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 Beijing Center logoThe Beijing Center for Chinese Studies

Stories From 2012 Beijing Program Participants


The Santa Monica College faculty and staff members who participated in our Beijing Professional Development Program took away so much from their experience. They were inspired both personally and professionally, and gained meaningful insights into Chinese culture and history. Below are firsthand accounts of their takeaways from the trip.


Jeanne Laurie

Administrative Assistant, Department of Modern Languages and Cultures

What I liked best was learning.  Learning about my fellow travelers and learning from the wonderful professors at The Beijing Center.  After four years at SMC, I had only met two of the people in the group and only in passing.  During the trip I got to know people from different areas of the campus.  I learned about them and what they do.  I feel so much more connected to SMC, and much happier to be here.   The quality of the professors at The Beijing Center was incredible.  People who had been there 30 years and knew the real story in every aspect.  Beijing is a really great city to see and visit, but I wouldn’t have maintained the continued interest in China and it’s roll on the Global stage if I had only seen the surface as a tourist.  It was an fabulous experience.  I am very grateful to SMC and International for the opportunity.

Sandi Burnett

Faculty Specialist, Center for Students with Disabilities

Sandi Burnett
As a Faculty Specialist with the Center for Students with Disabilities the China experience gave me a greater understanding of our Chinese students coming in contact with the diverse multicultural environment at SMC. Their contact with the diverse ethnicity and age span at SMC is likely novel but somewhat expected by the Chinese students; whereas their contact with students who are significantly disabled is most likely a completely unparalleled novelty. For 30 years our domestic students have witnessed the integration of disabled students in classrooms. The China experience has motivated me to be more engaged with the Global Citizenship initiatives with an eye toward greater cross cultural understanding. We have much to learn from each other.

Janet Robinson

Counselor, Health Sciences Department

Janet Robinson
My trip to China with SMC was my first time traveling outside of North America.  Now, I view the world as a classroom and I have traveled to South Africa, Belize and Guatemala on SMC-related trips with other faculty, staff and students.  I teach a college success seminar (Counseling 20) and one of the assignments is a ‘Lifeline’ presentation where students share life changing events and future goals via PowerPoint.  For my Lifeline, I share pictures and stories from my travels and I stress the importance of becoming a global citizen through exposure to other countries and cultures.   In their presentations, many students also share travel experiences or goals of exploring different parts of the globe.  I always encourage them to make every effort to see the world, with SMC or at a 4-year school once they transfer.  It’s never too late!

Aned Muniz

Modern Languages and Cultures Faculty Member

Aned Muniz
As expected, I have a much greater awareness about the cultural background of Chinese students and I am also better equipped to help Asian students study European languages more efficiently.  I am able to draw linguistic comparisons not limited to Indo-European languages.  I am also better able to understand and appreciate the humane qualities of this important demographic group.
During our stay in China I discussed a short film idea with my colleagues and was pleasantly surprised by their encouraging response and support.  Following my return, I applied for a SMC global citizenship mini-grant, which allowed me the honor of collaborating with our wonderful Film Studies department and its students.  This is a first cut (it needs further editing) of the resulting video:
password:  modern_language
On a personal note, the Fall following my return from Beijing my son entered a kindergarten Mandarin Chinese immersion program (he already knew 3.5 languages but no one in his family knows Mandarin) at Broadway Elementary, so the learning continues as I try to help him with homework and everything else related to this millenary culture.

Grace Smith

Administrative Assistant-III, Academic Affairs

Grace Smith
Having always been fascinated with China, its culture and history, there was no better way for it to come alive than the fun and information-packed two weeks we had.  Experiencing China first-hand affirmed the importance and sheer joy of being global citizens and I came back with an enhanced understanding of the country, its ancient history and rising global status and the many international students we serve here at SMC.

Helen LeDonne

Cosmetology Educator

Helen Ledonne
Experiencing the trip to China and its culture has allowed me to bring back valuable information to the students of the cosmetology department at SMC. Sharing this information of style, procedures, and communication of China’s local salons has broadened the vision of our students and allows them to have a greater respect and value of our Chinese culture on and off campus. Adding this information to the Salon Business class has contributed a wealth of understanding to use as the student achieves the requirements of the California license. I continue to believe that each and every culture is unique and offers a wealth of knowledge from which we can all benefit.  It is true that Beauty transcends into any language.

