In the wake of the Beijing summer Olympics, the University’s new international program in Shanghai, China will allow students to experience first-hand the country that is quickly emerging as a world power.
“I’m excited to be able to travel around Asia, especially visiting Beijing, because of the recent Olympics,” said sophomore Derek Haacker, who will be leaving to take part in the program next month.
The new Shanghai program is the seventh addition to Pepperdine’s international programs, replacing the Hong Kong program. The program’s director, Chris Van Velzer, is a Seaver alumnus. Students of the 2008-2009 Shanghai program, like Haacker, will arrive to meet him in China on Sept. 4 and return April 23. Forty-three students are enrolled for the fall semester, and about 38 are enrolled for the spring.
“We were surprised by the interest in this new program,” said Charles Hall, dean of International Programs. “Usually when you run something the first time, students are like, ‘Well, let’s see how it goes, we’ll wait until they get all the kinks out.’ We thought maybe we’d get 23, but we got 43.”
Shanghai, located on the Yangtze River in the eastern region of the country, is the largest city in China. Since the city underwent economic reforms in the 1990s, Shanghai has emerged as a thriving center for international business, which makes it a great place for Pepperdine students to experience, according to Hall.
“If our students really want a global perspective, a perspective that is not a strictly Western perspective, they need to go to China,” Hall said. “It’s a different place than it was 20 years ago. It’s more open to Westerners, and there is so much history and tradition there that we don’t even understand. If anybody is going into international business, they’ve really got to know China.”
Pepperdine business majors are taking advantage of the new opportunity to study in Shanghai.
“I’m currently an international business major,” said sophomore Louis Boney, who will be studying in Shanghai this fall. “With business being outsourced, especially to Shanghai, I think it’s an important place to visit.”
Yet the program’s benefits are not limited to business majors. China offers many unique cultural, social and historical learning opportunities students of all majors.
Dr. Thomas Reilly, who has been the associate professor of Chinese history and Asian studies at Pepperdine since 2004, will be Pepperdine’s Shanghai faculty member this year. Reilly has traveled, lived and studied in China several times within the last 25 years and has had an eyewitness perspective of the many changes through which China has gone.
“China is really the place to be,” Reilly said. “It’s the world’s most dynamic economy and a center for world growth. It’s not only a good place for business majors, but also political science majors, because it is one of the most important nations for international relations. It is also a good place for people interested in art and religion.”
As opposed to educational programs in other countries, in order for Pepperdine to operate in China it must partner with a local university. In March, Pepperdine formed an academic partnership with Fudan University.
“Fudan is the best university in Shanghai,” Hall said. “So, we were pretty fortunate to get this partnership, because they don’t partner with just anybody. They have to handle bringing our faculty over and they have to provide for the classes and teachers … The students will be taking classes in our facility, with the Fudan professors coming to our facility to teach.”
Also unique to the Shanghai international program is the foreign language requirement. Unlike the other international programs, where students are required to take a semester of the language before they leave, students in the Shanghai program will not be required to take classes beforehand. Instead, they will take a Mandarin class while in Shanghai.
“This is not typical for our programs,” Hall said. “We figured to require Mandarin before you go would limit the number of students who are interested, so we don’t have a prerequisite in terms of the language.”
According to Hall, it seems that the failing economy is not having an adverse influence on international studies. The University tries to control most of the expenses, and it typically costs students an extra $3,080 per semester to study abroad. Still, despite economic hardship, the number of students who choose to study abroad continues to increase each year.
“You cannot put a price on a good education,” Boney said.
Also, in terms of money, a benefit to choosing the Shanghai program over the other international programs is that the dollar is favorable to China’s currency.
“The good news for the students there is that their discretionary money — their spending money — will go much further than it will go in Europe, just because the value of the dollar is favorable to the RMB,” Hall said. “So, the biggest difference is going to be that the students will actually find it cheaper to get food, cheaper to buy stuff, probably cheaper to travel.”
Travel will be a major aspect of the program for students when they aren’t in class.
“Shanghai is a fairly modern city and very livable,” Reilly said. “Students can visit other cities in China, like Hong Kong and Beijing. They can visit the ancient capital, Xian, visit the Suzhou gardens, see the canals or go to tea houses. There are also great things to eat, especially when you go to local ‘mom-and-pop’ restaurants.”
Students attending the Shanghai program will live in a beautiful garden villa built in 1937 in an area of Shanghai called the French Concession, according to Reilly.
“Shanghai, of course, is a huge city,” Hall said. “We learned very early on that one of the nicest areas of Shanghai and safest areas of Shanghai is a place called the French Concession. It has a very European feel to it, in terms of architecture, landscaping. And it’s been completely remodeled. It is located in the heart of Shanghai, in one of the safest areas of Shanghai, and we have the resources of the nearby American consulate, if we ever need them.”
One of the most exciting parts of the program is the one-week educational field trip offered each semester.
“In the fall, we are going to Yangshuo, an area in the south of China that is hard to get to,” Reilly said. “It is a very exotic place, even for the Chinese people. In the spring, we are going to Tibet if it is safe.”
Shanghai currently has a population of about 20 million people and has become one of the largest urban areas in the world.