Development of Eastern Civilization

by The Cowl Editor on August 31, 2017


by Daria Purdy ’19

Assistant News Editor

Two groups of Providence College students got the opportunity this summer to expand their horizons beyond the borders of Western civilization. The Development of Western Civilization program is an integral part of the PC experience, yet the study of Eastern civilization is not as integrated into the curriculum. Maymester trips to China and Japan allowed two groups of students to experience Eastern culture firsthand, in two countries with very sophisticated, ancient cultures.

The students who attended the China trip had the opportunity to build invaluable skills. Management professor John Schibler, who helped teach the course, said, “The course challenges students to use opportunities while at PC to further develop their sensitivity to other cultures, such as interacting with international students, volunteering in different culturally-based communities, or furthering their experience through studying abroad.”

The course engineered a unique experience for students. The class was based on the study of organizational behavior, so while in China students were brought onsite to visit several different companies, including Coca-Cola Shanghai, BAOSTEEL, and Digital China. Dr. Jacqueline Elcik, assistant dean of the Providence College School of Business, described the visit to BAOSTEEL as being particularly interesting to the students, as “it was similar to driving through a small city, since the company offers housing, a primary school, and multiple buildings that gave it a campus feel.”

Catherine Capolongo ’19 expressed  her surprise about the character of the Chinese workers. “I believe Americans have a different definition of communism,” she commented. “And the workers in China were not as rigid as I expected.”

Beyond the company visits, the students also got to explore other aspects of Chinese society and hallmarks of Chinese culture. For example, the students visited the Great Wall of China and spent time at Shanghai Disney Resort.

Elcik emphasizes the transformative nature of the trip, saying, “Overall, I think that the students gained greater global acumen from the China experience, both in understanding the inherent differences between cultures globally, and also the variance of business studies and practices throughout the world.”

The trip to Japan gave students a similar opportunity to immerse themselves in an Eastern culture with thousands of years of history. The group visited the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Atami, Hiroshima, Uji, and Nara. The course was photography-based, and as Professor Eric Sung, who taught the course, said, “Students were engaged in developing their own perspective of foreign culture by documenting and sharing what they discovered as they traveled.”

Prior to traveling to Japan, the coursework involved a comprehensive look at the history of Japanese and U.S. relations, Japanese culture, and the basics of visual vocabulary. Josef Riccio ’18 elaborated how history came to life for him Japan. He commented, “Hiroshima was hard, being there as an American. But it was important to go, especially to the Peace Park and Museum. That changed the way I look at history.”

The students also got to enjoy the unique experience of attending a Japanese baseball game and interacting with locals there. On interacting with locals, Sung said, “The most challenging and overwhelming experience for the students might have been being a complete minority in such a remote culture.” Sung elaborated, “I am sure that healthy but possibly uncomfortable experience helped students to think more about themselves and their place.”

Both China and Japan are countries that forced the students to go outside their comfort zones and to discover a world beyond that of Western civilization. Elcik said, “From the minute you step off the plane in China, the country looks and feels different from the United States—everything from the cuisine, to the language, to the style of dress.” This knowledge and experience of a non-Western world will give students many benefits. Elcik stresses, “Companies are looking for young talent with global mindsets who are adaptable and open-minded, and this type of experience will be what differentiates students from their peers.” The Maymester trips to Eastern countries gave the PC students a more complete education and worldview, and helped to prepare them for life after college.