Student Commentaries on Study Abroad

Study tour participants are asked to develop a question or set of questions they would like to explore throughout the study tour.  This section provides visitors with excerpts from reflective study journals and commentaries written by students about their study abroad experience, along with photographic journals and essays.

China 2011

Evolution of Education in China
Microsoft Word Document
Talena Schupp

    China possesses one of the longest periods of uninterrupted history in the world and education has had a role to play since the beginning. However, public access to education in the Middle Kingdom has a comparatively short history in relation to the rest of the world.  It was only until recently that higher education was a privilege reserved for the upper class or those few who had access to libraries and tutors.  China changed its educational strategy beginning in 1949, with Deng Xiaoping at the helm of a country that had been closed off to modernization for hundreds of years. In 2010, China began another series of reforms, called the “Development Plan,” to grant access to higher education to more of its population, in light of a gap of skilled laborers in a rapidly modernizing economy open to the rest of the world (Wang).
     Higher Education can be traced as far back as the Eastern Zhou dynasty in B.C. 771 – 221 and by the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.) a whole range of higher institutions had been established which took major classical texts of Confusion thought as their curricular content (Hayhoe, P. 54). There were also professional schools for law, medicine, calligraphy, art, literature, mathematics and Daoist studies, and by the later Song Dynasty the Confusion classics were reordered to form a knowledge system that had to be mastered by all who strove to become civil servants in the imperial system (Hayhoe, p. 54).
     Although the education of the children of aristocrats and nobility can be traced back as far as the 16th century B.C., it took three centuries for the first steps in the mass education of ordinary citizens to develop. It would not be until after the end of the Second World War, and the opening of China to modernization and the new Communist government, that effort to educate china’s general populous would be tackled (Bradenburg). The new government chose to model its public education on the Soviet Union’s system, folding all private universities into the state (Wang). As Maoist-ideals swept across the nation, higher education went through ups and downs. With the Great Leap Forward, institutions blossomed all over the country – but shortly thereafter, during the Cultural Revolution which pitted students against teachers, the Red Guard sought to correct this ‘mistake’(Bradenburg). The number of universities plummeted during this dark time in China’s history.  In 1977, Deng Xiaoping gained control of the government in China, and one of his first acts was to reinstate the National Examination system for admissions into College level education (Wang).  Chinese Higher Education continued to repair itself during the 1980’s and 1990’s after the country’s period of social and political upheaval, with the government at its helm.
     More recently, it has been determined that such strict control of education, from primary to university levels has left China with a gap in skilled labor in an adaptable and open world market (Bradenburg). Typically, the Chinese style of education is to learn by rote – memorization verbatim, rather than the Western style of critical thinking and criticism. With such a rigid system of education and graduates from universities who are unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing and westernizing economic culture, it has come to the attention of the government that it must change tactics if it intends to keep up with its Western counterparts. In 2010, reforms began that allowed for privatization of education facilities that encouraged universities, as well as primary and middle schools to form their own committees and education programs that comply with new reforms in education (Wang).
     Current reforms in Chinese education, dubbed the “Development Plan”, began in 2010 and will stretch through 2020 in an effort to expand the horizon of Chinese Higher Education and develop internationalization and training for China’s growing number of middle and high school graduates (Wang). Chinese economics and politics require an educated and flexible class of laborers which it severely lacks. Efforts are being made to expand the Study-abroad and student exchange programs with powerhouse countries like the United States, opening up opportunities not only for the Chinese to learn in Western style universities, but for Western students to learn in Chinese universities – facilitating a cultural exchange that will greatly benefit China in the long run. With one of the world’s largest populations, China has a long and difficult road to travel in the effort to educate its masses and reach the same percentile ratings as other countries in literacy and general primary education, namely because a vast majority of its inhabitants are still living poor, rural lives in remote areas that are not easily accessible. Another, equally great challenge is in the changes needed for China to catch up to a Global economy – and this will be difficult for a country that has self-admittedly not needed outside influence for anything for thousands of years. Being open to new ideas is a new idea for the Chinese. It will be interesting to see how the country handles itself in the upcoming years, but all signs lead one to believe that great things can be expected from China in the near future.
     So, while education has been important in China for longer than nearly anywhere else in the world, the access of its general public to these higher forms of education has fallen behind. As a country, China has seen its ups and downs – rising and falling Dynasties, World Wars, internal struggle and very nearly falling apart  - but it currently enjoys a period of economic and educational boom. The Middle Kingdom learned an important lesson in World War 2 about cutting itself off from the rest of the world, and falling behind in the race for modernization. Now it is catching up at an exponential rate, with a focus on education at its epicenter. Reforms are now in development to train and educate the next generation of Chinese businessmen and women and the world can expect to see great things from the Middle Kingdom in the upcoming years.

