The Asia Now Series on Globalization of Asia

By Bill Kramer, Graduate Global Asia Intern

I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Dr. Alter to discuss a project that he started organizing over a year and a half ago. The lecture series brings in professors from different universities to present on topics in which they focus their research and specialization. The lecture series is connected to a class that meets twice a week. During the first class of the week, students attend the lecture, and in the second, students meet in small groups to discuss the presentation. The Asia Now Lecture Series, now with several lectures under its belt, was formulated at the start of the coronavirus’s spread. The lecture series is a consequence of the pandemic in two ways. First, Asia is critical to understanding how the world is changing as a single entity now, and Dr. Alter saw this lecture series as an important measure to fill a gap in the curriculum. Second, the Asia Now Lecture Series was a realization that online and hybrid learning technologies can be a great boon both to how students learn, and professors teach. For many students, online Zoom classes have been a struggle; however, the Asia Now Lecture Series can serve as a template to show the correct way to use technology for learning. 

I attended a lecture on September 28th by Dr. Maria Repnikova of Georgia State University, introduced by Pitt’s Dr. Iza Ding, on “The Fragmented Spectacle of Chinese Soft Power in Africa.” I was struck by two things when I attended the lecture which is open to all Pitt students, faculty, and staff free-of-charge. First, the technology on display is incredible: massive HD TVs, automatically panning cameras, and microphones suspended from the ceiling. I can personally confirm that technology can be a great aid in teaching when used correctly; I was fully engrossed. The second major thing I was surprised by was both the quantity and quality of the questions being asked by students, several of whom were not experienced in Asian politics, culture, or history. There were a dozen questions, all of which were thoughtful and critically interacted with the material that was presented.  

When I asked Dr. Alter what he would like to get out of this lecture series and how he would measure the series to be a success, he expressed a desire for the Asia Now Lecture Series and the course to become a constant and critical part of the Pitt curriculum, as well as helping students of varying disciplines to become interested and interact with all Asia related courses. Dr. Alter also seeks to more closely join the Asian Studies Center to the various Pitt schools and departments for closer collaboration of class offerings and events. 

I strongly recommend that readers go attend any upcoming lectures that pique your interests. 

SCREENSHOT: Asia’s First Annual Film Festival

By Madison Pleins, SCREENSHOT: Asia Intern

After almost two years of planning and preparation, the combined efforts of the Asian Studies Center and the Film and Media Studies program are bringing to life the SCREENSHOT: Asia Film Festival. The five-day festival will be filled with 12 screenings of both feature and short films from Asian and Asian American filmmakers including films from Iran, South Korea, Japan, and Nepal. It will take place on October 6th-10th at various locations indoors and outdoors, both on and off the University of Pittsburgh campus for the Pitt community and the public alike. There will also be guest appearances by some of the filmmakers. The festival celebrates diversity, art, and culture through the powerful visual medium of film. 

There are many moving parts that must fit together for a film festival to occur. For example, venues need to be chosen, filmmakers have to be contacted, and technology must be running smoothly. Bringing these components together would be impossible without the leadership team at the Asian Studies Center who have been working to finalize each and every detail.  

After spending a year virtually, the Asian Studies Center is excited to hold more in-person programming like the SCREENSHOT: Asia Film Festival. Of course, safety precautions are still in place, including social distancing and masking while attending the screenings, but these precautions make it possible for us to once again, come together and celebrate culture in a public space. We are looking forward to the festival and cannot wait to share all of the hard work and artistry that has gone into it. 

Meet the 2021 ASC Interns

The Asian Studies Center interns are delighted to be back in-person this semester as the Center commences with another busy fall of programming and events. Let’s take a moment to introduce and warmly welcome the new interns! 

Meet Bill Kramer, the Graduate Global Asia Intern. 

