Indiana State University Newsroom

In Mao's shadow: ISU students witness China's evolution

September 29, 2008

SHENYANG, China -- As Kelsey Powell stood under the towering, illuminated statue of Mao Zedong, she felt a little overwhelmed.

It started when one young girl approached Powell and two other students asking if she could practice her English.

"Before we knew it, we were completely surrounded by little kids and their parents were pushing them saying, 'It's OK, go practice, go practice,'" said the Effingham, Ill. native.

Powell and two other students from Indiana State University had unknowingly wandered into the English corner of Zhongshan Park and found themselves surrounded by a group of more than 30 Chinese wanting to practice their or their children's English.

The three students represented ISU's Networks Financial Institute and College of Business during a conference on Sino-United States economic relations at Liaoning University, as well as at Liaoning University's 60th anniversary celebration. Networks seeks to develop leadership potential of students in the financial services industry and is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment.

"It was almost frightening at first," said Allison Myers, a junior finance major from Kokomo. "They almost swarmed us. They were all super nice and wanted to know what it's like in America and why we were here. They were really concerned if we liked their city. We told them honestly they have a beautiful city with a lot of history."

"We originally started together and those of us that came on the trip and just a few of the people. As the night progressed we were slowly separated as more and more people came," added Andrew Schroeder, a sophomore accounting major from Fort Wayne. "We got to talk to people and really got a feel for the excitement they have and how they really want to learn English and different things about our culture."

Such experiences are important for the students making their first trip into Asia, or even abroad, according to John Conant, economic department chair and director of ISU's Center for Economic Education.

"That kind of personal experience, that kind of personal interaction is going to go a very long way toward them understanding people from another culture, toward their reducing whatever fear they might have of growing international influences, of making international friends that again will help them once they go into the business world, not only in China, but anywhere else around the world," he said.

"As the world economy becomes more globally connected, it's important for Indiana citizens and students at Indiana State University to get a better idea of how the world economy functions and to learn how to deal with other cultures," said Conant, who spoke at the conference. "These students are learning a great deal about not just the Chinese culture and language and enjoying being in China, but they're learning how to deal with a different culture, they learning how to communicate with Chinese students, they're building relationships and they're going to be that much ahead of colleagues who don't have international experience in their ability."

China is a country to which America must pay attention as it is undergoing an economic revolution, said Mike Chambers, chair of ISU's political science department and coordinator of the ISU delegation to China.

"It's going to be one of the big issues for the next hundred years or more: how are we going to deal with a rising China," Chambers said. "It is rising. It's just going to continue rising and how do we grapple with that' Economics and business are a big part of this issue and the work that we're doing is placing Indiana State in a great position to be able to talk to Indiana, the upper Midwest and beyond about what is China, where it is heading."

While the students received a glimpse of the economic future between China and America through the conference, they also saw some of its past as well as its present.

At the Imperial Palace, as the delegation walked through the flagstone courtyard to different pavilions built by the founding emperors of the Qing Dynasty from 1625 to 1636, the students took time to take photos dressed in vibrant-colored, mock- traditional Chinese clothes and were interviewed by a Chinese news station.

"I like ancient history, so seeing the Imperial Palace is breathtaking," Myers said.

They also walked past carved stone animal statues standing sentry and climbed the steps to the orange tiled-roofed, rock pagodas of Beiling Park, which contains the tomb of the second Qing Dynasty emperor and empress.

"It's beautiful here," said Powell. "I love all of the scenery and buildings that we get to see."

They also attended a meeting between Joe Kernan, former Indiana governor, and Wang Zhuan, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Liaoning Province, in which they discussed economic trade between the regions.

"The United States is a service economy. China is a developing industrial economy," Schroeder said. "They need the services that the United States provides. The bonds that we are building and creating here are the future of United States business."

Some of the cultural learning came from sharing a meal with Liaoning University students. While the students enjoyed learning about economy and trade, they also treasured the relationships they formed with Chinese students while learning about their culture.

"It was great to get to talk with them and learn from their perspective. We saw a lot of business people, but we wanted to know what the real students, the ones close to our age, what do they think about the city," Myers said.

"They taught us a couple of games, which we played around the table because we had free time," Myers said. "It was great. We really connected with them and they're so interesting. We got to hear their real opinions about things rather than one coming from their teacher that is a little bit more politically correct."

"The students we met while we were here were really great," Schroeder added. "They were as excited to meet us as we were to meet them. We exchanged e-mail addresses and have been exchanging e-mails now. We're excited to be building the bridges that we came here to build."

Such relationships are needed for the future, according to Chambers.

"If we're going to prepare students at Indiana State to function in a globalized world, we need these kinds of relationships to bring our students here and their students to us, and really create this bond so they can really understand what is going on," he said.

From joining in with the Chinese dancing in front of the Mao statue to shopping in a street market at night for souvenirs to take home, the students said they found a new understanding of China.

"They are all so very kind and welcoming," Powell said. "They just want us to feel comfortable here, like we're at home."

Each of the students said the trip had an impact on their future. Myers said she wants to go into international finance and the trip better prepared her for international business trips. Powell said she wants to travel to see and experience more of the world. Schroeder wants to learn more about China.

"After I got a taste of it, it sparked a desire to learn and understand what motivates the people and what's at the heart of their culture," he said.

Mike Alley, ISU Board of Trustees president who gave a keynote speech at the conference, said the trip is a valuable educational experience for the students.

"They're outstanding students who have responded really well here in China to gain an understanding of the global economy and global culture that I don't believe they have had the opportunity to experience, certainly not in the fashion they have had here over the last several days," he said.

Powell agreed.

"You can't get an education like this in America," she said. "You can attempt to describe everything, but unless you're here, experience it firsthand, it's just so overwhelming. It's something I'll be able to reference hopefully my entire life and to build on, to build more knowledge after this because I'll understand more after this when others reference China and its history."


Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at or at 812-237-7972


Cutline: Chinese gather around three Indiana State University students to practice their English. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Statue of Chairman Mao in Zhongshan Square in Shenyang, China. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Andrew Schroeder, sophomore accounting major from Fort Wayne; Allison Myers, junior finance major from Kokomo and Kelsey Powell, sophomore marketing major from Effingham, Ill., tour the old Liaoning University campus in Shenyang, China. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Allison Myers is interviewed by a Shenyang, China television station as she tours the Imperial Palace with the ISU delegation to China. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Kelsey Powell, sophomore marketing major from Effingham, Ill.; Andrew Schroeder, sophomore accounting major from Fort Wayne and Allison Myers, junior finance major from Kokomo, try on Chinese outfits for photos. ISU Photo/ Tony Campbell


Cutline: John Conant, ISU economics department chair, and ISU students Andrew Schroeder, Allison Myers and Kelsey Powell participate in group dancing in Zhongshan Park. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: John Conant, ISU economics department chair, listens as a Chinese girl tells him a story in English while visiting Zhongshan Park in Shenyang, China. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Andrew Schroeder, Kelsey Powell and Allison Myers listen during the Bridging China and America: A Forum on Sino-US Economic Relations and Regional Development in Liaoning and Indiana, which was held in Shenyang, China. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Allison Myers, ISU junior, shares a meal and conversation with students from Liaoning University. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell


Cutline: Kelsey Powell, ISU sophomore, and Allison Myers, ISU junior, shop at a street market while visiting Shenyang, China, for an economics forum. ISU Photo/ Tony Campbell

Other conference stories:
State, ISU representatives meet with Chinese province officials
ISU, Liaoning University bridge China and America
ISU and Liaoning University review, reaffirm relationship