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Bridging to China: SPAHP exchanges promote academic, cultural understanding

After three months at Creighton University, a delegation of more than 30 students and faculty from five Chinese universities are back home this week, ruminating on their experience in the United States and thinking about the different things they’ve seen.

But they’re also pondering the many similarities they encountered, not only in parsing their educational experience as guests of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, but also in their roles as cultural emissaries in the U.S. at a time when China is making greater inroads as an economic and political rival.

“Leaving Omaha, it is so complicated to describe,” said Even Yi, a faculty member in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Nanjing Medical University, of her final day in Omaha, Aug. 11. “I absolutely want to come back again. If I had the chance, I wish I could stay a little longer and make more friends. I hope, someday, I can come back and bring my family to see. What I also hope happens is that we can have more Creighton faculty and students come to visit us in China and keep this distance education and exchange open.”

While here, the visitors took part in an academic exchange, going to classes and listening to lectures in Creighton’s departments of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. They also observed clinical operations and visited assisted-living facilities and nursing homes.

“I look forward to sharing what I learned at Creighton when I return to China,” Yi said. “There are not big differences between the approaches in rehabilitation medicine in the U.S. and China, but we are both looking for continuous improvements. China does not have the type of services we saw in nursing homes and with assisted living. Perhaps this is something we could spread the word about in our country.”

Each of the five universities also produced its own cultural exchange program, attracting dozens of Creighton faculty, staff and students, eager for a look at such things as the Chinese zodiac, traditional medicine, cuisine, soup culture, tea culture and music.

On the turnabout, the Chinese delegation, most of whom were visiting the U.S. for the first time, observed life in America through the lenses of family, school, work and through quintessentially American events like Independence Day, baseball and the shopping mall.

“The program provided ample opportunities to share not only the professional culture of rehabilitation but also social culture of what we define as ‘home,’” said Angela Patterson, OTD, OTR/L, a professor of occupational therapy who heads up the China Summer Exchange program. “The Chinese students shared in American culture through traditional festivals and events, family gatherings and impromptu outings to movies and dinner. These experiences allowed them to explore what defines an American and how we live out our occupations. Understanding the whole American person professionally and socially contributed to their openness and gracious presentations of the values of the Chinese culture.”

Interactions between Creighton faculty, staff and students and the Chinese delegation were usually marked not just by the strictly academic exchange of ideas, but also opportunities for discernment and reflection, both Patterson and Yi said.

Creighton continues to encourage and refine its exchanges with several universities in China and hopes to attract more Chinese students for programs at the University and even promote the idea of Creighton’s health sciences students studying abroad in China.

“Common ground was found between the two cultures,” Patterson said. “This bridge allows for free flow of education and friendship between Creighton and our partners in China. The strength of the pathway built by the summer program will support additional international programming and provides a structure to forge new international relationships.”

For Yi, being in Omaha and at Creighton offered a counterpoint to what the Chinese students often encounter in their bustling hometowns and gained a different perspective on the America depicted in international media. That America — often muscular, sprawling, loud — was not found in the peaceful, quiet, friendly streets of Omaha and the byways of the Creighton campus.

“We saw the U.S. as a nation with flexibility and variety,” Yi said. “It is very inclusive and receptive. People appreciate being able to be themselves and live whatever way they like. To be at a university like Creighton, with kind, caring faculty, staff and students, we felt very fortunate. It was a good place to study and to learn about somewhere new.”

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