Prof. Salvador Carrasco

Film Production

I met in Beijing with Christine Choy, an Oscar-nominated Chinese filmmaker, who paved the way for us to have many incredibly productive meetings. Here are some of the tangible results and consequences of our trip:
  • Christine Choy (Chinese name: Cui Ming Huei) herself came to SMC on November 15, 2012, as part of our "An Evening with a Distinguished Filmmaker" series and as the closing event of the Global Citizenship's International Week. We showed excerpts from her latest film, which deals with the hardships that immigrant workers from Shanghai experience in Beijing, and I also did a Q&A with her in HSS 165.
  • Christine also visited the editing class of Prof. Walt Louie (Entertainment Technology) to have an informal conversation with his students.
    We also discussed creating an active "bridge" between SMC's film program and NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where Christine not only teaches but has also been the head of the graduate program. (She's the one who brought world-famous directors Ang Lee and Spike Lee to teach at NYU.)
  • In fact, we already had our first successful transfer case in terms of creating that "bridge": SMC student Riu Hu, who did our 3-semester filmmaking sequence at SMC (Film 31, 32, and 33) was recently accepted into NYU's film program, where he started classes in the fall of 2012, including a directing seminar with Christine, who has offered to take him under her wing as a mentor (like she did with me back in 1991!)
  • I also met with a Chinese film director, Qian Zhao, who works for China's largest official State-owned television company, CCTV, and we agreed then and there to do a co-production between CCTV and SMC. This film was already shot in Los Angeles during the week of July 9, 2012. In a nutshell, it's a documentary about the creation of a "Wudang (sacred mountain) Theme Park," a multimillion-dollar project involving many prominent Chinese people living in LA and even Mayor Villaraigosa himself. I put Qian in touch with our President, Dr. Tsang, and arranged for SMC film students to work (and get paid) to do the actual shoot as the principal cinematography team, which included a Tai-chi class at SMC, and provided logistical support in exchange of SMC receiving an official co-producing credit in the film.
  • We also had a very productive meeting at the University of Communications (CUC), where they invited the Chair of our Dept., Dr. Nancy Grass Hemmert, to coordinate and present original work at a symposium on global communication.
  • We gave an oral and video presentation to a group of students about SMC in general and our Film Program in particular at a Beijing high school that was coordinated by Teresita Rodriguez and Patricia Ramos. It was very successful and some students expressed their interest in coming to study with us at SMC.
  • And last but not least, I had a great meeting at the Beijing Film Academy with the renowned filmmaker and Dean of International Students, Zhong Defong, in which we discussed many possible collaborations between SMC and BFA. Among others, the making of a joint short film to be shot in China (perhaps as an SMC study-abroad program) in 2014 or 2015 whereby half the crew would be SMC students and the other half BFA students. We would develop this project as part of our screenwriting classes (Film 21). We also discussed the possibility of BFA sending some of their students to train to SMC and learn about Hollywood filmmaking practices, and lastly, they invited me to screen/do a Q&A of my film, "The Other Conquest," at some point in 2014 for both graduate and undergraduate students. N.B. The model we're trying to establish with the Beijing Film Academy is extremely important because we're convinced that such is the future of filmmaking: International collaborations geared towards making projects that reflect a spirit of true global citizenship.

