Chinese students share learning abroad in Lincoln during a global pandemic
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[May 24, 2020]  LINCOLN - Being away from home is not easy for anyone, so going far away to a completely different culture that speaks a different language is monumental. Now imagine being in a foreign country and facing the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

That is the situation some of the international students at found themselves in at Lincoln College.

Through an exchange program with a Shenyang Jianzhu University in China, eight students: Peter Haoze Liu, Belle Shanshan Wang, Michele Chang Chang, Katrina Ruoxuan Wu, Sheila Xinjie Zhi, Joyce Zihe Zhang, Carol Xilang Zhang and Jason Ziwen Liu, chose to study at the college this year. They came from various cities and provinces, but all had been students at Shenyang Jianzhu University.

On this end, the first year program was spearheaded by Dr. Jonathan Pierce, Division Chair of the MacKinnon School of Business at Lincoln College. The College hopes to establish a long-term exchange relationship with Shenyang Jianzhu University in China.

In an ordinary year, we might wonder how the students liked being in Lincoln and what they thought of their United States education. But this year’s mid-second-term campus shutdown, social isolation and travel restrictions certainly has been a game changer. How did they feel about it? What have they been doing?

We asked lots of questions and the students graciously shared the highlights of their year here and how they are now coping with an unanticipated extended stay. Most of the student answers were similar and could be summarized as a group response, but we’ve included their unique answers as well.

To start, why did each decide to come to Lincoln College?

In commonality, each one felt they would benefit from learning about cultural differences and see whether they could get used to a different environment.

Not surprisingly, some of the students are English majors who felt studying in America would improve their English skills. Others were curious about American education.

Moving into the present circumstance, they were asked how the shelter-in-place has affected them, how it has changed student life, and what has been difficult.

For the most part, all said they have felt safe due to the protective measures offered by the college.

Though one student noted having to stay around the school can be boring, the college has strived to find ways to keep that from happening. As part of the measures, LC President David Gerlach lent them some DVD’s. Professors Ron Keller and Eric Grunder invited them to visit during break. Mary Pierce, wife of Lincoln College Professor Jonathan Pierce, even brought them Asian food from the Asian Market.

To help ensure their well-being, LC nurse Diane Stephenson checks the students’ temperatures daily. The school chef has prepared food every day and asked their needs and wants.

Belle Shanshan Wang said, “The pandemic makes people feel bad, but we are so lucky that we still can be well taken care [of] no matter how far [we are] from home.”

Fortunately, modern technology has made it so the students have talked often to those back home through video calls. These video calls provide their families with comfort and reassurance when they see the college caring for their kids. And, the students said that talking to their family helped them to cope more effectively and feel better.

Being so far away from home, and having family in China, had special challenges as their homeland was the first to go through Covid-19 and little was known about it. Several students initially felt worried, anxious or scared. Katrina Ruoxuan Wu, whose father is a doctor, said she did not feel panicked though.

Student Michelle Chang Chang remembers when China experienced SARS during 2002 and 2003 and recalls that by following the government’s instructions, eventually necessities were restored. Belle Shanshan Wang said that following the government’s instructions to wear masks and stay home has made her family feel less scared.

With so few students being on campus, their lives have definitely changed. Peter Hoaze Liu sleeps in later without early classes. Others said that they missed being face-to-face with the professor and classmates and sharing knowledge. In general, the students found the material harder to absorb online. And, Katrina Ruoxuan Wu, a theater major, misses being able to do theater work in Johnston Center.

Since these students are among the very few left on campus, they miss interactions and discussions with classmates. They missed eating together in the cafeteria with its happy and noisy atmosphere. One student commented on the frustration of not being able to shop in normal ways.

Several students cited how travel limitations hurt them. Some would be going home this month, but they are “stranded.” They are unable to even book their tickets.

To keep thoughts positive and upbeat, the students watch television, funny movies or Netflix and listen to music. The support of friends and faculty also helps. Professor Peiwen Xu, visiting professor from China’s Shenyang Jianzhu University, checks on the students every day.  

