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Global Learning Institute Launched with Summer Program in Shanghai

Global Learning Institute Launched with Summer Program in Shanghai

UC students as they prepare to leave Shanghai after completing the Summer Institute. UCLA Anthropology Professor Yunxiang Yan second from right in first row.

The first of the Global Learning Institutes opens new vistas

By Richard Gunde

This past summer, the UCLA International Institute launched an important new initiative: a Global Learning Institute, featuring for-credit summer classes in globalization and emerging economies taught by leading members of the UCLA faculty. The first offering in this new program, held from June 26 to July 31, and titled "Emerging Economies: Asia," was offered at Tongji University in Shanghai, China. This initial program, headed by UCLA Professor Yunxiang Yan, a specialist in economic anthropology and social change, drew twenty-five eager students, about half from UCLA and the remainder from other campuses of the UC system.

Genesis of the Global Learning Institute

The fundamental idea behind the Global Learning Institute is simple but profound. In today's world, traditional approaches to higher education -- where the student attends lectures and completes readings all at the student's home institution -- are insufficient to prepare for life in a world that is characterized by an increasingly globalized culture and economy. The usual study abroad programs, which typically focus on language instruction, remain important and valuable. But it is increasingly becoming obvious that the student's experience in certain courses dealing with subjects beyond language that once were taught only in the student's home institution can be greatly enriched if those courses are taken abroad.

The Global Learning Institute provides an important addition or adjunct to course work at one's home institution. Instead of just looking at the outside world as through a telescope, one should go abroad and learn and experience what it means to live and study in a foreign environment. One should see the world not merely through a telescope, but with one's own eyes and, by interacting with others, come to understand how they see the world. This is what the Global Learning Institute offers.

Moreover, classroom instruction alone, no matter where it takes places, can never be complete and sufficient unto itself. Practical experience is invaluable. This truth is universally recognized, but how many university programs extend beyond the four walls of a classroom, into the real world? The Global Learning Institute in Shanghai sought to meet the need for practical experience by offering select opportunities for some students to stay on after completing their coursework to engage in internships with local companies.

The Program: Emerging Economies: Asia

"Emerging Economies: Asia" consisted of three courses and, for some students, a five-week internship. The two for-credit courses were Emerging Economies (Management 197) and China and Globalization (International Development Studies 190E). Students also pursued Chinese language study four to six hours (depending on their previous work in the language, they were assigned to one of three levels).

Beginning with a week of presentations by the UCLA Asia Institute's Clayton Dube focusing on the region's pre-1949 economic and political history, the Emerging Economies course explored the relationship between the old and the new in Shanghai, concentrating on the city's booming economy, the role of the Communist political system, and how the lives of the Shanghainese have changed since the opening to the market and the west a decade ago. Professor Yan brought to the course insights developed through his research on the impact of globalization on China. This research includes a multi-year research project on the simultaneous, complementary, and interpenetrative processes of globalization and localization at work in the success of McDonald's in Beijing. More specifically, in studying the McDonald's phenomenon in Beijing, Professor Yan has examined the local transformation of American popular culture, the social-cultural consequences of globalization, including its possible link to the rise of nationalism, and the role of the Chinese state in the process of globalization. Professor Yan's first publication on McDonald's in Beijing was a chapter -- "McDonald's in Beijing: the Localization of Americana" -- in the book Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia (J. L. Watson, ed., Stanford University Press, 1997). (An excerpt from Professor Yan's fascinating piece is available at amazon.com.)

The second course, China and Globalization, was a research seminar where students developed and carried out their own research agendas. Most of the students pursued projects looking at consumer culture and carried out interviews, field observations, and library and online research in order to investigate the place and understanding of global brands and practices in China. Students were explicitly seeking to understand how Chinese participated in globalization and what they thought of it. The best of these projects will be presented at a follow-up meeting at UCLA later in the fall.

Professor Yan brought more to these courses than his academic background and research: his personal connection with China. Having lived through the prereform period in China (as a farmer in the Northeast [Manchuria], and later as at student at Beijing University), Professor Yan was able to illustrate the impact of change in the sharing of his personal experiences. The courses were also enhanced by guest lectures and field trips. Drawing on his extensive connections in Beijing and Shanghai, Professor Yan brought in a number of distinguished guest speakers, including academics, television-programmers, and foreign and Chinese entrepreneurs. The group also undertook field trips to large and small enterprises, state and private companies, the stock exchange, hospitals, and homes. On two occasions, the group also visited rural areas to see how industrialization and agricultural reform have affected the lives of villagers.

The Location: Shanghai

Miranda Ko, the on-site UCLA coordinator of the Shanghai Global Learning Institute (and now an East Asian Studies graduate student at UC Berkeley) describes the initial program in Shanghai as "a hot and sticky ten weeks that went by way too quickly."

Shanghai is a fascinating city because it is so in flux, and while changes such as the city's rapid urban development are apparent, others, like the changing attitudes of the local Shanghainese, are not. The program gave students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the city for ten weeks and experience all of these changes first-hand.