Hi, I am Bill Kramer, the Graduate Global Asia intern. I am a first-year student at GSPIA with a major in Human Security. I wanted to become an intern with the Asian Studies Center due to my love of East Asian history, culture, and politics. This interest in East Asia was borne out of a few close friendships I made with Korean foreign exchange students in high school and continued into my undergraduate studies. I did my undergrad here at Pitt, graduating in 2017 with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and History and a minor in Korean. Coupled with my 3 years of Korean language learning, I took many classes on the history and politics of East Asia and completed the Certificate of Asian Studies. I am obsessed with the Korean film scene and have a special fondness for anything Bong Joon-ho directs or Song Kang-ho stars in. I also follow the Korean popular and indie music scene, and if you like indie electronic music, I strongly recommend the artist Neon Bunny (give “It’s You” a listen). Outside of my studies, I am an avid marathoner, and I will be doing my 4th marathon next month. My favorite restaurant in all of Pittsburgh is Spak Brothers in Garfield because as a vegan, they have a ton of great options.  

Meet Madison Pleins, the Screenshot: Asia Intern.  

Hello! My name is Madison Pleins and I am the Screenshot Asia Film Festival Intern for this year! I am a sophomore Film and Media Studies major pursuing a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Broadcast. I am so excited and honored to hold the Screenshot Asia Film Festival Intern position because I am very passionate about film and visual arts. I am looking forward to gaining experience on the management side of film through a cultural lens and cannot wait to see the Screenshot Film Festival come to life!

Outside of this internship, I am a piccolo player in the Pitt Varsity Marching Band, a member of the Varsity Marching Band Council, and the History and Alumni Liaison for the band service organization Tau Beta Sigma. I am also a member of the video club and student run television station, UPTV.

Meet Madeline DeLosa, the English Language Communications Intern.  

Hi, my name’s Maddy and I’m the English Language Communications Intern. My main roles include creating social media posts to promote upcoming events and to also photograph various activities. I’m a junior undergraduate majoring in Molecular Biology on the Pre-Physician’s Assistant track. I’m also minoring in Korean, Chinese, Chemistry and working towards an Asian Studies Certificate here at Pitt. I enjoy spending my free time outdoors – whether it be getting lost in a new running trail, exploring the city or simply soaking in nature. In 2018, I was introduced to the phenomenon of K-pop through the famous group, BTS. Ever since then, I have not only fallen in love with the music but also learned a great deal about Asian culture and the similarities and differences to Western countries like the U.S. Such drove me to enroll in my first Korean language class freshman year and I have been going strong ever since. Currently, I’m in my 5th semester and can proudly say I know more than, “안녕하세요. 저는 매들린이에요.” I aspired to intern with the Asian Studies Center in hopes of further increasing my knowledge and passion for Asia. Some life-long goals of mine include traveling around Asia and ordering my first meal in Korea in hopefully somewhat-fluent Korean.

Meet Yue He, the Chinese Language Communications Intern.  

Hi, I’m Yue! I’m a second-year graduate MPA student majoring in Governance and International Public Management. I am also this year’s Chinese Social Media Intern for the Asian Studies Center. I earned my undergraduate degree in Chinese Language and Literature in 2017 in China where I am from. I am always enthusiastic towards Chinese literature and calligraphy and love to talk about these topics with people who are interested in the culture. I look forward to developing my skills during my internship and hope to have a memorable experience. Outside of Pitt’s campus, I love to explore the beautiful city. 

Meet Winnie Chen, the Event Coordination Intern.    

Hello, my name is Winnie and I’m a junior this year majoring in Psychology and Chinese, minoring in Chemistry (on the pre-dental track). Right as I entered college, I knew that Asian Studies was an area that I wanted to focus on, so I immediately enrolled myself in various Asian related courses. Through exploring the different topics, I decided to focus on Chinese as my particular language of interest while also expanding my knowledge on all parts of Asia through the various culture classes. Additionally, I was able to attend a few of the events that the Asian Studies Center held my freshman year, and through each lecturer and workshop, I learned a little more each time about my Asian culture. Therefore, when the position of events intern came up, I knew that this was my opportunity to become more involved in the program. I hope that I can be a member of this wonderful team to create more interesting and engaging events for not only our Pitt community, but the broader Pittsburgh community itself. I am always open to new ideas so I will take in the ideas and opinions from everyone and try my best to continuously improve our events so that we can become a truly welcoming and diverse community! 