Brandenburg, Uwe and Zhu, Jiani, Higher Education in China in the Light of Massification and Demographic Change: Lessons to be Learned for Germany. Gutersloh: CHE, (2007),

Hayhoe, Ruth: “China’s universities and Western academic models”; in: Higher Education,18 (1989), pp.49-85

Wang, Guo-hua, China Currents, “Chinese Education Reform,” (2010)

 See Also:
Evolution of Education in China: Artifacts-Talena Schupp

Evolution of Education in China: Photo Journal-Talena Schupp

China: Study Abroad Photo Journal-Courtney White



Central Europe 2008

Europe: Jews after the Holocaust
By Kristi Paddock

In my recent travels to Central Europe, I focused on studying a specific question I had in mind. That is: What is society
like for Jews through the aftermath of the Holocaust? Going into it, I knew it was going to be a difficult question to answer.
And not surprisingly, it was. Although through my many visits to local Jewish communities, museums, and synagogues I've gathered enough information to get a feel for the answer.

I stumbled across information that I didn't even consider would be related to my study question. I saw how the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall both impacted the people greatly. I was able to view a more personal side of the Jewish people; in their cemeteries and historical museums. In the end, I walked the same streets as the Jews of the 20th century, and took it all in to get a close idea of how society has not only changed, but adapted since the Holocaust.

Upon my arrival to Germany, I expected more of my touring to be relevant to Holocaust related scenery. Although to my surprise, I found that the Germans were focused greatly on the fall of the Berlin Wall. Me not being a history buff had a bit to learn on the subject; as I did. Since the fall of the wall was so recent, in comparison to the Holocaust, I can see why focus may be heavy in that area. It was an emotional journey through cities, especially Berlin, to learn how the people felt about the Wall. But to my ignorance, I wondered: what about concentration camps, and the Nazi's? What about the Jews and political prisoners? Then we stumbled across it. We came upon Hitler's bunker, and the biggest Jewish memorial I've seen to this day.  It was right in the center of the city, in the midst of skyscrapers and busy streets. Just as I had thought that German's focus lie primarily on the Berlin Wall, I was able to see how closely they held WWII. It was a relief for me. We had spent much of our first few days learning about the Berlin Wall and taking a heart wrenching ride through East/West history. But in the end, history of the Holocaust prevailed and my journey began.

We moved on from Berlin to Prague; Where I was able to spend a good amount of time in the Jewish Quarter. There I had my
first visit to a Jewish cemetery; But not just any one. It was The Old Jewish Cemetery. There I walked through hundreds of grave sites with piled up grave markers and memorials. The lessons at hand included stories of families, youth, elderly and every man and woman that had to be buried on top of each other. Due to the fact that this was the only place Jews were allowed to bury their dead. A silent walk though revealed a million messages. More than spoken words would ever be able to.

I moved on to a couple different ceremonial halls and synagogues. There I was able to read scripts from people of the past. On many different subjects, family, friends, work, food, entertainment, school…etc. I was able to look more in depth to the everyday life of people in the past. To get a feel of how they were living.

As my journey continued, I wound up at Dachau. The eerie feeling of walking the paths of a concentration camp sent shivers up my spine. I was standing in the exact spot of so many horrendous events in history. I expected a certain feeling going in, but in the end, I didn't know what I was feeling. To this day I still don't.

