SHU students explore Chinese culture and language

BEIJING – Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world. Seton Hill University (SHU) has a very special relationship with Beijing Union University (BUU).
Eight students from SHU traveled to Beijing during M-term to study Mandarin and the city of Beijing.

“Visiting Beijing, China was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” said senior Maria Gallina.

Professor of history, Dr. John Spurlock traveled with the group. This was Spurlock’s second trip to BUU.

Students took a three-week course in Intensive Chinese, SCN 115, taught by a native Chinese speaker.

Another course that was part of the trip was City Study Experience, SHU325. Students studied different elements and topics of the city and composed an experiential finding composition. Students composed a final paper on a topic of their choice based on personal and academic sources.

Chinese classes were supplemented by cultural courses such as gōngfu (Kung Fu), Chinese calligraphy, Chinese painting, knots and paper cutting.

Classes were taken on BUU’s campus. Students had the opportunity to integrate themselves with the student body by attending campus activities.
Beijing Union University also gave all SHU students BUU student identification cards.

Romanized characters are very different from Chinese characters and SHU student IDs were not very clear to attendants.

“It was very helpful to have school IDs from BUU, we were able to easily get discounted tickets and entrance fees,” said junior Kellen Homer. “Getting a school ID really validated the experience and made me feel like part of the university.”

Excursions throughout Beijing took place during the week and on the weekends.
Excursions included Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Summer Palace and Bei Hei Park.

Beijing is not only the capital of China, as it has long been known as the middle, the heart of China.

“Beijing is the capital of one of the most dynamic countries in the world, and at the same time it has been the capital city of five Chinese dynasties stretching back to the Roman era,” said Spurlock. “Everywhere you go in Beijing, something is happening that will shape the world we live in. But, you also quickly find monuments from past centuries.”

Places like Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and Beihai Park are all located in the middle of the city.

“The Forbidden City was enormous and Bei Hai Park, which is right next to the Forbidden City, had a lake. It was crazy to think that it was all in the middle of Beijing,” said Gallina.


Beijing is the capital of one of the most dynamic countries in the world. It has been the capital city of five Chinese dynasties stretching back to the Roman era. Everywhere you go in Beijing, something is happening that will shape the world we live in. But, you also quickly find monuments from past centuries.

“Walking through the streets of Beijing felt safer than walking through New York City, Greensburg, and any other place I’ve visited,” said Gallina.

Beijing is a fairly safe place to visit. Travel guides all state that the city itself is not threatening.

“The people were so friendly and helpful, there was very little threat,” said Gallina.

Although one should refrain from trusting strangers, especially in a foreign country, China seems to offer a bit of exclusion. The atmosphere is very vibrant and with so many people around there is little opportunity for crime to go unnoticed.

Pickpocketing is common, as is theft. The two crimes,however, are crimes of opportunity and are preventable.

Beijing Union University is located on the fourth ring road in the city of Beijing. Beijing has four rectangular roads circling the city.
Bus and subway stops close to campus made visiting any part of the city very easy.

“I thought the subway system was extremely efficient. Even during the crowded peak hours, there was a system in getting on and off the train,” said Berg.

The subway system in Beijing is one of the best in the world. It is also very cheap. A ride to anywhere in the city is less than one U.S. dollar. All signs in the subway were in both Chinese characters and pinyin, Romanized Chinese.

“I was initially nervous about using it but the transfers are really easy even though they’re in another language.” said Berg, “They use scan cards that work for the subway, bus and the taxi cabs. I hope the US will eventually head in that direction!

Beijing Transportation Smart Cards cards are free, reloadable cards that can be used on nearly all forms of transportation. Even in taxis. The cards also work in some supermarkets, expressways and coach buses. The card just needs to be placed near a sensor to be read. The card gives users a 60% discount on subway and bus rides.

“The students found ways to pursue their special interests using resources available to them, new friends, helpful colleagues at BUU and public transportation,” said Spurlock.

Student ambassadors from BUU quickly bonded with SHU students and took them around a day after arriving at Olympic Park. The ambassadors helped SHU students with the subway and the local bus routes.

Students from SHU quickly made friends from all over BUU. As English speakers, SHU students were a hit at a weekly meet up called English corner. English corner is a meet up of English speakers and Chinese students studying or hoping to practice their Chinese with other English speakers or Chinese.

Some students from SHU hope to continue their study of the Chinese language.

Beijing Union University was very accommodating to the group from SHU.

“We continue to try to build programs that will benefit both universities,” said Spurlock. “As part of the exchange, a BUU student, Gao Yue, will attend SHU in the fall, and we hope for other students in coming years.”

In just three weeks it seemed as though the students from SHU made a very positive impact with BUU students and BUU itself.

The group from SHU worked very well together and made the most of the trip. The group visited dozens of locations around the city and made the most of each day. The students seemed to make friends wherever they went.

I will remember the instant camaraderie felt between all course mates the most,” said Homer. “It is full of amazing experiences and memories.”

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