Meet Paris Yamamoto, the Global Ambassador Intern.  

Hello! My name is Paris Yamamoto. I am a senior Chinese and Linguistics major, Japanese minor, Asian Studies Certificate student, and this year’s Asian Studies Center (ASC) Global Ambassador. In addition to my involvement with ASC, I am also involved in various Asian interest student organizations including, but not limited to, the Japanese Student Association (JSA), the Chinese American Student Association (CASA), and the Asian Student Alliance (ASA). The ASC has been part of my college experience from the beginning. As a freshman, I was enrolled in the International Studies: Asia academic community where everyone was encouraged to pursue a certificate in Asian Studies. Like most first years, I had no idea what I was doing when I came to college. I was unsure of my major, I had no idea what any of my career options were, and I was extremely anxious about my future. Then I met the ASC certificate advisor: Emily Rook-Koepsel. She clarified much of my initial confusion about the certificate program and helped orient my academic trajectory. Through her, I found the resources to find the study abroad program that was right for me and made connections that have been invaluable throughout my time here at Pitt. After this crazy year and a half of being online, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work so closely with the ASC and am excited to see what this year of in-person events has in store.

Event Recap: Director Talk with Taiwanese Director Wei Te-Sheng

By Erica Kuo, Global Ambassador

On February 23rd, the Taiwanese Student Association (TSA) in collaboration with the Asian Studies Center and Screenshot: Asia successfully hosted Taiwanese Director Wei Te-Sheng virtually over Zoom for a Q&A session with TSA. Prior to the event, we screened Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale in preparation for the Q&A.

Brief background: Director Wei Te-Sheng is a highly influential and famous director and screenwriter in Taiwan’s film industry. His films include Cape No. 7Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq BaleKano, and 52 Hertz, I Love You. Notably, Cape No.7 currently still holds the #1 spot as the highest grossing domestic film in Taiwan followed by Seediq Bale Part 1 holding the #2 spot. 

Hosted by TSA, I was able to interview Director Wei on his influence on Taiwan’s film industry, his unconventional path to becoming a director and screenwriter, behind-the-scenes information including his particular choice in casting, and his current project Taiwan Trilogy among many other topics discussed. In the latter half of the event, we also opened up the discussion to audience questions for Director Wei. Overall, it was a pleasure to have such a rare opportunity to interview a highly influential director that continues to pave the way for a new era in Taiwan’s film industry. His responses provided a lot of insight into his films and his approach to filmmaking. He has also impacted a lot of Taiwanese-Americans, including myself, in terms of fostering the curiosity to rediscover our unique Taiwanese culture and history through his films and therefore, this event held an even deeper meaning to some people.  

*For those who missed the event, a recording of the interview will be soon uploaded onto Youtube.

What’s going on in the connection between China-Latin America and the Caribbean?

By Tong Ru, Global Asia Intern

To introduce the present situation on the cooperation between China and Latin America & the Caribbean, the Asian Studies Center, the Center for Latin American Studies (University of Pittsburgh), and the Red Académica de América Latina y el Caribe sobre China held an online conference on the topic of “China-Latin America and the Caribbean: Infrastructure, Connectivity, and Everyday Life” on January 25 to January 26, 2021. Here are the recordings of two-days conference: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwG_ZH0VQJBdKuWrlexZ3qmvJeyJMFDHB.

On the first day, invited speakers mainly presented about infrastructure projects China conducted in Latin America & the Caribbean to give the audience a general understanding of the number of Chinese infrastructure projects, amount, and labor employment. From the presentation by Enrique Dussel Peters (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Red ALC-China), we learned a growing trend on Chinese infrastructure projects from 2000 to 2020, during the globalization process with Chinese characteristics. From 2005 to 2009, the number of infrastructure projects was 4, and this number increased to 108 in 2020, with the amount from 1,147 million US dollars to 67,906 million US dollars. Except for this direct data, the presenter also mentioned that though there is no analysis about the impacts on people’s everyday life in Latin America & the Caribbean.  We had a preliminary understanding that infrastructure projects have generated almost 40 thousand jobs until 2017.

