Jan 13th, 2009 @ 2:00 pm | Author: Dr. Steve Shirley, VCSU President
In late December, I traveled to China as an invited guest of a university in Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a city of about 6 million located near Shanghai in the East-Central part of the country. While in China I represented Valley City State and met with various university, higher education, and government officials from several regions. The trip's purpose was identifying potential opportunities for collaboration between VCSU and Chinese universities. You will be learning more in the future about opportunities we will pursue, but in this article I am simply providing a few basic observations about China and the trip.

As I often remark following an international trip, "It was nice to go, but even nicer to be home." It was a remarkable journey providing a revealing look into a fascinating country. The officials and representatives I met with could not have been better hosts. Their warm hospitality, openness, and kindness were heartfelt and moving. Being away from family and friends during Christmas is never comfortable, but my Chinese hosts proved more than gracious during an important week.

My travels brought me to three major metropolitan areas: Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Beijing. The pace and fervor at which daily life moves is absolutely incredible. The scope of these cities – from traffic, to construction, to development, to sheer volume of people – is simply breathtaking and difficult to put into words. Free-market ideals are clearly taking hold in China, and evidence of aggressive hyper-capitalism was everywhere. According to the CIA World Fact Book, China's real growth rate of Gross Domestic Product grew at a rate six times the speed of the U.S. during 2007, and that growth was apparent throughout the journey.

With over 1.3 billion people, there are simply not enough jobs for everyone in China, so the way in which those with jobs cherished them was obvious in the way they worked. This was observable in the work ethic everywhere from restaurants to hotels to stores to universities. Those people with jobs clearly did not take such a fact for granted.

The students, faculty, and staff with whom I interacted demonstrated a great thirst for learning the English language. There is a recognition of how important English is for conducting business in the international arena. These individuals are going to great lengths and making great sacrifices to learn English, thus heightening their individual competitiveness and job worth.

On several occasions I even noticed subtle efforts to minimize damaging effects on the environment. China has not had the best track record in this regard, but positive steps are being taken. Mass transit, such as subways, is extremely inexpensive encouraging as many individuals as possible to utilize those resources rather than automobiles. Additionally, an enormous number of people travel by bicycle. In grocery and convenience stores, there is an additional charge for a bag in which to put purchased goods. In most public areas I noticed the conversion has been made to high-efficiency compact fluorescent light bulbs. Even in restaurants, I noticed that many times reusable chopsticks were provided rather than the disposable, one-time use variety.

This trip truly was an experience I will never forget. I learned much and look forward to sharing more in the future. There are some exciting opportunities and potential for VCSU, and I am motivated by the possibilities. The United States and China will likely be the two most important nations in the global arena for generations to come. Peace, cooperation, and diplomacy all begin with understanding and education. From my view, anything we can do to facilitate those processes from a university-standpoint is sensible and imperative.