Alaskan Student Ambassadors Go to China
Inaugural class connects with Chinese executives and students
“The trip to China has been the most exciting, enlightening, and memorable experience of my life. China is a diverse country with an enormous amount of history. The Chinese economy is an amalgam of historical and modern philosophies.”
—Jacob Haworth, UAA 2015
Study Abroad Course Student
Last summer nine highly motivated and adventurous University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) students ventured into China as the inaugural class for a pioneering new Economics course: “Globalization and China Economy and Business.” They travelled by overnight trains, buses, and planes for two weeks to Beijing, Xi’an, Chongqing, Wuhan, and Shanghai to visit firms, markets, export agencies, and universities and also to communicate and connect with business executives and college students.
The course travel was fully funded through the students’ tuition and fees ($4,600/person), including the costs of the two supervising faculty from the UAA College of Business and Public Policy, Dr. Qiujie “Angie” Zheng and Dr. Paul Johnson. Along the way each student had to investigate a business or economics research topic and present a report on their findings within two weeks of return to Anchorage.
All but one of the students had never been to Asia before, much less China, but by the last night in Shanghai they had graduated from being China neophytes to capable independent travelers ready to work and thrive in any China city should future employment take them there.
Of course the intrepid travelers were prepared beforehand with an overview of China’s economy and business environment and training in everything from Chinese culture, customs, and social relations to practical questions like visas, cellphone service, and how to handle money.
Thrown into an unfamiliar environment, the students—few of whom knew each other before—soon became a cohesive cooperative team. They ranged across disciplines, from twenty-two-year-old full-time students to adults with thirty years of industry work experience. The common denominator was their adventurous Alaska spirit and passion to explore the world of international business.
China is Alaska’s number one export market. Growing Chinese demand offers huge potential for economic growth through expanded trade. The design of the itinerary aimed to provide students with opportunities to learn and build their international human and social capital.
The itinerary had an Alaska emphasis, with a briefing from the Alaska Seafood and Marketing Institute’s representative office in Shanghai and meetings with Chinese college students who had expressed an interest in study abroad in Alaska—a huge potential education export market.
Culture and history were also on the agenda, with visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City in Beijing, the ancient capital of Xi’an, the modern financial district in Shanghai, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, and university museums, including one in the lesser known mega-city of Wuhan in inland China. Etiquette training for all formal business meetings and dinners mandated the students wear proper business attire. A lunch with training on proper mao-tai toasting (courtesy of a hosting hedge fund in Shanghai) was a special (and popular) event.
How did students view their course experience? Their formal evaluations and comments were overwhelmingly positive.
“I liked talking to business professionals, especially ones who ran their own business, because it allowed me to directly compare similar positions in the United States. Talking to students was a great way to know what a person close to our age has gone through and also what their goals would be. The food is always so good and if you thought you knew Chinese food you will be surprised. Seeing the sights that I have read about in countless magazines and seen on TV, it really was an amazing moment when I got to the top of the Great Wall and looked out and realized I was actually there. How planned out it is. Everything was arranged for us. During my time in China I didn’t find myself getting anxious or stressed, and I believe it was because everything was handled for me.”
—Zachary Layton, UAA 2015
Study Abroad Course Student
What about the future? UAA currently has multiple China economic and business initiatives underway, including agreements for student exchanges, reciprocal faculty visits, and formal joint academic research. In the last year alone seven College of Business and Public Policy faculty visited China for professional academic and institutional relationship building purposes, with much of this travel funded privately or by the Chinese universities who designated several of our faculty “foreign experts,” making them eligible for funding through nationally competitive official Chinese government grants.
Planning for another China group in 2017 is already underway. And beyond bringing students to China, the College of Business and Public Policy is looking to create more tailored self-funded international programs in the future. There is no end of possibilities.
Paul Johnson is a Professor in the Department of Economics and Public Policy, College of Business and Public Policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Contact him at email@example.com.
Qiujie “Angie” Zheng is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Public Policy, College of Business and Public Policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in the February 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.