Next, Diana Castro Salgado (Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar) and Yang Zhimin (Chief Researcher at ILAS-CASS) both discussed the cooperation between China and Ecuador, including its national effects. Since 2007, China has built a connection with Ecuador from the aspect of financing and infrastructure, mostly in the field of energy, mines, oil rigs, roads, power transmission lines, telecommunications systems, hospitals, and schools. To address the complex situation in the national electricity system due to the electricity deficit and difficulties in securing supply in Ecuador, China has participated in eight hydroelectric projects between 2007 and 2017. After the construction of the hydroelectric projects, the national energy matrix has been changed. From 2005 to 2019, the ratio of hydroelectric in the national energy system changed from 56% to 88%. Then, what have the national changes brought to local populations’ daily life? On the positive side, these infrastructure projects created more than 20,000 jobs, including the boost of the economy. On the other side, labor conflicts and declining agricultural activities followed.

Then, Niu Haibin (Shanghai Institutes for International Studies) introduced the case of cooperation between China and Brazil. Based on China’s experience of developing infrastructure, the dominance from the central government to localization, capacity building -technology, social and ecological concerns, and aid in construction might be the feasible approach. Combining with the local situation in Brazil, China mainly designed five approaches in building Brazil’s infrastructure. More specifically, there are mainly five approaches China utilized in Brazil: 1) buying/acquisition, 2) loans, 3) greenfield investment, 4) service, 5) multilateral, federal, and state-level policy dialogues. Finally, the presenter also talked about the impacts of China’s infrastructure projects from the following aspects: environmental and social impacts, impact on Brazilian views of China, counter-economic crisis effects, a balanced domestic economy, and connection with Asia.

So far, we have had a general understanding of cooperation and its effects on peoples’ life between China and Latin America & the Caribbean. Moving forward, with continued cooperation and immigration, there will be more and more relevant research to give us more detailed information on why we need this kind of cooperation between countries, how we maintain the cooperation, what can we learn from past connections, and how to maximize its positive effects.

What’s Going on in Thailand?

By Ben Saint-Onge, Global Asia Intern

The past few months have seen huge pro-democracy protests rock Thailand, an unprecedented occurrence in a nation that until recently had been characterized by strict loyalty to the royal family. Protesters are demanding several measures to weaken the central government, which has been criticized for wielding power in an increasingly authoritarian way. How did these protests begin? What is their aim, and how has the government responded?

            Back in February, the Thai government banned the Future Forward Party, one of several prominent opposition parties critical of prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s policies. This touched off the first wave of protests. Student activists briefly demonstrated across university campuses before dissipating as shutdown measures came into effect to slow the spread of COVID-19. Demonstrations re-ignited in July and have since swelled to include tens of thousands of people.

            Though loosely organized and lacking overarching leadership, activists are united in three demands. First, they wish to see a revamping of the Thai constitution to make it more democratic. Second, they wish to limit the authority of the Thai monarchy, which was granted new powers in 2017 after King Maha Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne. Third, they are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth himself. Such bold demands are unprecedented in a country where criticism of the royal family carries a penalty of 15 years in prison. 

            Before mid-October, the government response had been relatively light. On October 14, however, a group of protestors harassed Queen Suthida’s motorcade as it made its way through Bangkok. Following that, Prayuth swiftly enacted a ban on gatherings larger than five people and ordered a crackdown on protesters. So far this has not deterred activists, who continue to turn out in the tens of thousands across the country. Taken together, the demonstrations constitute the greatest challenge to Thailand’s government since the coup that brough Prayuth to power in 2014.

