Indiana State University Newsroom

Relationships cultivated in China alter students' world view

July 1, 2010

Samantha Pearson does not plan to take off the jade bracelet encircling her wrist.

To her, it symbolizes more than her recent trip to China with Indiana State University. It's something of a family tradition for the sophomore psychology major from Greencastle whose grandmother is Chinese.

"We can't have it or wear it until we go there," Pearson said about jade. "She (Her grandmother) wants you to visit to see how she grew up...It was really important for me to go over there and see how she was raised, see how it was made and why it's important to her. So bringing it home and showing it to her was definitely a good moment."

Pearson spent two weeks traveling through China on the short-term, faculty-led experience learning about China's economic development and foreign relations. The Indiana State group flew to Shanghai before traveling on to Beijing, Shenyang and Dalian.

"Our students need to know about other countries and China in particular," said Michael Chambers, political science department chair, who led the nine ISU students through China. "When we were at the embassy in Beijing as well as the consulate in Shenyang, there were several folks who said, ‘As we move forward, the U.S./China relationship is going to be the most important bilateral relationship in the world.'"

The group attended the Shanghai Expo, in which countries showcase their cultures, and learned about the economic power and growth of the country.

"I can't even explain how phenomenal that event was," said Beth Neeley, a senior chemistry major from Worthington. "You have to take buses to get from one side to the other. And there were pavilions from every country I could name."

The students also saw the economic engine of China.

"There's just all the economic vitality, the commerce going on there," Chambers said. "You can really see that China has a middle class when you go to Shanghai."

Mike Stillwell, a senior language major who is studying Chinese, would like to be involved in business with China in the future.

"They have incredible economic growth and most of our imports in the United States come from China," he said. "There's a lot of money to be made in China on a global scale. If you're going to be successful, you have to deal with China."

Stillwell, who plans to return to China in the fall for a study abroad program, said trading between China and the United States influences both nations' security.

"The more interdependence that we have between nations, the more secure that all of our countries are," he said. "I think working with China and trading with China is a benefit for everybody."

From Shanghai, the group took a bullet train to Beijing, the cultural and political capital of China.

"We got to see a lot of the historical aspects of China through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City," said Matthew Huckleby, a senior political science and economics major from Georgetown. "The Buddhist temples were one of my favorite stops that we made. I've always been interested in Asian religion and philosophy so going to a Buddhist temple was just a really neat experience."

"I can definitely see why so many people travel to the other side of the world to see the Great Wall," Neeley said. "It was so amazing being so high in the mountains with something so old beneath your feet. You can just feel the history beneath you."

In Shenyang, Indiana State's students met with and attended lectures with students from Liaoning University - one of ISU's partner universities in China. Chambers taught on China's relations with its neighbors while Professor Xing Yuanyuan, who has twice been a visiting scholar at ISU, lectured on China's economy and doing business in China. They also met and talked with students at Liaoning University and at Liaoning Normal University in Dalian.

"That was my favorite part of the trip because that's where we got to meet Chinese students and learn more about their culture and their education in China," Neeley said.

Stillwell agreed.

"We were able to interact and listen to what they thought about the U.S. and their eagerness to know about us," he said. "That made me feel really good."

In Shenyang, the students went to see a statue of Mao that dominates Zhongshan Square at dusk. There they danced with local residents on the square surrounding the statue.

"It was one of the most unique cultural experiences that we had while we were in China," Huckleby said. "People were just out and about dancing and having a good time. It was neat to get involved with that and see Chinese culture in action."

"There were a few people who came up and tried to practice English with them and they were open to that," Chambers said.

"They came up to me and they asked if they could speak English with me so I was 100 percent ok with it," Pearson said. "I met a little girl, she was 10. She spoke English really well so I sat and chatted with her."

Their experiences made the students want to spend more time abroad. Neeley tried to change her plane ticket to extend her stay in China. When that proved unsuccessful, she altered her plan to return to China for a study abroad program.

"From day one at ISU, they encourage you to study abroad and not as many students take advantage of it as they should," she said. "It gives you such an amazing experience that really enriches your whole college life."

Short-term experiences can help students feel more comfortable about undertaking a longer study abroad trip, Chambers said.

"It broadens their horizons and whets their appetite for more and I think that's an important aspect of this," he said.

Pearson now is thinking of returning to China to teach English, but the trip to her grandmother's native land changed her in other ways.

"It really opened my eyes to how other people live compared to how I live," she said.

It also forged a connection with her grandmother, one represented by the jade bracelet that she does not plan to remove, even if she could.

"When you try it on, they put a plastic bag over your hand and they literally pry it over your hand," she said. "I got this finally and it does not come off."

- Beth Neeley (left), Justin Todd, James McCombs and Will Hollibaugh are among nine Indiana State University students who returned home with a different view of China following a visit led by ISU political science professor Mike Chambers. - Indiana State University students took part in tea tasting at the Jade Buddhist Temple in Shanghai. - James McCombs and Matt Huckleby, students at Indiana State University, stand in historic Tiananmen Square. - Indiana State University student Samantha Pearson laughs with a Chinese boy near a statue of Mao Zedong in Dalian's Zhongshan Square.

Contact: Michael Chambers, professor and chair, department of political science, Indiana State University, 812-237-2515 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or