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Travel course takes trio on educational journey across China

The travel course trio of (from left) Wilson Yates, Yanjun Yan and Timothy Israel visit a company in Shanghai.

Yanjun Yan, assistant professor in Western Carolina University’s School of Engineering and Technology, led two WCU students on an educational journey across China over a two-week period in May.

Their trip was the first faculty-led travel course offered by the school and WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology. Student participants were Wilson Yates from the Engineering-Mechanical Program and Timothy Israel from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology Program.

The trio’s destinations were sites of cultural, educational and engineering interest in Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai and Suzhou. Along the way, the students had an opportunity to feast on an extensive variety of Chinese food such as Peking duck, hot pot, dumplings, squirrel fish, XinJiang-style skewers and a westernized Peking duck pizza, Yan said.

Their academic destinations included the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and East China University of Science and Technology. While there, they were able to discuss programs and research with their international counterparts. “The highlight of the visits was an exoskeleton project to assist the disabled at the UESTC robotics center,” Yan said.

Wilson Yates enjoys the nighttime view of the Bund, a waterfront area in Shanghai.

A few Chinese companies hosted the group, including DaTang Thermal Power Research Institute, North China Electric Power Research Institute, TATA Wooden Doors, SONGZ, Envision Energy, General Motors in Shanghai, and Huawei. The stops at TATA, SONGZ and GM included massive factories with testing facilities. The students gained first-hand experiences with automation, the influence of company cultures, advanced manufacturing, international research and development, and marketing strategies, Yan said.

Outside the formal visits, the team explored the rich history of China. They climbed the Great Wall along the steep mountain ridges, toured the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) and explored the Jing’An Temple, the Humble Administrator’s Garden and Tiger Hill. They also visited the National Museum in Beijing and the SanXingDui Museum in Chengdu, where they saw many artifacts that told stories dated back to the beginning of human civilization. And, for history still in use, they visited the DuJiangYan irrigation system built in 256 B.C. and still in use today.

Timothy Israel takes in the scenery at the Great Wall of China.

The social treats included night views of the Bund in Shanghai, walking on the millennia-old stone streets and bridges in Suzhou, and the art museum in Shanghai. The craftsmanship included calligraphy and “sugar people,” which is made using melted sugar either painted as a 2-D image or blown in a 3-D object as if to make a balloon shape. “Suitcases were much heavier after the trip,” Yan said.

Both students said they were pleased by what they learned on the trip. “This travel course has given me a new insight into China and its unique rich culture, as well as fascinating history,” Yates said. Israel add that “China is a one-of-a-kind experience that will allow you to immerse yourself in a different way of life than your own.”

Yan said the first faculty-led travel course in the college was “very successful, and yet it has been a long way getting here.” She said there is an ongoing effort to organize a travel course to Japan in 2019. Although it should be of particular interest to engineering students, the course, “ENGR 365,” is available to all WCU students as part of the Liberal Studies Program, in the category of “P6,” she said.

“This trip to China was supported by many inside and outside the university, including WCU’s Office of International Programs and Services,” she said. More information about the China trip and future travel courses is available at this website.

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