I went from walking on the streets of Dachau to the streets of old Jewish communities; the quarters where Jews resided during the holocaust and where they reside today. To be honest, I saw lively, lucrative, business-based areas; Filled with people and tourists, restaurants, shops, museums, synagogues and homes. Most importantly, they were filled with peace.

As I started my journey, I saw many ties between The Wall and the Holocaust. I think the recent impact of The Fall gave a good insight into how something so grand and catastrophic can impact the people. It makes me believe this could be similar circumstances to the aftermath of the Holocaust. Even though the subject at hand was not the Holocaust, I could see how the people reacted, mourned, and began to heal. I also saw into their past, personal and historical. I was able to learn more about
the Holocaust and then venture into the present. In the present, I found no apparent discrimination or prejudice. I didn't experience segregation or hatred. Instead I experienced mixed diverse European communities that functioned well and prospered. I was beside myself when I realized I was surrounded by what Jews fought so hard to live for through WWII; I was surrounded by freedom.

Central Europe and the Cold War
By John Kleeb

Every child in their history class will learn about the Berlin Wall and how it fell one day resulting in the unification of the German people.  Eyewitnessing the actual landmarks of the Cold War and seeing how the regular people of that time lived gave me a better understanding of the Cold War than any lecture, book, movie, or TV show ever could. This was my first time traveling abroad so I did not know what to expect. The Cold War has long interested me and that interest was deepened when I learned more about it in college. What fascinated me was that the people of the Eastern bloc had just been liberated from Nazism and then immediately faced another more deadly and imminent foe, the Russians. The end of the Cold War occurred in my lifetime not in the distant past in black and white or on the radio but in living color on cable television.

Berlin was a wonderful city to start my study on the Cold War and how it impacted the nations that I visited. Berlin was divided much like Europe was after World War II:  east and west; communist and capitalist; and free and non-free. I saw the site of Checkpoint Charlie, my first full day in Europe and thought about the brave men and women who had risked everything for freedom. They were ordinary people who showed extraordinary courage under unbelievable circumstances. The Berlin wall not only divided ideals but it divided families and friends so I easily understood their drive for freedom. Looking at it, I wondered if I would have the courage to do so if placed in that situation. Most of the time I could not tell if I was in East or West Berlin which is amazing really because of just how stark the difference between the divided city was in the Cold War. As we left the city of Dresden which during the Cold War had been part of the Eastern Bloc, we were shown apartments from the Cold War era. They had a bland feeling and none looked different from the other which seemed representative of the dark period in which they were built.

Prague, of all the cities, gave me the understanding of how the Cold War impacted the countries and people of Central Europe. We arrived at our hotel and its small rooms which seemed to me to have been a former apartment complex. The rooms themselves were nothing special but sleeping in the small bed gave me an idea of what it must have been like to have been an average citizen of Prague during that time period. It was only two days instead of a childhood so I didn't truly experience it. Despite Communism's mistreatment of organized religion the regime did keep up many of the original churches and synagogues that are literally centuries older than our country. It amazed me that even though the people of this land had been terribly persecuted they kept their faith and would not allow their culture to be destroyed. Germán, our tour guide, pointed out a memorial to Jan Palach, a Czech student who had burned himself in protest of the Soviet invasion and crushing of reforms made in the Prague Spring. As a student of history I decided to read up on Jan Palach. I found that he was the same age as me, 20 years young, when he died.  The average American twenty-year old, myself included, worries about things like doing well in school, finding the ideal career path, and how to have fun.  This was a man who had his country invaded and lost any chance of real freedom when the Soviets crushed the reform movement.  This made me realize how minimal my daily worries and how much I take for granted.

