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Penn State Partners with Peking University

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Want to study abroad and see another culture? Math and biology students can do that in the summer through a partnership with Peking University (PKU), one of China’s top-ranked universities. Penn State students work in small groups with PKU students either at University Park or in Beijing. For the past two years, math students have visited PKU. This year, twelve PKU students studied at University Park. “I applied because I was interested in learning about differential equations and the numeric method,” said Yuqiang Wang, a PKU student at Penn State this summer. I thought, ‘If I participate, then maybe I can understand it better.’ The experience was wonderful.”

“The environment at Penn State is very good—a good place to study. I was surprised by how beautiful and quiet this town is,” Wang added.

The biology department took advantage of the PSU-PKU partnership and offered their first embedded course, Cell, Development, and Cancer Biology, taught by Dr. Zhi-Chun Lai during the spring 2010 semester. The course concluded with a four-week visit to Beijing in July, where students had the opportunity to complete additional course lectures with their PKU peers.

“As soon as I read the email about an embedded biology course with a cancer topic that included a trip to China, I knew I wanted to go,” said Lara Dakkak. “The course proved to be a very interesting one, tackling a topic that not only had personal significance but one that has been devastating to humans the world over.”

I love ChinaAlexandra Shoffner, a biology student who visited Beijing, said, “I felt busy and tired through the whole trip, but I'm thankful now that we were given the opportunity to gain such a comprehensive view of China. It is a very humbling experience to go somewhere where it is almost impossible to communicate.”

In both towns, students enjoyed the cultural exchange, learning about nightlife, shopping, sports, and history. Chinese students were amazed by the quietness and serenity of State College—Penn State students by the sheer number of people in Beijing, karaoke, and haggling in markets. PKU students were impressed by the politeness of drivers allowing pedestrians to cross the street, but sometimes too much air conditioning made them uncomfortable. Penn State students enjoyed fantastic sights like the Great Wall and ForbiddePKU in McAllistern City, but drivers and traffic were sometimes nerve wracking.

PKU students played a game of football on the Penn state campus that left Jiechao Xiong “exhausted,” and Penn State students enjoyed playing soccer at PKU’s turf soccer facility.

“Jenna Doud and I had the opportunity to play with a little boy—his name was Tom—as his parents watched and took pictures.  He told us in English that he never played soccer with international kids before.  We were honored to be the first foreigners he kicked with,” said Sahba Oboudiyat.

“Culturally, I think I had the most difficulty adapting to the crowds and the food here,” Shoffner said. “I enjoyed dumplings on campus and several of the restaurants, but I really didn't like the heat, being sandwiched in the subway, and waiting in forever-long lines at all the tourist attractions. At least I've built an appreciation of the implications of the huge population here.”
Added Oboudiyat, “We visited basically every tourist attraction in Beijing and learned our way around the city pretty well for a group of Penn State students that could read no Chinese when we arrived.”

At Penn State, PKU students were moved by the people and the place. “I still remember the first time after a whole night’s study, Shuang and I walked out of HUB onto the quiet Pollock Road. Without any noise, all we could hear was the birds’ singing from time to time, which deeply impressed us. That is a face of State College: simplicity and quietness,” she wrote on the program blog.

Wang was impressed with the courtesy of the people in State College, who often stop their cars to let pedestrians cross the street, and with the number of international students here. He made good friends with Ray, a student from Puerto Rico. “In China, we have the opportunity to meet international students as well, but not too much.  We have more people in China,” he joked. “You have to calculate the probability!”

Students noticed some similarities in the cultures, too. “The dining hall of Pollock Commons is exactly like ‘Xueyi’ cafeteria in PKU, and HUB dining is really like ‘Nongyuan’ cafeteria,” said Ou. “Honestly, not only the food, even the life here is actually similar to it in PKU. Students are busy with study and have to stay up late before the homework deadline. “This experience was full of happiness and novelty. Here, we learned knowledge and how to better collaborate with others. Those interesting experience and smiling faces will always linger in our memory,” Ou concluded.

“I really hope that the partnership between PKU and PSU continues and that we'll get to see our Chinese friends again!” said Shoffner.

That will no doubt happen. Both programs are planned to run again in 2011.

To read more student and faculty perspectives and a PSU-PKU blog, visit http://psu-pku.science.psu.edu.

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