Westfield State students examine economic, cultural impact of China
Westfield State students visit the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Left to right: Bridget Matthews-Kane, Jennifer Green, Carole Duquette, Christina Cardillo, Brianna D'Amato, Hillary Sackett, Bryan Nay, Jillian Bates, Taylor Somerville, Kate Burgoyne, Tanner Connors, Michelle Lynch, Zach Spicer, John Yourous, Callie Tambling
Thirteen Westfield State University students travelled to Beijing and Shanghai China for two weeks this summer as part of the short-term study abroad course “International Economics: China Rising.” The course was led by Dr. Hillary Sackett, assistant professor of economics, and assisted by Professor Bridget Matthews-Kane of the English department. Sackett said she chose China as the focus of the course due to its economic ties with the United States.
“China has undergone an unprecedented level of economic transformation and growth in the past couple of decades,” Sackett said. “China is now the second largest economy in the world and an important partner to the United States. Students studying economics and business need to be familiar with the role that China plays in the global economy.”
While in China, the students visited businesses and heard from internationally-renowned guest speakers. Students also visited culturally and historically significant sites including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Olympic venues, and the Great Wall in Beijing. They also went on a canal cruise through the water town of Suzhou.
One of Sackett’s goals for the course was for students to witness the economic, environmental, and social consequences of international globalization in the country, the most prevalent of which were environmental degradation.
“Air pollution in Beijing is quite bad,” Sackett said. “On several occasions the Air Quality Index rose above 200 (which is hazardous to our health) and we had to wear protective masks. The students also witnessed extreme water pollution looking out the window during our train ride from Beijing to Shanghai.”
Socially speaking, Sackett said students noticed the westernization of eastern Asia. “The students commented that in some parts of Shanghai, you might think you were in Europe based on the restaurants, shops, fashion, food, and entertainment,” Sackett said. “Many of my students lamented that they missed the ‘feeling’ of Beijing, because it has retained traditional Chinese culture in many places.”
When organizing the course, Sackett hoped students would accomplish a number of objectives including recognizing systemic oppression, synthesizing multicultural perspectives on international relations, and understanding the role of social justice in international economic development. She was most pleased with the inspiration they felt to continue exploring the various areas they studied.
“I had students tell me that this trip has changed their life, that they now think differently about their own consumption, they have a renewed appreciation for the importance of protecting the environment, and that this trip ignited a desire to learn more about different cultures and to continue travelling to other parts of the world,” Sackett said. “There is nothing more fulfilling to an educator than hearing things like that!”