The last city we visited with a significant Cold War impact was Budapest, Hungary. The Hungarians much like their Czechoslovak neighbors had resisted communist rule and ultimately like the Czechoslovaks they too failed. I learned about a memorial in Budapest called Statue Park.  The Hungarians instead of destroying statues of the Cold War era decided to put them in a park for tourists like myself to appreciate. I have believed for the longest time that a sense of humor is essential to succeed in the world so I got a huge kick out of what the Hungarians had done. They were making money because of people who wanted to see these statues and buy souvenirs of that time period.   That I suppose is the true beauty of Capitalism.

I discovered that ultimately the Cold War had impacted everyone in these countries in different and unique ways. The Germans now sell pieces of the Berlin Wall, and the Hungarians have a tourist site where you can see the statues of that time. The Czechs remember a hero who was willing to give his life for Czech freedom. David McCullough once said that history is not about dates and events but about people and that is what I learned on this trip. The people of Central Europe are now prospering in the 21st century and enjoying the benefits of the more connected world we have become in the days since the wall fell!


Spain 2005

Differences in the American and Spanish Culture - Heather

"Touring throughout Spain, I noticed many interesting differences from America as well as just some interesting facts.  Going to Spain as a person very naive about the Spanish culture, I naturally assumed that Spanish was the one and only language spoken in Spain.  And, true, Spanish is widely spoken and it is the official language, but French, Arabic, and Catalonian are also spoken in different regions/areas of Spain.  There is a part of Africa just outside of Morocco that is Spanish territory and therefore part of the country, even though it is in another continent (Caseuta). This area of Spain has three languages spoken in it: Spanish, French, and Arabic.  Then, in areas such as Barcelona, there is a large Catalonian population, so therefore both Spanish and Catalonian are spoken.  But what is interesting is that they have to learn both languages if they are Catalonian -- everyone must know Spanish."

"Another interesting aspect of Spanish culture is their fashion and/or style. There are many similarities between fashion and style in Spain and America.  However, there are also a few differences. For example, men's fashion tends to be basically the same, but from what I observed, men in Spain paid a little more attention to style and the way they look compared to American men.  Speedo's however, is a men's fashion trend in Spain and other European countries that I'm glad has not become popular in the United States....Children are dressed the same as in America with the exception of the few who are expertly dressed by their parents and therefore look amazingly adorable.  Women have the same style and fashion sense in both countries.  If you look in a store window, mannequins will be dressed basically the same in both countries.  However, women in Spain are much bolder dressers.  They aren't afraid to wear anything, or nothing for that matter. For example, all beaches in Spain are topless beaches.  Women go around without their bikini tops no matter what age, shape, or size, as though it's nothing."  

"Overall, I think that both countries have the same style but in Spain there is a larger majority of fashion-conscious people.  People also tend to dress up more; even if there isn't an occasion for it.  For instance, walking down a main street in a city like Barcelona or Valencia, it would not be uncommon to see three couples dressed up and walking by in one half hour."

"My trip to Spain was an experience of a lifetime and I will never forget it.  I learned so much about another culture and another way of life.  And, not only did I tour the different cities gaining new knowledge everywhere I went, but I also got to meet many new people--  many of whom I will continue to keep in contact with.  Spain will always have a little part of my heart in it now and I will always remember the good times of my study abroad tour to Spain.  Hopefully I will be seeing Greece and Turkey next summer!"

....Heather W.....


Cultural, Economic and Lifestyle Differences in Spain - Tanasha

"Let me start off by saying that this was the best experience of my life.  I learned so much about myself, about Spain and about a totally different culture.  I was very skeptical of this trip.  I was nervous that it wasn't going to be worth the money and effort I put into it.  But I was completely wrong! I am glad to say that this was amazing-- an experience of a lifetime and that I plan on doing another tour again sometime soon!  Hopefully, I will be with you on the tour of Greece and Turkey by sea."  