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For fun and recreation, some, like Peter Hoaze Liu and Sheila Xinjie Zhi, enjoyed playing mobile games, spending time and chatting with the others on campus. Others, like Carol Xilang Zhang, enjoyed watching movies. Jason Ziwen Lu was thankful that Professor Denise Lagrassa had provided a keyboard to play music.

The students try to get some exercise by walking or dancing. Katrina Ruoxuan Wu said she enjoys chasing the bunnies and squirrels on campus for exercise.

These students observe that the best part of their education in Lincoln has been various special experiences they have had. Peter Haoze Liu said they enjoyed the history teacher [Ron Keller] doing role plays. Katrina Ruoxuan Wu enjoyed working with the theater team.

The Chinese students began their year hosting a mid-autumn Chinese Festival that taught other students and the community about their culture. This magical presentation was open to the community and tremendously enjoyed by all who saw the performance. It was received as a beautiful gift bonding us to them.

If they were able to do more while they were here in the United States, most of the students said that they would have enjoyed travelling around the states and visiting places like Yellowstone National Park. Joyce Zihe Zhang had always dreamed of visiting Los Angeles and had planned a trip there while in the United States. She was sad that she had to cancel it.

So what were their favorite American foods? All the traditional foods - like omelets, chicken nuggets, burgers, waffles, pancakes and cheesecake. Their favorite Chinese foods are hotpot, skewers, noodles and BBQ Malaking.

Though the students hope to go home in June, a few said they would return to America if there was another chance.

Going home to China stirs strong emotions and expectations. When the students get home, they look forward to going to a restaurant to eat kebabs and other Chinese food like BBQ, hotpot and seafood. And as would be expected, but even more so under the current world concerns, many are anxious to simply hug their parents and family.

Even with the Covid-19 Pandemic and all the changes, they say they will remember their time here fondly.

Jason Ziwen Liu said everything will have a place in his heart. Others appreciated the helpful faculty, interesting classes, classmates, friends, beautiful environment and working with the lightboard in the theater. Michelle Chang Chang had fun celebrating her twentieth birthday here.

In the distant future, Peter Haoze Liu, Belle Shanshan Wang, Michele Chang Chang, Katrina Ruoxuan Wu, Sheila Xinjie Zhi, Joyce Zihe Zhang, Carol Xilang Zhang and Jason Ziwen Liu will have not only have many stories to tell their children, nieces and nephews, but it will be as an experience like no past generation has told about what happened when they studied abroad.

Belle Shanshan Wang, Michelle Chang Chang, Sheila Xinjie Zhi and Carol Xilang Zhang said they will tell others how Lincoln College had a calm demeanor, got problems fixed, and delivered food.
Peter Hoaze Liu and Jason Ziwen Liu will share how the college was loving and caring, protecting them when they were stuck in America.

Belle Shanshan Wang will remember this time has been difficult, but happy and unforgettable, and the people here are sweet and good. The circumstances have made at least one student, Sheila Xinjie Zhi, feel stronger, more independent and courageous.

Sheila Xinjie Zhi will also tell her future family about the charm of America with the bustling streets of New York and the literary atmosphere of Boston.
A few will share wisdom they have learned from this experience:

For example, Joyce Zihe Zhang will tell people, “The secret of happy life is not the location you lived, but the life style you choose.”

Michelle Chang Chang will tell people, “don’t wait to find and achieve dreams.”

Finally, Peter Haoze Liu learned, “In front of uncontrollable things, you can only control yourself.”

During these uncertain times, the exchange students seemed to have taken the proverbial lemons and made them into lemonade. Nobody cherishes the pandemic, but these displaced and inconvenienced students demonstrate their appreciation for Lincoln College’s example of the best of American hospitality, and Lincoln has benefited having had them here at this time

[Angela Reiners]

Lincoln College - Full moon rises on delightful Chinese Autumnal celebration

Students offer insight into their homeland traditions - Album

Evening ends with an amazing full moon outside for departing guests - Album


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