Mary Colavito

Life Science Faculty Member

Mary Colavito
The Summer 2012 Beijing Center Professional Development Program provided a wealth of material that has informed my teaching. For Fundamentals of Biology (Biology 3), I developed a module that addresses the challenge of balancing China’s rapid economic development and its associated use of resources with the need to preserve native ecosystems. The activity is framed in a debate-type format, called a controversy exercise, where students who have researched opposite points of view meet to arrive at a consensus position. The controversy will center on land use in Mongolia, where the nomadic life of the native people is threatened by privatization of grasslands and extensive construction to support tourism. For Cell Biology and Evolution (Biology 21), I formulated a case study for kanglaite, an anti-cancer drug derived from a plant called Job’s Tears. The plant is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fluid retention and digestive disorders. In patients with advanced cancer, kanglaite was shown to lessen symptoms such as pain and anorexia and also to reduce tumor size. The case study focuses on the effects of kanglaite at the cellular level, where it interferes with the signaling of a receptor located in the membrane of cancer cells. By blocking this first step in a cascade of interactions, kanglaite insures that the cancer cells can no longer accumulate proteins essential for their survival. Since many Biology 21 students plan careers in health care, this case study provides a relevant and interesting connection between concepts related to cell communication and an understanding of the efficacy of traditional herbal treatments.

Nancy Grass Hemmert

Chair, Communication & Media Studies Department

Nancy Grass Hemmert
My experience studying in China has enhanced my teaching in many ways. Most obviously, in teaching my Intercultural Communication course, I have been able to incorporate many specific, real-life examples of my own intercultural communication competence in meeting and talking to and working with people from China. I was able to experience first-hand examples of almost all the theories that we discuss and teach, from expectancy violation to collectivism to high context communication to culture shock and everything in between. Furthermore and probably more significantly, I have been able to translate my learning into being more empathetic and effective with my Chinese students. From simply sharing knowledge of their home country to having some experience practicing my intercultural competence as it relates to Chinese culture, my Chinese students feel that I am an understanding ally for them both in and out of the classroom.

Jose Cue


Jose Cue
Given the number of international students at SMC, and in particular from China, I found the trip to China to be very enriching and insightful. China is a complex nation. It is the world’s second largest economy and has the largest population on the planet.  It is wrestling with many complicated issues – growing income inequality, rural versus urban issues, an aging population and the rise of social protests.  Educationally, China has made great progress since the revolution in 1949 when 80% of the population was illiterate. Today, Chinese youth have a 99% literacy rate. Since 1998, China has invested in a massive expansion of education, nearly tripling the share of GDP devoted to it. Still, The Chinese tend to favor the American education system. New York Time columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about this “paradox: Chinese themselves are far less impressed by their school system. Almost every time I try to interview a Chinese about the system here, I hear grousing rather than praise. Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore.”[The New York Times, “China’s Winning Schools?” Jan. 15, 2011]. As a counselor, my China experience helps me better understand our Chinese students - their goals, their concerns and anxieties about being far away from home and the need to succeed. I have also used my lessons learned from China when participating in various committees - Global Council and Career Technical Education.

Eleni Hioureas

English Faculty Member

Chinese door and courtyard
After the Beijing Center Summer Professional Development Program, I was inspired to incorporate into my lesson plans materials related to China and to discuss themes related to racial stereotypes, cultural misperceptions, gender roles, and the dehumanization of people through cultural imperialism.  To cover these themes, in my composition courses, I now assign a play called M Butterfly, written by David Henry Hwang, which takes place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Vietnam War.

As we discuss the play, I use my first-hand experiences and knowledge of China that I gained during the SMC program to add a level of depth to the discussion that I would not have otherwise been able to provide.   I play the video about our China experience that Salvador Carrasco created to show the students the highlights from Beijing, and I use the information from the lectures we attended in China and some of my personal experiences to give my students a clearer picture of the setting and cultural background of the book.

In addition to having created lesson plans based on the information from the program, the Beijing Program helped me become more empathetic to international students and the struggles they face in adapting to a new culture and cultural norms when they move to Los Angeles and in learning how to communicate more effectively in a foreign language.  The program has also helped me become empathetic to students in general, and especially to the basic skills students that I work with, because they are also learning how to communicate in a language that they are not used to – academic language – and learning to adapt to the social and cultural norms of higher education.

Even though many of the basic skills students speak English as their primary language, they have difficulty articulating their thoughts clearly and in an organized manner; similarly, I experienced many obstacles in trying to communicate effectively with the Chinese natives.  Having faced the challenge of attempting cross-cultural communication in a foreign language, I now incorporate more activities to help students structure their ideas, and I also try to communicate important concepts through an even greater variety of teaching methods.