Pitt to You: Reflection and COVID-19 Response/Modification

By Yixuan Zang, Chinese Social Media

The Pitt to You program helps international students adapt to the new University life. In previous years, the program has organized three-day trips to Beijing and Shanghai in China. However due to COVID-19, the program instead organized online workshops with offline activities. Students were able to register online and meet and communicate directly with the student ambassadors. Program information was provided by Dr. James A. Cook (Associate Director, Asian Studies Center) and the Pitt to You website. If interested in more information, please check the Pitt to You website: http://www.pitt2you.pitt.edu/

I was very happy to interview with Anthony Gavazzi and Lynnea Lombardi who were the student ambassadors in previous years. Lynnea shared “Pitt to You is how I first met Kyoungah Lee, who now supervises me in my role as the graduate intern for Global Ties. She has become my greatest professional mentor and my role model as an international student affairs professional. I am thankful for the connections I was able to make with her and with all the incredible Pitt to You staff members during the program. I remember at the end of the trip having a long conversation with Richard Sherman and Jonathan Richards (who have both since moved on to other institutions) about my interest in international higher education and their advice shaped my career path. Pitt to You helped me develop a professional direction and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”

Here’s the interview with our student ambassadors from previous year. 

  • Why did you choose to be a Pitt to You ambassador?

Lynnea: In college I really enjoyed making friends with international students. Pitt to You sounded like a great opportunity to meet more international students and learn about their lives in their own home country.

            Anthony: I had always dreamed about going to China, and I really enjoyed mentoring          

            students as an RA, so I felt like I had no choice but to apply to Pitt to You.

  • What do you remember most about your trip in China? Was it the sites? Food? People?

Lynnea: Of course, I will always remember my mentees and the relationships we built. As for other highlights, I grew up in a small town and Pittsburgh is not a major world city, so when I saw the Shanghai skyline at night it was surreal. I felt like I was in a movie. I also remember riding over the Great Wall of China on a chairlift with one of my mentees and feeling captivated by the view of the mountains.

Anthony: I think the most breathtaking moment was looking at the Shanghai skyline from the Bund, but hiking the Great Wall of China is another memory I will never forget! My mentees were super friendly and welcoming, and I’m still in touch with them today. I tried a lot of interesting foods, including pig intestine, and it was all delicious! 

  • What was the challenge that you had in your trip in China? 

Lynnea: ​It was challenging for me to start our work almost immediately after landing in China. My body doesn’t adjust to time differences very well and I felt a little sick the first day or two. But the team was very supportive, and we were having so much fun and learning so much that it didn’t even matter!

Anthony: I did not really experience any challenges in China. Before my trip, people told me I may have a bad reaction to all the new foods, but I somehow managed going the entire trip without a stomach ache! Unfortunately, not all of the other mentors could say the same. 

  • What was the best part about working with the international students from China? And what was the hardest part? 

Lynnea: Connecting with people from other cultures is truly one of my greatest joys in life. I liked being in China because it made me vulnerable. I didn’t know anything so I relied on my mentees for help ordering food and getting around. When my mentees came to Pittsburgh, I was able to reciprocate by helping them with food suggestions and getting around the city. That reciprocal piece is so important; it’s a mutual relationship rather than a didactic one.  

I remember when one of my mentees first arrived on campus in the fall. She was beaming with excitement and telling me about all the things she was going to do at Pitt. I was so happy for her that she was excited about her new journey. That was a really rewarding moment for me. That’s what is so amazing about Pitt to You program: its not just the 2-week trip to China, but supporting the students’ growth over time from June to the fall semester.

The hardest part is that sometimes everyone feels shy meeting each other and it can be challenging to push through that at first. Once you work through that, you can have a highly rewarding relationship.

Anthony: The best part about working with the Chinese students was sharing laughs with them while singing karaoke or telling jokes around the hot pot table. I really found that we are all more similar than we are different, regardless of where we come from. The hardest part was probably getting to know the more introverted students at first, but we were all close friends by the end of the trip. 

  • Did working with Chinese students change your view of the world?

