Zijingang Campus of Zhejiang University. Photo courtesy of Marian Slocum.
Since 2013, six students from the Tri-Colleges of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore have earned master's degrees in China Studies through a partnership between the Tri-Co and Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. Open to any interested Tri-Co student, the program can accept as many as 15 students each year with a full scholarship that includes the costs of instruction, and on-campus housing and dining.
Marian Slocum ’15 is among the most recent graduates of the program.
What got you interested in the program?
I was a political science major and during my senior year became very interested in Chinese politics and U.S./China relations. I also was interested in continuing my education and/or traveling abroad and this program fit both those criteria. I applied to the MCS program the spring of my senior year to start the next fall so I jumped right in after BMC.
What are some highlights from your time in the program?
As part of the program, I found an internship in Shanghai with a consulting company. Shanghai is about an hour train ride from the campus and I went there for two to three days each week to work. I stayed in a hostel in the center of Shanghai for one or two nights each week and the MCS program reimbursed me for most of the travel expenses because the internship was a requirement for the program. Shanghai is a very vibrant and international city and living there was quite the adventure even if it was just for a few days each week.
Other highlights included a trip to one of the professor’s home town. It was a small city that was changing its main industrial production focus to more environmentally friendly endeavors after suffering firsthand some of the consequences of industrial pollution. We also took a weekend trip to the city of Yiwu, which is an incredible place where they sell in bulk everything you could buy at the dollar store. The Chinese government designated Yiwu as the city they would develop specifically for trade of these "small commodities." It’s just a mind-blowing city that is composed of these gigantic buildings filled with small stalls where people all over the world go to buy plastic things–everything from magnets, to beads, to small toys, to decorations of all sorts.
The program took us to a handful of Chinese tourist spots and gave us guided tours. One cool place we went to that I wouldn't have gone to on my own was Tiantai Mountain, which is home to one of the oldest Daoist temples in China and still has an operational Daoist monastery.
What was day-to-day life like on campus?
When I began the program, all of the international students were placed in two dorms together on the Zijingang campus. The dorm was nice, especially the first year, because there were so many people from the MCS program living there together. The second year I was there, the program moved to the Haining campus but our housing remained on the original campus so many of the two-year students in my class moved off campus. The dorm was mostly filled with students from other Asian countries and African countries. It gave me the chance to meet people from all over the world, which was probably my favorite part of living on campus.
The cafeteria was an immense compound, with four separate dining halls all in one building. Mealtime was a big culture shock. The cafeterias only have about two-hour windows for each meal; if you wanted to eat there you really had to plan carefully and the craziest part was that it meant that all 10,000 students on campus were eating at about the same time. Going from the lines at Haffner and Erdman to the lines at these dining halls during the afternoon rush was just wild. But like most things in China, it may seem like a chaotic mess but there is a loose order and somehow it all works out. The food was good. You tell the server how many scoops of rice you want and then pick two or three other dishes available in the line you picked. Usually some variation of stir fried vegetables and meat, vegetables and eggs, or steamed vegetable medley. There were international food options but they were hit or miss. It was also easy to eat outside of campus cheaply. So usually for dinner I would eat out with friends close by.
Classes were always interesting, especially when we had open class discussions because there were so many different perspectives voiced in class. Each day you heard viewpoints of students from all over the world with varied backgrounds. I always felt like I was being exposed to new ideas and angles from which to examine major historical trends and events. I especially enjoyed our Chinese history class about China’s development in the 20th century because it was so different from how the U.S. developed in the same time period and, as an American student, I had not really had the opportunity to learn about China’s extraordinary development from the Chinese perspective.
You didn’t speak any Mandarin before you went. Was that a challenge?
That is probably my biggest regret, not taking Mandarin language classes beforehand. Although many people may have studied a bit of English at Zhejiang University, most people in Hangzhou don't know much more than "hello." So I was really in over my head and unable to live independently for most of the first year and relied heavily on classmates and the office staff for help and guidance.
Would you recommend the program?
I would recommend the program to people who have studied the language before and want to get a different kind of learning experience. The MCS program was an incredible learning experience in and out of the classroom. My time with the MCS program was probably the most personally challenging experience I've had so far in my life. I have learned so much about the world and myself and it has truly been an invaluable growth opportunity that I am very grateful for.
What’s next for you?
I am not sure what my next steps are. I just recently returned home and will be applying to law schools in the fall.
Anyone interested in the Master of Chinese Studies program should contact Associate Professor Yonglin Jiang for further information.