Students Expand Educational, Career Horizons on Trip to China

photo of students at Great Wall

The Pizza Hut “palaces,” the “sensory overload,” “scorpions, snake, and other mystery things ‘on a stick’ from street vendors” and every mode of transportation imaginable were only some of the many memories of an unforgettable trip to China for 23 Eastern Kentucky University students and two EKU faculty members.

Dr. Ed Fenton, along with Dr. Jan Colbert, both of EKU’s College of Business and Technology, recently led a group of 23 students to China in the University’s “China Study Abroad” course. Visiting places like Shanghai, Beijing and Suzhou, students had the opportunity to grasp a new understanding of business around the world.

“For every fact that I can state about China, the opposite is also true somewhere in the country as well,” explained MBA student Jennifer Strauel, of Scottsdale, Ariz.

“For example, you can find evidence of collectivism and individualism, spirituality and soullessness, technology and primitiveness, new construction and complete rubble, extreme poverty and ostentatious wealth, and many more things.”

Representing different majors such as marketing, management, accounting and construction management, Dr. Fenton’s group visited major companies that span the globe. From Oct. 7 to Oct. 16, the troop learned from top-ranking executives of companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, TBWA, Bechtel Corporation, Caterpillar (CAT) and Parker Hannifin. The 10-day trip also included some tourist attractions such as the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Olympic Park, Bird’s Nest Stadium, Tiananmen Square and more.

“We saw all of the tourist attractions such as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace and the Jade Buddah Temple,” said Christopher Lee, of Westerville, Ohio. “However, we also got to experience local living, the night life, and we got a glimpse into the business world of China. The whole trip effectively gave us a feel for Chinese lifestyle as a whole.”

Fenton proudly reflected on the program: “We started out with 12 students on the first trip in 2008, and now we’re up to 23. We have almost doubled in three years.”

However, this trip to China was not a vacation. Students prepared during the summer by reading three books, including “China Road,” “Country Driving” and “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century,” more than 1,000 pages of material. A summary then had to be written for each book. Each student was also required to begin his or her research projects before the trip. Focusing on their areas of study, students had to research their topics along with information about the businesses that they were going to visit. Everyone participating in the trip also had to attend four 2½-hour Saturday meetings, including a Chinese lesson during one of the meetings given by five EKU international students from China.

After the trip, students have to finish their research projects, which are similar to theses. The Masters of Business Administration students are required to create a presentation on their research, covering perceptions of China before and after the trip, impressions of the readings, what was learned from the course and business visits that were the most influential. These presentations will be given on Nov. 17.

“The atmosphere of China is completely different from anything I am used to,” said student Jeff Ricketts, of Richmond. “The trip allowed me to see how global companies alter or change benefits and motivations, techniques and employee relations and more when relocating to different countries.”

Fenton explained that China is one of the fastest growing countries, with drastic growth the past 20 years. “I hope the trip opens students’ eyes to the business world on the international stage, especially in China,” he said. “I hope it builds the students’ confidence and leads them to realize that the world really is small. They have been to the other side of the world, seeing the locations, visiting the businesses, and meeting the people. It is no longer a country so distant. It is within their reach.”

“I hope they feel more comfortable to travel to other places and maybe China again.” Fenton continued. “Some students have told me that they would not mind going to work in China at some point, which is something that they may have never thought before. It opens them up to a variety of options.”

Students like Charles Ramshaw, of Champaign, Ill., met Fenton’s hopes, saying that he is “currently planning a return trip (to China) within the year.”

Alex Blanton, of Liberty, Ky., said: “I had my mind set on just settling in Kentucky because I have some family here and had a long time relationship here. But, after this trip, I realized I had to start to look at my future as an individual instead of as a part of someone's life, and though it was a difficult decision, I had to separate myself from something that could result in me being tied down to one spot and not seeing what the world has to offer.”

As he already begins his work on next year’s trip, Fenton will continue to expand students’ horizons and lead them to the other side of the world, readying them for the business world they are about to enter.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was authored by Stephanie Cole, student writer with EKU Public Relations.

Published on November 09, 2011