Perhaps more than any other city on the globe, Shanghai has been undergoing breakneck development and change. It has been said that all through the past decade, more construction cranes were in operation in Shanghai than in all of the United States. Entire neighborhoods have disappeared under the wrecking ball, to be replaced by modern high-rise apartments and office buildings that would be the envy of any city in the world. Change has been so fast and complete that native Shanghainese who have lived abroad for a few years have returned to find themselves completely disoriented, unable to recognize their old neighborhood or find familiar landmarks. In an effort to keep pace with the change, new city street maps appear about every six months.

In the process, Shanghai has increasingly become a cosmopolitan world metropolis, much as it was in the 1920s and 1930s, when it was known as the Paris of the East. Residents from all across the globe (including around half a million from Taiwan) now work and live in Shanghai. And students, by the thousands, from virtually every country of the world, are studying in Shanghai. In this respect, the Global Learning Institute is truly global: "during our stay," Miranda Ko reports, "we met long-term students from the U.S., Africa, and the Middle East, as well as summer program participants from universities across Europe and Asia."

In short, to call Shanghai lively and international is a gross understatement. It is an incredibly dynamic and throbbing city -- a more exciting place to study is hard to imagine.

Living, Studying, and Working in Shanghai

"For the first-ever overseas Global Learning Institute," Ms. Ko states, "we were very fortunate to have Tongji University as our host. Dean Yu Xiao and the faculty and staff of the Tongji University International School provided us with assistance on program logistics and accommodations, accessing campus facilities, field trip planning, and organizing extracurricular activities for the students."

Most of the twenty-five students in the program had not traveled to Asia before, and it was interesting to contrast their initial reactions of being in Shanghai with their thoughts at the end of the program. As students, they were encouraged to reflect upon tradition and modernity in the city, and they provided many interesting observations on the impact of modernization as they experienced it. As many noted at the end of the program, the Global Learning Institute gave them an opportunity to overcome notions of Shanghai and China they previously had, and allowed them to see how China is changing from a firsthand perspective.

The students in the Institute shared in their enthusiasm for the program, but at the same time each took from it something of personal value. UCLA student Erin Wong says:

My experience in Shanghai was amazing. From the beginning, I was excited to have the opportunity to travel to China, but I was slightly skeptical on what the experience would be like because our classes were to be taught in English by a UCLA professor. As it turned out, none of that mattered. Professor Yan was outstanding and simply being in Shanghai added a whole new dimension to his lectures. We were able to see firsthand how the country is rapidly changing and developing; it was especially interesting to have the opportunity to take field trips to places that we never would have been able to visit as a normal tourist (i.e., a steel factory, plastic bag factory, hospital, rural town, stock exchange). . . . I most definitely want to go back to China . . . there's so much more to see and learn.

Another student, Julieta Mendez of UC San Diego, speaks of the Institute as almost a life-changing experience:

Participating in the summer program in Shanghai is definitely one of the best decisions that I have made in my life as a student! The courses that were taught to us during the program were vitamins that nurtured the understanding and appreciation of a city and culture that were completely foreign to me. Reading about the economic, political, and social transformation that a country is facing, and being there in the moment that it is experiencing this change is a privilege that I was lucky enough to experience and comprehend to the fullest extent. Not only did I leave Shanghai feeling that I had traveled the city both inside-out, I was certain that Shanghai had traveled through me!

Still another student, Louisa Wang of UCLA, not only had been to Shanghai before, she is a native of Shanghai. Yet for her too, the Global Institute opened a new vista.

Initially, joining this program was just an excuse to go back to Shanghai because I was there last summer and really enjoyed myself, but I really had a totally different experience this time from the other times I've been there. The last couple of times I was there, I took a lot of cultural differences and nuances for granted (probably since I was born in Shanghai, I'm not as sensitive to little things). During my study at Tongji University this summer, I've learned to look at China from an analytical angle, asking myself why and how its history is affecting modern China. Also, by traveling with a big group of U.S. students, I was able to compare how the locals treated natives vs. foreigners and their attitudes towards Americans. After the program, I was able to intern at a net cafe company and made presentations that were used during investment pitches. I was able to be familiarized with the professional environment in Shanghai and hope to work there in the near future.

The optional summer internship component provided students who were interested in working with Shanghainese firms with an opportunity to experience how business is conducted in a city that for the past decade has been undergoing explosive economic growth: indeed, China (and especially Shanghai and its environs) is the world's fastest growing major economy. Students were placed with such companies as Goldenbridge Group, a commercial real estate development company, Alaris Consulting, a financial advisement firm, and 3DTop Netcafe, a network of high-end internet and gaming cafes.

Students worked directly with supervising staff on both research projects and day-to-day company operations.

Dollars, Cents . . . and Yuan

All students -- and their parents -- know that a higher education is expensive, no matter where one goes to study. In recognition of this fact of life, and in response to it, the UCLA International Institute awarded eight merit-based scholarships to UCLA undergraduates to cover program fees. These scholarships were possible because of a generous gift from the Han Foundation, headed by Robert and Patsy Sung. It is hoped, and expected, that financial assistance will be an integral part of the UCLA Global Learning Institute as it expands to other cities around the world in future years.

By all accounts, the Shanghai Global Learning Institute was an outstanding success. Students who were not able to attend this year can look forward to attending the Institute in the summer of 2005, or in the years thereafter. And as more Institutes in other cities around the globe are added in coming years, the menu of options will grow, making the choice of where to spend one's summer productively more difficult in a way, but also more exciting.

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Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2004