Lynnea: Yes! It was very important for me to see things from their perspective, quite literally by being in their home country. I was so intrigued by what I learned that I decided to pursue a career in international higher education. I work with many Chinese students in my internship now and having that Pitt to You experience has helped me understand their perspective.

Anthony: Yes. As Americans, I think we easily misunderstand China as a country that is very much isolated from the rest of the world. This is certainly not the case. After meeting these students, I have found that they share a lot of the same pop culture interests as American students and are very knowledgeable about world affairs and current events. I think there is also a stereotype that because the education system in China is so rigorous, Chinese students tend to have a more serious attitude, but we met some of the most funny, laidback people I’ve ever met on this trip. Like I said in my previous response, we are all more alike than we are different.  

  • Since Pitt to You program goes totally online this semester, do you have any recommendations for current ambassadors that could help to overcome difficulties? 

Lynnea: I love this question because I am actually beginning a project right now to understand how to maximize the experience of virtual peer mentorship. ​I think you have to eliminate the word “awkward” from your vocabulary and embrace the experience. Keep in mind your “why” (make connections between domestic and international students, create a more global Pitt community, help new Pitt students have a great experience) and let that guide you. I admire the 2020 Pitt to You team for making the best of a tough situation.

Anthony: I would recommend virtual, “face-to-face” contact whenever possible. If you’re finding it is hard to get a conversation started between your mentees, play some kind of virtual game-it will be fun and get people talking to each other. 

Club Profile: Pitt Taiwanese Student Association

By Erica Kuo, Global Ambassador

Pitt Taiwanese Student Association, also known as TSA, is a new organization that was created last year. TSA was founded to “promote Taiwanese culture, provide a platform for those interested in learning the social, economic, educational, cultural, and political developments in Taiwan and promote unity within the Asian and Asian American community.” The past year included food workshops and movie nights. This year we are planning to continue with these events but have also added some new initiatives.

1) Pen Pal Program

Several years ago, I had the chance to work with rural Taiwanese elementary students in Taiwan as a volunteer English teacher and found the experience enriching and worthwhile. From the conversations I had with these students, one reoccurring concern was that they did not like learning English because they did not find the relevance of learning a foreign language that was so detached from their everyday lives. After joining TSA, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reconnect with this population by building a partnership with them through this Pen Pal Program. Therefore, this program was established to connect students here with the local Taiwanese population in more rural/disadvantages areas of Taiwan through monthly letters written in English as a form of cultural exchange and also an opportunity for the Taiwanese students to utilize English outside of the classroom in hopes of making this language more applicable to their lives.

The pen pal program successfully started this fall semester. After managing to find a group of dedicated Taiwanese elementary English teachers primarily located in Chiayi County, Taiwan, we are now in our second round of letters with participation from 5 schools, 40 US students (from both CMU and Pitt), and 60 Taiwanese students.

2) Educational Workshops

The relevance of Taiwan has been brought to the forefront in recent months because of COVID-19. From a country that has and still is mixed up with Thailand, TSA is hoping to be able to allow those interested in Taiwanese culture to learn more about this beautiful island nation (aside from just bubble tea and night markets). Our first workshop will be held on October 28th on the History of Taiwan from the 1600s to 2000 including an emphasis on Dutch colonization in the 1600s, Japanese occupation from 1895-1945, and post WWII Taiwan under the KMT. Following this event, our next workshop will be a Taiwanese language workshop early in the upcoming spring semester and we will be collaborating with some native Taiwanese speakers who will be teaching some frequently used Taiwanese phrases in society.

Tips and Tricks for Being a Responsible and Respectful Tourist in Southeast Asia

By Ben Saint-Onge, Global Asia Intern

Let’s face it: we’ve all been itching to get out of the house (or apartment) and post up on a beach somewhere. We’re still a ways off from our return to crowded airport terminals and worry-free travel, but there’s no better time to begin thinking about ways to lessen your footprint when you do finally get the chance to take that getaway you’ve been craving.

