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Visiting Chinese students enjoying first look at Creighton, U.S.

East meets West again this summer at Creighton University as 34 students and faculty members from five Chinese universities will spend a few months studying with the departments of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions.

In an effort to learn a little more about our visitors, Creighton will be periodically checking in with two of them, Even Yi and Sophia Xiao, as they learn more about their chosen professions and take a distinctive look at American life.

Even is a faculty member in occupational therapy at Nanjing Medical University in Nanjing, a city of more than 8 million in east-central China. She started as a physical therapist, but a demand for more occupational therapist practitioners and teachers in China led her to make a switch.

“I knew I wanted to do something in medicine and rehabilitation science has been a good fit for me,” Even said. “I’m a little afraid of blood and needles but was still very interested in a job in a hospital, so this was perfect. It is really helping people get and stay healthy and have a better life.”

Sophia is a senior student at the Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Fuzhou, a city of about 7 million people on China’s southeastern coast. She became interested in studying traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which uses acupuncture, massage and herbal therapy, after she was herself cured of an ailment by TCM.

“TCM is an amazing skill,” Sophia said. “My father has also worked in it and he influenced my choice of career, too. As TCM practitioners, we approach health care from a holistic standpoint. We believe that the processes of the human body are interrelated to its surroundings and we look for the harmony and balance in people along with the environment in which they live. It may seem a little abstract as a theory of medicine, but as I have come through the system, I’ve gained some knowledge and skills and it has become easier to see it work.”

Through classes at Creighton, both Even and Sophia said they have already learned a wealth of new approaches and practices they plan to carry back to China.

Most recently, the Chinese students have been studying and observing the American practice of eldercare and have visited an assisted living facility in Omaha. In China, such facilities are understaffed, a cause for concern for the world’s most populous nation.

“In most Chinese facilities, there are only meals and a few activities,” Sophia said. “So when we went to the assisted living facility here and saw there was a piano and a hair salon and popcorn and ice cream and many different activities for the residents, along with the fact that each meal is carefully considered for each person, it was incredible to us. It was like a second family and I think most older people would enjoy that kind of a life.”

Students are also getting an experiential learning opportunity they would not normally have at their home institutions. And class materials and lectures, usually only available in-person and in real-time in China, are always accessible online at Creighton.

“That has been very valuable,” Even said. “The reference materials and the lectures are always there for the students to study, in case they missed something. The ability to listen to a lecture again and review it gives students a better chance of understanding. And the many labs and site visits the students are getting, the chance to see how machines work and to experiment with them is also an important way to gain knowledge to help a patient. It’s why many of us came to Creighton. We want to get that firsthand experience, we want to learn more about how we can better relate to a patient. Creighton professors do that very well.”

Along with their academic pursuits, students are also taking in an education in American culture. So far, they’ve been sizing up Omaha and its inhabitants based on some of their expectations gleaned from American television they’ve seen back home.

Some encounters have gone according to the sitcom plotline.

“We’ve seen this on TV, that everyone is very friendly, humorous, smiling,” Even said. “American people are willing to show themselves. In China, we are more reserved, shy. In class, professors have told us there are no silly questions, but we’re still a little uncomfortable with that.”

A few weeks ago, the students took in this American life in microcosm as they attended a baseball game between Creighton and its instate rivals from the University of Nebraska.

“I didn’t understand the rules at all,” Sophia said. “But a man sitting near us kept shouting, ‘Come on!’ So I tried to do the same. It was confusing, but very fun.”

In the weeks to come, the students will be sharing some of their own culture with their hosts. Programs on Chinese food, history, minority cultures and traditional Chinese medicine will be scheduled, as will a primer on Chinese Monkey culture. Perhaps the most auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Monkey is being celebrated in 2016.

“We look forward to being able to share all this with Creighton,” Even said. “We are all very excited to be here.”

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