"Now, we all, meaning Heather and I, had to think of a study question. My question is: What are the cultural, economical and lifestyle differences in each place that we stopped?  I am going to go through the four areas that had the biggest differences: Morocco, Costa del Sol (Marbella), Madrid, and Barcelona.  There are obvious differences in Morocco from the rest, but it was harder to find differences in the other towns.  So, for Morocco, it was a very tiny poor area that we visited, Tetouan.  It was a "3rd world" country in Northern Africa, so you can imagine what the streets looked like.  These people lived off of what they had and nothing more.  We saw them at work, making clothes, carpets, weaving baskets, dyeing leather, and working in a pharmacy.  And, this was no ordinary pharmacy.  Everything in there was made from scratch and all had very distinct purposes.  We got to try a few things (herbal concoctions) out, like oil that if you massaged it into your temples would make your headache go away.  In Morocco, we also saw that the people make money off of what they make, like the clothing and leather (turned into shoes and handbags.)  They all seemed to be very poor but all looked content with how they were living and what they were doing.  That was one of the most eye-opening experiences.  I am glad we added that to our trip."  

"The next three cities were completely different from Morocco.  Next we have Costa del Sol  (and Marbella).  That was an area kind of like the outer banks--the beach and lots of little shops. They seemed to make their money on the tourist aspects of the area.  The beach area with bars and places you could get your hair braided for that beachy look.  There were people making a living by doing tours of the area by horse and carriage.  The area was clean and the beach was nice, clear water and a few jellyfish, but it was nice.  There was quite a night life there.  One night we were there, we experienced the celebration of the city.  They crowned a princess and had an amazing fireworks display that went on for about 20 minutes.  It was interesting to see the people come out to celebrate their city."

"Next were the two big cities, Madrid and Barcelona.  These two were similar yet very different.  Madrid reminded me of New York.--very busy, always awake and bright.  There were wealthy areas and poor areas.  Many places to shop and lots of sightseeing. There was lots of construction going on, like repairs, refurbishing or just the construction of new buildings. There was traffic all the time, so it was easier just to walk to the different places, like New York.  The other thing I noticed was there were a lot of tourists visiting from all over the place, Germany, the USA, and France were the ones I noticed the most.  And, in Barcelona, I noticed the same thing.  Also, in both places there were tons of people for such small areas, more so in Madrid than Barcelona.  But in Barcelona, we saw more people doing "their craft" to make money.  Like the mimers--people dressing as statues for tourists to pose with and they would make money that way.  We also experienced the extremes people will go to, to get what they want.  At lunch one day, a lady came up to our table, and we thought she was asking for money, so we all quickly put our hands on our purses, but what she really wanted was food.  She reached over and took a piece of pizza right off of Heather's plate and walked away. We were in such shock that we didn't say anything.  It was an experience that we wouldn't get in the United States.  Back home, you may have had somebody walk up to you and ask for money, but once you turned it down they would leave you alone. Different experiences and different circumstances."

"But all in all, in every different city, we would experience something new and different, unlike any of the other cities.  I had an amazing time and learned so much! I also got to use a little bit of my Spanish and learned that many people knew English! It has been the BEST TIME OF MY LIFE! I can't wait to do it again!"

....Tanasha M.....

ITALY 2004

Fashion Differences between America and Italy - Anneliese

When I left for Italy, I left with the idea that Italian fashion would be very different from American fashion.  I thought that they would be very dressy and fashionable.  Many Americans choose comfort over fashion and that's okay.  I also knew that Milan is the fashion capital of the world.  However, I did not get to walk around Milan or go to a fashion show, I did see a lot of different fashion styles.

Men dress usually work casual (it is rare to see them in sweat pants or athletic clothes in public).It is typical for men to wear khakis and button down shirts, very similar to American office attire, only what wurprised me is they were wearing these outfits on the weekends.  Now, I am not saying that all men dress poorly in America, but on the weekends, they are definitely not going to wear the clothes they wear to work.  I was very surprosed by this.  

I was also surprised bout how the women dressed.  Women in Italy dress very similarly to American teenagers.  That is, jeans, fashionable shirts, having their mid drift showing and that sort of thing.  They mostly wore pointy shoes that remind me of the shoes the Wicked Witch of the West wears in the Wizard of Oz.  Aviator sunglasses are also a favorite accessory of the Italians.

....Anneliese R....