Southeast Asia has long been a prime destination for tourists looking to experience the region’s famously relaxed lifestyle. In 2019, 113 million vacationers visited Southeast Asian countries. By 2022, that number is expected to climb to 129 million (though it’s unclear how this forecast will be affected by COVID-19). There’s a lot to do, more to see, and plenty of delicious food to sample—all at a fraction of what you’d pay back home. Yet the freedoms available to Western tourists in Southeast Asia lead some to behave irresponsibly, treating their culturally vibrant host countries like giant amusement parks. If you’re planning a Southeast Asian vacation of your own, it’s a good idea to read up on some of the most effective ways to make sure your trip doesn’t cause unnecessary harm.

The volunteering website Grassroots Volunteering has an excellent blog post about things to keep in mind when you’re visiting Southeast Asia—from animal tourism to responsible spending. For those interested in what sustainable tourism looks like from the point of view of Southeast Asian countries, Reporting ASEAN also has a great article on the subject.

Southeast Asia has many amazing experiences to offer—just remember to keep your hosts in mind when you visit!

Pitt in Shanghai: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got to Shanghai

By Paris Yamamoto, Communications and Media Intern

During my pre-departure orientation, I was told many things, but there are some things that only study abroad students can experience. So here are my 5 things: 

  1. Keep your head on a swivel when you walk on the sidewalks. As comfortable and as safe as it is to walk around Shanghai, I never walked around with headphones because my first and most vivid memory of my study abroad experience in Shanghai is stepping off of the elevated walkway and almost getting run over by a moped. When I got there, the program directors told us that the most dangerous thing we should do while you are there is cross the street, and they were correct. 
  2. Talk to the program directors. The program directors spend a lot of time in Shanghai and they know a lot about the city. They have favorite malls, favorite coffee/tea shops, favorite parks, and insights into the city from the perspective of someone who was also once foreign to the area. The program directors are also there to help you make the most of your time abroad and they understand that it is sometimes difficult to adapt to the new environment. 
  3. Network with the people who are not from Pitt. Pitt in Shanghai is the Pitt specific program, but the program is combined with other schools through the private study abroad organization CET Academic Programs. There were students from the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina, Johns Hopkins University, James Madison University, and many more. It is very easy to get stuck in the Pitt bubble, but I can say with 100% certainty that meeting people from all of the other universities was a huge part of my study abroad experience. 
  4. WeChat is your best friend. Program directors told us that we would need WeChat for the program, but I did not realize that WeChat would be the only way I would be communicating with anyone for the next two months. Unfortunately, that also meant I did not talk to my family for essentially the entire summer. If you want to have steady communication with anyone in the US during your time in China, get them to download WeChat. WeChat is also Instagram, Facebook, Venmo, and Uber all in one convenient little app. 
  5. Credit/debit cards are essentially useless in China. Unless the store is an international chain, you will generally not be able to use your American credit/debit card. In China, everyone connects their Chinese bank account to either their WeChat or their Alipay. You probably will not make a Chinese bank account just to study abroad, so the best course of action would probably be to get an international credit/debit card so you can withdraw money from official ATMs without a ridiculous withdraw fee. Note: only withdraw money from the official bank ATMs because it is not uncommon for unofficial ATMs to have unofficial/unusable bills.

Exploring Study Abroad Opportunities in Asia

by Erica Kuo, Global Ambassador Intern

While COVID-19 has made studying abroad impossible for this semester, exploring different study abroad opportunities early on is a great way to find the most suitable study abroad program to fit your needs.  What better time to do it than now! You might just have begun the Asian Studies Certificate or have almost completed the requirements but regardless, it is never too early to start planning.  

Studying abroad in another country might seem daunting but from a fellow study abroad alumni myself, the experience is 100% worth it. Because of Pitt’s unique end date for the spring semester, if studying abroad for a semester cannot fit in your schedule consider a Maymester. There are tons of programs offered at Pitt but to name a few offered in Asia there is Pitt in the Himalayas, Pitt in the Pacific, and Pitt’s Healthcare Delivery in Beijing.

