China Programs Suffer Narrow Focus

Caroline Hui

Last week, I began looking into Oberlin-affiliated study abroad programs that fit my interests. As a Politics/East Asian Studies double major, I was looking for an interdisciplinary program in China, so that I could simultaneously take classes in Politics and attain fluency in Chinese. Given that Politics and East Asian Studies is a popular double major at Oberlin, I had hoped such a program would exist. However, the Oberlin-affiliated programs in China are solely culture- and language-based.

I was surprised that Oberlin, a college with one of the nation’s oldest and most renowned East Asian Studies programs, offers such narrowly focused, language-only in-China study abroad opportunities. While attaining proficiency and experiencing culture should be priorities, access to an interdisciplinary education abroad should also be given consideration.

The Oberlin-affiliated study abroad program at Waseda University in Japan can be used as a model. According to Waseda’s Study Abroad website, “in addition to language, the School of International Liberal Studies offers a wide array of courses taught in English, covering various topics in Japanese and Asian studies, as well as content courses across the curriculum including science and mathematics.” A similar program in China would give Oberlin students the chance to witness and study China’s political, social and economic progression, while also practicing intensive Chinese.

Furthermore, expanding study abroad options in China provides a way to match the current administration’s foreign policy goals. The administration has quietly shifted its focus from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific region, increasing its military presence in Asia and joining summits to strengthen its network of alliances in the continent. In 2009, President Obama launched the “100,000 Strong” initiative to increase the number of American students studying in China. Given the level of interest in East Asia on campus, Oberlin can help contribute to this goal.

Bridging the gap between the U.S. and Asia — to which our nation’s economic and political future is closely tied — will have to be a collective effort, higher education institutions included. If we want to do our part to bring the two together, we need to explore some options that include both language courses along with content that would appeal to more students.