Why did you decide to study abroad with The Center for Sustainability in Shanghai?
Erika: When I made the decision to study abroad, I was ready to go wherever the school would take me. I had never traveled outside of the United States, and I was tired of letting opportunities pass me by. In the spring quarter, I took two classes with two of the professors who were going on the trip. They convinced me that studying in China would be an unforgettable experience. I quickly submitted all of my paperwork and attended the first orientation at CSUSB (California State University, San Bernardino). The title of the course I took was “Doing Business in China.” I expected the class to be wholly focused on just that. During the orientation, this was the first time I heard that we would be partnering with the Center for Sustainability. I had never heard of the Center and I was very curious to see what they had to offer.
Our group had a second orientation as soon as we landed in Shanghai. We met Pablo, Carlos, and Andy who would act as our liaisons during the trip. It wasn’t until this second orientation that I realized what we would be studying for the duration of our trip: sustainability. I have always been interested in environmental sustainability, but I never studied it or even defined it until this trip. I always thought I was just recycling or conserving water or repurposing items when in fact, I was working toward sustaining our earth all along. Once I made this connection, all of the topics, field trips, and guest speakers held my attention from start to finish.
What made this study abroad experience unique and special?
Erika: Sustainability is an issue that is fairly ignored in the business world. Business people are generally focused on numbers. We have been taught to cut costs and always pay attention to the bottom line. During this trip, we learned that humans have only been on this earth for a fraction of its lifetime. In this small snippet of time, we have managed to do years and years of irreversible damage. Sustainability addresses this problem. By changing our attitudes and actions, we are able to heal our earth or at least stop hurting it. Plus, as business people, we are able to create sustainable organizations that still make impressive profits.
Another unique aspect of the trip was understanding the concept of being labeled as “foreigners.” Something Pablo said during the first week stuck with me. While we were sitting at dinner one night, he told us that in any other country he would be defined by his race or country of origin just as we would be defined by our respective ethnicities. In China, however, we are all clustered together into one group: foreigners. Once we got to China, I immediately felt out of place. It wasn’t a bad feeling, I just felt different from everyone else. The idea of being a “foreigner” was so strange to me since I had grown up as an American for my whole life. I was used to feeling at home wherever I went. This label may carry a negative connotation for some, but in my experience, foreigner just meant someone who is different, not a threat, just different. I began to take the stares and picture taking as a representation of the opening of the Chinese nation and their curiosity and willingness to experience life (and business) with those outside their borders.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Erika: I learned a lot about the definition of sustainability and the impact we humans have on our earthly home. I’ve learned that when we consider the world as a global market, it only makes sense to take environmental sustainability into consideration. One of the paramount purposes of this trip was to open our eyes to sustainable business practices (with special focus on China). During these two weeks, we learned about biomimicry, low-tech sustainable building solutions, waste treatment challenges and opportunities, low carbon transport and how Green Marketing can be a profitable reality. Through all of these lectures, a common idea was strung. In order to be responsible global citizens, we have a duty to fix the problem on our own soil as well as address it in China where this pollution problem is wide reaching. Our job as business people is to define business models that help sustain our environment, our economy, and ourselves as a human race.
I returned from this trip a changed person. Before studying abroad, I was quiet, indecisive, and dependent on others when making decisions. I never thought I could travel to the other side of the world on my own. After the trip, I have become more independent. I am more than capable of making my own decisions and handling the consequences. I have more faith in my academic skills and I developed an ability to work well under pressure. We had a chance to interact with successful businesspeople and were forced to hold our own in business proposals of our green ideas. I learned how to conduct myself professionally and maintain composure in stressful situations. I now know I can function in an environment that is very different from my own. I am proud to say I am now much wiser, more professional, and definitely more confident than before. Even now, when I’m faced with challenging circumstances, I catch myself thinking: “I went to China! This is nothing!”
What is one piece of advice you would offer something considering studying abroad in Shanghai?
Erika: My main piece of advice for anyone considering the study abroad program in Shanghai is to be open-minded. I encountered extreme culture shock, especially since I had never traveled outside of the United States before. There were daily stares from the moment I stepped outside my hotel room until the moment I returned home. This was a little unnerving at first. But, I had to remind myself that many Chinese people don’t get to see people like us on a daily basis. Our appearance is rarity and the people just want to take it in.
Open your eyes. Take in as much of the beautiful city as you can. Look around. Make comparisons, but focus on the similarities more than the differences. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. If you close yourself off to new adventures, you will miss out on your one and only chance to see, taste, touch, smell, and hear something you have never experienced before (and will never experience again). Worst case scenario, you will have an amazing story to share with your friends when you get back home.
I do not regret my decision to study with the Center for Sustainability in Shanghai. The education I received will benefit me now and in the future. The friendships I cultivated will last for years to come. I recognize that I was very fortunate to participate in this trip with the group of people I was placed with. It was truly a privilege, and I highly recommend this opportunity to students everywhere.