Though she knew that college would take her places she’d likely not otherwise experience, Alecia Hunter had no idea just how far she’d go while studying business at Southern Utah University until she was selected to help the University’s Global Engagement Center establish an American Cultural Center in China.
Now a senior, Hunter spent half of last spring semester and her entire summer living at Hunan Normal University (HNU) in Changsha, China, fostering understanding of American culture, history, values, policies and institutions among HNU’s students and faculty.
“Many of the Changsha people have only seen Americans through TV screens, and that is a very altered view of reality,” stated Hunter. “This gives them a chance to learn what the U.S. is truly like, from politics to religion to even social culture, from an actual American.”
As one of just ten U.S. universities selected by the U.S. Department of State last year to establish an American Cultural Center in China (ACCC), SUU has made great strides in such an endeavor thanks, in large part, to the groundwork Hunter has laid.
Through student interest groups and debate programs, Hunter worked closely with Chinese students to help improve their English language skills and broaden their views of the American culture.
As for the soon-to-be SUU graduate? She’s had an experience unlike any other — a transformative opportunity that very few students in the nation can tout on their resumes.
According to University administrators, this person-to-person contact is the purpose. Said Kurt Harris, director of the Global Engagement Center, “By having American students live in China and become completely immersed in the country’s culture they’re able to have a much broader impact. They become more than a tourist, they become friends with these people.”
Hunter has returned to cedar City to complete her remaining courses, to be replaced this fall by Jay Sorensen, a graduate student studying professional communication. Sorenson will join Kevin Stein, associate professor of communication, in Changsha to co-coordinate and expand the ACCC’s efforts. The two will increase interest group discussions and events as well as bring American performers and lecturers to the Center.
Stein will also be teaching critical thinking and oral English and conducting academic research while at HNU.
All this is just the beginning of what the University intends to develop for its ACCC.
Jim McDonald, dean of the College of Humanities & Social Sciences observed, “Only one year in and we have incredibly warm and supportive colleagues at HNU. The Center has a bright future at HNU and will be a fantastic resource for students from both colleges.”
The ACCC is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of State — its mission: to build a network of programs that promote greater understanding of the United States among the Chinese public and youth. SUU and HNU will work closely to ensure that the American Cultural Center of Changsha will continue to fulfill its mission after grant funding concludes.