Learning on-location

Story by Taylor Kuether

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Many students study abroad to expand their cultural horizons and explore other realms of the world. But this past summer, two separate student teams traveled to China to complete hands-on work in their majors and interests.

Small team, big impact

A group of three students led by nursing professors Lee-Ellen Kirkhorn and Catherine Berry traveled to the city of Guangzhou, China, population 12 million, to educate middle school students about obesity and Type II diabetes.

“Obesity is becoming more of an issue in the younger generation rather than the older generation in China,” said senior nursing major Rachel Nerison, who participated in the trip along with junior nursing major Anja Meerwald and junior economics major Laurelyn Wieseman. “We wanted to do what we could to promote healthy lifestyles for the children over there and also educate them about what diabetes is … and what they can do to help prevent the development of diabetes,” said Nerison.

Their project began as Kirkhorn’s idea after she visited China in 2007. After having worked closely with other nurses promoting the preventative education about diabetes, Kirkhorn wanted to assemble a team of Eau Claire students to travel to China and do the same.

“When I got home from that experience,” Kirkhorn said, “I started … trying to figure out a way to get our students to get involved in a primary prevention intervention for Type II diabetes that would involve exercise and physical eating and introduce it at the level of the middle school, where students were starting to make personal choices about their eating habits.”

Kirkhorn’s trip proposal was denied funding initially but later received the funds from the Center for International Education, where she was made an international research fellow and assembled a group of students to go to Guangzhou.

The trip finally took place this  summer from May 25 to June 15. Kirkhorn left about a month early to make arrangements for the three students and Berry to later join her and begin teaching.

The students worked closely with two middle schools for the three weeks, teaching students about healthy diet and exercise to prevent Type II diabetes.

“(We) did education about healthy living, exercising, how much they should exercise (and) limiting screen time just because they spend so much time on the computer, phones and video games,” Nerison said. “We also talked about healthy eating, but more catered toward the foods they have available to them over there.”

Nerison said that there is a KFC and McDonald’s on nearly every block. Pizza Hut is also a very popular restaurant in China, according to Kirkhorn.

The students were each assigned to classrooms and the middle school and given an interpreter.

“Some of the topics we were talking about were more complex, so it was good to have an interpreter there to help us out,” Nerison said. “Definitely, communication was a big barrier there for us.”

Outside the classroom, the students engaged the middle school students in exercise and recess play.

“We’d take the kids out onto the playground and play different games with them just to get them moving around and get them excited about exercise,” Nerison said, “just to give them an idea of what they can implement in their own lives.”

At the beginning and end of the trip, the students gave the middle school students surveys to later use as data and held a discussion with the kids to learn what they had changed in their own lives as a result of the teaching.

“It was encouraging to hear how they’re trying to exercise more or they’re not playing on the computer as much anymore or they’re not eating fast food anymore, or they’re telling their parents that they need to get this food and that food to have healthy meals at home,” Nerison said. “It was cool to hear their stories about what they had done in their lives as a result of the interventions we’d had with them.”

After returning home, the group analyzed the data to begin writing their addition to Nurse Practitioner News journal due out in November.

“They told the story about what it was like to do international research,” Kirkhorn said.

Kirkhorn and Nerison both say they’d like to do the trip again in the future.

“We’ll see what the data shows and then be able to make a really compelling case and go back really focused and targeted,”
Kirkhorn said.

“We’re looking into furthering our work there in the future,” Nerison said, “We could have a lot bigger of an impact if we further our interventions there. We would all love to go again.”

Ethics across the globe

At exactly the same time that Kirkhorn and Berry were leading the team of three in teaching Guangzhou middle school students, information systems professor Dr. Bruce Lo was traveling with six students to learn about business ethics across China.

The team of six visited Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Changshu for the purpose of the information technology ethics research project through the IS department. Lo, who started the Center for IT Ethics Research at Eau Claire, had previously traveled to Australia and hopes to take a group to Turkey next.

While abroad, the group administered surveys and conducted interviews with Chinese students in effort to learn about and better understand business ethics in other cultures.

“We weren’t concerned with what decisions they were making (through the surveys) but how they came up with that conclusion,” said senior IS business analyst major Michael Abbott. “We were looking more fore the how, not the why, in the responses they gave us.”

One major difference Abbott noticed between cultures was group orientation.

“The culture there is very group-oriented, it’s not very individualistic,” said Abbott, “From a lot of the interviews we did (with students), a lot of their responses were more group-oriented. The U.S. is very individual.”

Abbott also noticed rank was an important factor. “Rank is a big thing over there, you don’t want to be the lowest rank, you always want to try to get better by moving up the ranks.”

In addition to business-minded knowledge, Abbott said he learned a lot of table manners through dinners the group shared with the vice presidents of the universities they visited. “My favorite experiences were having dinner with the locals and conducting the interviews with the people, I really enjoyed interacting with the people and learning about their culture,” said Abbott.

Most of the interacting was done with people similar to his own age, through administering the surveys to predominantly first- and second-year college students, Abbott said.

He and the five other students selected to participate in the trip had to submit an application and go through an interview process to be considered. After being selected, the six students met weekly since last September to begin forming and planning their trip.

“We did have some say in it,” Abbott said, “We got to pick the cities we went to.” The team also created the surveys and interview questions they later asked the Chinese students.

Because the trip was funded through an international research grant from the university, the group was also required to give presentations to Chinese students about Eau Claire’s 1-2-1 exchange program with our sister school in Guangzhou. The 1-2-1 program enables Chinese students to spend one year at their university, two years studying at Eau Claire and one year finishing up at their home university. The participating students then earn a dual degree from both schools.

Going Back

Whether teaching middle schoolers about preventative measures against diabetes or learning about global business ethics from Chinese college students, both groups valued their research experiences abroad and hope to return.

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