International Summer School Brings Bryn Mawr Students Together with Peers from Around the World

Posted September 6th, 2012 at 12:23 pm.

This summer, Bryn Mawr participated in a first-of-its-kind, five-week program that brought together on one campus in China students and faculty from around the world to take a cross-national look at a particular topic.

Four students from Bryn Mawr and Growth and Structure of Cities Professor Gary McDonogh joined 30 students from Haverford, Nanyang Technical University (NTU) in Singapore, China’s Tianjin University, and the University of Toronto, on the Tianjin campus from June 30 to August 4.

The Bryn Mawr students taking part in the program were Briana Alterman ‘15, Maruyi Lu ‘13, Stephanie Tran ‘13, and Taytiana Welch ‘13.

Bryn Mawr students at a Confucian temple in Tianjin. Photo courtesy of Gary McDonogh

Bryn Mawr students at a Confucian temple in Tianjin. Photo courtesy of Gary McDonogh

McDonogh co-taught a course with Professor Francis Lim Khek Gee of NTU called Space Place and the City. The class dealt with public and private spaces, memory, tourism, and issues of the public sphere.

The other course, which ran concurrently, was Cultural Encounters: Understanding and Deconstructing East and West. This class combined film studies and literary analysis in a discussion of Orientalism, Occidentalism, and related debates, and was co-taught by NTU Professor Daniel Jernigan and McDonogh’s wife, Cindy Wong. Wong is a professor of media studies at City University of New York, but her involvement in this program was sponsored by Bryn Mawr.

“This summer school is quite distinctive,” says Bryn Mawr’s Senior Advisor for International Initiatives Susan Sutton. “I don’t know of any others that are quite like it, and very few that are even vaguely similar. There are summer schools based at institutions where an international group of students come on their own volition to be taught by faculty from that institution. But deliberately putting together an international group of faculty who will team-teach to a group of students selected to represent a range of countries, so as to engender fully cross-national insights—this is pretty unusual.”

Students shared rooms on the Tianjin campus and spent two hours each day in class from Monday to Friday.

“It was a wonderful experience,” says Alterman, who plans to major in archaeology. “We really got into some very interesting cultural exchanges with our fellow students both inside and outside the classroom. Having the Singaporean students involved was great because they’re bilingual and were able to help all of us communicate with one another.”

“I found the experience very interesting because of the diversity in not only nationality but educational background,” adds Lu, an anthropology major and film studies minor. “We had students studying cities, journalism, business, communications, and more.”

“This was a fairly intense experience for the students,” says McDonogh. “It was essentially the same amount of classroom time as a semester-long Bryn Mawr class, although obviously the reading gets condensed and the writing assignments are compressed.”

The program also included weekend study trips to Beijing and Ping Yao, a small walled city about 10 hours south of Tianjin.

“Visiting Beijing was an amazing learning opportunity for the class,” says McDonogh. “I’ve spent years in Hong Kong but the sheer number of people in Beijing—there must have been tens of thousands of people in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Cities when we visited—was overwhelming even to me. It was great when we were talking about public and private space to be able to collectively reflect on the experience and to see how everyone’s culture and past experiences informed various ideas.”

While not as well-known as Beijing, Tianjin proved to be an ideal location for McDonogh’s class.

“Tianjin had more concessions in its history than any other Chinese port city and much of the architecture and planning from the period still remains. You can still see architecture that’s clearly Austrian, Italian, or British. The city also has remnants of late Maoist China and new construction of malls and apartment buildings that speak to modern China. Tianjin really allowed students to see China’s history played out in its buildings,” says McDonogh.

“I spent a lot of my time just wandering the city and trying to take in as much of it as possible,” says Alterman. “The architecture was interesting and so was the way people moved through the streets.  The streets aren’t just used for walking or traffic. There are street markets and at times people will just sit down and have a conversation in what we think of as a very public space.”

“The sightseeing highlight for me was going to the Great Wall,” says Welch, a Cities major who did study abroad in Spain last summer. “But overall I loved the opportunity I had to learn new ways of navigating a city where the language is completely different than any that I can speak. It forced me to be creative and move outside of my comfort zone in order to function on day-to-day basis.”

The summer school is the brainchild of Alan Chan, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at NTU, says Sutton.

“Alan is a visionary, forward-thinking leader, very engaged in developing the liberal arts in East Asia and internationalizing the liberal arts in general,” adds Sutton. “Since Bryn Mawr President Jane McAuliffe is also very passionate about the internationalization of the liberal arts, it was natural that they developed a relationship and became interested in having the schools collaborate.”

As the idea for the summer school took shape the other schools signed on and the location was decided upon.

“Fundamentally, NTU and Bryn Mawr put together the academic content of this first offering while Tianjin found classrooms and accommodations for the group in China,”  explains Sutton. “Alan also found NTU donors willing to support the project so that most costs are covered for at least the first two years of the summer school.  All our students had to pay was their airline ticket and meals, and Bryn Mawr found funds to offset most of those costs.”

Funding has already been secured for a second iteration of the program in summer 2013, and Bryn Mawr and NTU are looking forward to building on the success of this first, pilot year.

In addition to this program, Bryn Mawr has created a formal exchange program with NTU, and this year two Nanyang students are studying on the Bryn Mawr campus. Bryn Mawr is currently recruiting students interested in the program. Interested students should contact Director of International Programs Theresa Cann.

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