Trip to China offers students fodder for research

Photo courtesy of Jakub Hałun (

Associate Professor of Political Science Kristen Parris poses with Chinese children in Suichang. Courtesy photo

Assistant Professor of Sociology Baozhen Luo poses for a photo on the Great Wall. Courtesy photo

A small boat navigates the waters of West Lake in China. Courtesy photo

Stephanie Lonzak
University Communications intern

A class of 13 Western Washington University students is going to China this summer to study issues affecting the country such as gender, the aging population – a relatively new social problem – politics, community building and China’s rapidly changing environment.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Baozhen Luo and Associate Professor of Political Science Kristen Parris will accompany the students to China from Aug. 19 to Sept. 16. Both Parris and Luo wanted the focus to be on social sciences and not based around learning the language.

During meetings earlier this summer, students in the 10-credit class have been reading extensively about Chinese culture, watching documentaries and movies, talking about what they’ve learned and writing reviews, Luo said. She wants the students to see the connection between what they’ve learned and what they experience during their trip.

Each student has been developing proposals for research papers that are due after they get back. Students have chosen topics that appeal most to them; a couple are how eating disorders are viewed in Chinese society and what the definition of success is to Chinese youth.

Luo and Parris want the students to conduct different forms of research while in China to support their papers, such as interviewing. Luo said students will be partnered with English-speaking Chinese students to help them with the language barrier while they do their research.

Some of the students going to China are: Margaret Counihan, Olympia, Sociology; Kailey Ivy, Ferndale, double major in Sociology and Psychology; Madeleine Laney, Puyallup, Sociology; Jessica Morrison, Snohomish, Sociology; Chloe Schienbein, Seattle, Sociology; Catherine Weiland, Olympia, double major in Sociology and Psychology; April Bezona, Bellingham, Sociology; Frazier Edwards, Seattle, Art; Chyena Markley, Redmond, Recreation; Kevin Yen, Spokane, double major in Sociology and Communication; and Kevin Perkins, Snohomish, History.

Chloe Schienbein had been looking for a chance to study abroad, and when she heard about this trip and how it could count toward her Sociology major, she knew she had to go.

“I want to take advantage of every moment and really immerse myself in the culture,” she said. “This trip is about being more than a tourist and discovering for ourselves what it means to be a part of Chinese society today.”

Schienbein’s classmate Maddi Laney isn’t worried about the language factor either; she looks at it more as a challenging but effective teaching method.

“I hope to get a greater understanding of China in many different ways -- socially, politically, economically and whatever other ways my eyes will be opened up,” Laney said. The students are scheduled to begin their trip Aug. 19 in Beijing. They plan to spend a few days there, allowing the students to recover from jet lag and see a few tourist attractions, such as the Great Wall. From there they will head west and stay a few days in Lanzhou and visit Lanzhou University, where they will pair up with Chinese students. After a few days of researching, they will then head to Hangzhou and stay at Zhejiang University for more research. They are scheduled to leave Sept. 16 from Shanghai and will present their research papers on Oct. 6 at Western.

“They will be able to compare some of the major gaps in China right now; the coastal plains versus the hinterland, the west versus the east, the rich versus the poor and also rural versus urban,” Parris said.

Luo says she’s looking forward to seeing the students grow through this experience. She took a group to China before coming to Western and remembers how amazing it is to watch students change and learn.

“I don’t want the students going there and feeling like a tourist,” she said. “I want them to be scholars.”