Ever since COVID-19 hit the US in early March, I reminisced on my past study abroad program: Pitt’s Healthcare Delivery in Beijing, and realized how impactful it has been from then till now. It has shaped my perspective of Chinese society, allowed me to understand the structural framework of China’s healthcare system, and has provided me the opportunity to interact with multiple professionals while immersed in an unfamiliar environment. I experienced the unimaginable. I walked alongside the wild parts of the Great Wall of China while learning about local medicinal herbs found in the natural environment, interacted with doctors practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine in public hospital settings but also specialized clinics, conversed with local Taxi drivers from topics such as air pollution to even English proficiency within society that fluctuate based on the initiatives set forth by the government (such as the Beijing Olympics), and even engaged with the local student population on campus and learned about their difficulties in college and their program of study. I came into the program without knowing what to expect except for the basics but after the month-long stay, I realized how fulfilling of an experience studying abroad truly is. If any of these experiences sound fascinating or something you would want to have as a part of your college experience, then study abroad is for you!

For those interested in study abroad but want to know more than what is provided by the program description found at Pitt’s Study Abroad website, I made a short 9 minute video a couple months ago when COVID-19 hit on my personal experience studying abroad in Beijing, China that includes the historical sites visited, classroom content, free time outside of the classroom, and visits to different hospitals (NOTE: first time making a video with no intention of making one to begin with so I had to work with what I managed to scrap up from 2 years ago, hence the quality of some of the media): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C5Jg_9bQu0

Interviews with Pitt faculty and Chinese international students: How do you feel about online classes in this fall semester?

by Yixuan Zang, Chinese Social Media Intern 

Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are suffering. In this unusual situation, it is important to know how our Pitt faculty and students feel and to also see how they have adjusted. I was fortunate enough to be able interview with Pitt faculty and some international students to discuss their remote working and studying life and to also provide them an opportunity to share their opinions about online classes.

First of all, we got some thoughts on teaching online from Pitt faculty: 

Bliss Hou (Chinese Language Instructor): Compared with traditional face-to-face instruction, remote language courses limit the interaction between teachers and students, and the overall difficulty for beginners has increased. In addition, the uncontrollable factors of the Internet and technology occasionally cause interruptions or delays during the class. However, it is worthwhile to be happy that my lovely students and I are reaching a tacit understanding, and we will have more patience for each other.

James (History Professor): I much prefer face-to-face classes because it builds a true humane spirit between students and professor. For professors, converting a class to online instruction is very challenging. Also, we cannot have large group discussions. Nonetheless I think the University has done a good job in the design and function of the Flex@Pitt platform. It protects the entire Pitt community. 

Then, let’s take a look at some Chinese international students’ feelings and thoughts on the fall online courses this semester:

Liang (undergraduate student): I am in the U.S. right now. The online courses make me feel very fulfilled. I spend more time asking questions and making conversations in professor’s office hours. However, I need more time to study after classes. In this situation, I feel more stressful to study than before. Besides, the study time becomes tenser, causing me to lose part of my entertainment time. 

Ge (undergraduate student): Although the efficiency of class discussion, the choice of class activities, and the form of homework have been affected, online courses are currently the most stable and reliable way to ensure the health and education of our students. This new teaching method is absolutely necessary to continue under the current epidemic situation.

Zang (graduate student): Compared with the online courses, I prefer the in-person class more. I feel we have less communication and talk with each other less than before. Besides, the internet problem also affects the learning quality. However, in order to fix this problem, we add more group meeting via zoom to improve the learning after class. 

Li (graduate student): I feel the online course are a better fit for me. First of all, I feel safer and more comfortable to study at my home. Secondly, I can watch the recorded video of classes whenever I have any questions about the courses. I feel there’s no difference between the in-person and online courses because of the function of “sharing screen” and “group discussion separation”. Besides, the discussion board could provide more opportunities for me to communicate and share ideas with other students.