, Dr Bingzhao Wu and CLC Lecturer, Ms Candy Cai.

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Dr Bingzhao Wu and Ms Candy Cai helped the students to learn calligraphy

On 22 June, students were given the opportunity to learn how to use wetland plants in cooking. They worked in the Food Science and Technology labs to experiment with making their own food and experience the versatility of wetland products. The next day students conducted a survey of local birds in Gongle Park in Tangjia and learned about the interactions of birds near human residence.

To begin their last week in China, students took a field trip to Doumen to learn about modern organic farming practices and how traditional Chinese rice farming practices are giving way to more efficient mechanized practices. The plan to harvest at least some rice by hand was prevented by an intense downpour of rain but students were compensated by a lunch of free-range fowl and farm vegetables. In the evening they headed to Chaoyang fish market to identify species, to buy, measure and then eat their projects in a nearby restaurant, in order to learn about the marine fisheries in Southern China.

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The students enjoying the field trips that were arranged

The students had the opportunity to conduct several field studies including seagrass composition studies, amphibian and bird survey in natural and disturbed environments and how humans can modify the microclimate by developing a Fengshui village. By the end of the experience, the students were truly conversant on a variety of environmental issues and will be able to apply their new knowledge to their own environments.

Students continued their lectures on biodiversity and conservation during their last week of study, and then finished their study trip with oral presentations before having a farewell dinner and heading back to the US. For the presentations, the students had been divided into mixed groups for their research. The four groups of students were assigned a topic and presented their research, which had been the main core of their research during the trip. The four research topics for the presentations were about seagrass, amphibians, the fengshui village and birds.

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On the last day, students give presentations on their research

Feedback

When the students were asked about feedback for this short-term programme, many found it was positive to work with students of different cultures and they liked how they could learn from one another. The Trinity University students learnt most of the local Chinese culture from engaging with the UIC students, and they highlighted how it was a joy to work alongside them.

The Trinity University students were not all from science majors and were very diverse with two students not being from the USA, this gave the UIC students an opportunity to have a more varied encounter. One of the Trinity University students mentioned how his communication skills improved while others enjoyed the diversity of the courses, with the implementation of Tai Chi and Chinese language. The short term programme helped break down the cultural barriers and as the course was quite intense, the students really came together regardless of background and supported each other. The field trips were very welcomed, especially the trips to cultural sites. The trips to the science element of their course helped further their knowledge and were linked back to their course. Trinity University students and faculty appreciated the good landscapes that UIC’s offered while promoting a green environment.

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The students experiencing some real Chinese culture about visiting a Chinese tea house

UIC students noticed that the students from Trinity University employed a different logic when looking at things and it helped them realise that things and situations can be viewed in more than one way.

Dr King, said “I was excited and honoured to have the opportunity to participate in the 2018 Ecological Civilization programme. This programme is a true collaborative effort on many levels as Trinity University has partnered with UIC. Theoretical, field and extra-curricular activities were coordinated and provided opportunity for vibrant discussions and exiting discoveries! The intensive nature of the programme led to true cohesion between the students, who helped support one another”. When asked about future directions and where there could be areas of growth with this programme, Prof King said “This summer programme is a great opportunity for students to forge lasting connections from both China and the US. Scholarships to help support students would be valuable to help expand the programme to impact more students.”

Dr Robertson noted that this programme holds enormous promise as a model of short-term intensive study abroad programs. He explained that for a decade and longer, several colleges in a consortium worked to establish a meaningful collaboration on Chinese language and culture, but the differences in their needs prevented a successful endeavour. He feels this programme combines content, culture, language and meaningful engagement. “But the real benefit of this programme is the way that we have all grown and participated with each other in compelling and significant work.”

“It was a great opportunity for me to take part in this programme and it’s is a great chance to communicate with Trinity students. I do hope to see them in the future soon” said Year 2 Environmental Science student, Yin Qifan.

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IDO helps facilitate many of the activities

Trinity student, Nathan Sokul, explained that "This programme provided me a unique experience. I made amazing friends, ate delicious food, and travelled through southern china over the course of 3 weeks while also learning about the importance of conservation and ecology."

Year 3 Environmental Science student Hu Mingyue said, “I have benefited a lot from this summer programme. In the past three weeks, I have increased my knowledge, have found fresh insights and friendships. The workload was heavy and the time schedule was tight, but everything was rewarding. I really enjoyed the field trips, as I was able to chat with the Trinity students, who have taught me a lot, especially helping me with my language skills. This experience is really meaningful to me; I will never forget these memories that we have together.”

Reporter/Photographers: Samuel Burgess, Samantha Burns (MPRO)
Photographers: Ivy Liao (MRPO), Jessica Xiao (IDO)
(Some photos were supplied by students and faculty members from this programme)
Editors: Deen He (MPRO)
(with special thanks to ELC)

 

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