Xiaochi Square in Nanjing, home of the Confucian Temple. Photo by Craig Laing

 China by the Numbers

  • 1.38 billion —Population
  • 37.4 — Median age
  • 11.2 trillion — Estimated 2016 GDP in U.S. dollars
  • 2 — Current ranking in the world economy
  • 1.4 billion — Cellphone users as of 2016
  • 731 million —Internet users as of 2016


When Anna Douglas told people she was taking a 10-day trip to China, she heard a bunch of responses.

Don’t you know it’s dangerous? They’re communists.

You’re going to be kidnapped.

You’re going to be sex trafficked.

You’re going to starve; they eat dogs and cats.

Why do you want to go to China? What’s over there?

“A lot of that stuff was coming from people who had never been there, and I was like, ‘What do you know?’ Why are you saying all this to me?’”

When she returned to the U.S., she had her own response: “It was great and you were wrong.”

Douglas, a junior in criminal justice, and 10 other UTC students took a 13-hour flight this summer for a study abroad trip in China, a country of about 1.34 billion people; in contrast, the U.S. has about 325 million.

All the students had some preconceptions about the country, but they came back with new respect, admiration and understanding of the country and its culture which is significantly different than the United States’.

“You can’t learn much about culture by participating in a 10-day trip, but at least something, if you pay attention, can be observed through the manifestation of cultural practices. You can understand the basic values of a culture,” says Zibin Guo, the UC Foundation professor of anthropology who accompanied the students. Craig Laing, associate professor in geography, and Gale Iles, associate professor of criminal justice, also were on the trip.

The trip was funded by a $30,000 donation from retired anthropology professor Clive Kileff and dispersed through the UC Foundation. Money from  the Study Abroad program also helped pay expenses.

“I believed the UTC students would benefit from having international travel experience and could come back and enrich the community,” Kileff said. “I believe that, as students learn about other cultures, they will be able to work together with people from diverse backgrounds and work towards world peace.”

In China, the students visited five cities—Shanghai, Xi’an, Louyang, Qufu and Nanjing—and saw how the Chinese interact with each other, how they feel about their personal space, what the country is doing to address pollution and congestion in the cities, the food and eating practices and other cultural values. When they got back, the students created PowerPoint presentations on subjects such as sanitation and conservation, common misconceptions, the food, social interaction and China’s fascination with Westerners.

In her presentation, Lindsey Davis, a senior in anthropology, focused on the steps the country is taking to reduce pollution and stay clean; China is the No. 1 country in the world in carbon dioxide output (the U.S. is No. 2).

But the cities themselves were amazingly trash-free, she said, and Shanghai “is one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen.”

“Litter is a rarity and paper is conserved. If you remember, there wasn’t much toilet paper in the bathrooms,” she told the other students.

Eating in China usually is a communal event with friends and family and lots of conversation, said Brandon Mitchell, a senior in anthropology. There’s no tipping in restaurants and no splitting of checks. If you eat in someone’s home, as many as 10 dishes may be served and, if you eat it all, the hosts may feel as if they haven’t fed you enough, he said.

The Chinese also are fascinated with Westerners, and the students took many smartphone photos of Chinese people taking smartphone photos of them.

“We’re like unicorns,” said Anna Matic, a junior in sociology.

She didn’t much like being a “celebrity,” she added, but others in the group didn’t mind.

When all was said and done and the students returned to the U.S., they brought back more than souvenirs, said Brandon Layne, a senior in anthropology.

“You can learn something new from another country or people and bring it back to your own country or campus,” he said. “And that does a lot of good.”



Media Relations Contacts: Email UTC Media Relations or call 423-425-5119.

Shawn Ryan is the executive staff writer in the Office of Communications and Marketing at UTC.

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4 Comments » for Another Culture, Another World: UTC students experience China
  1. Steve L says:

    Fantastic !

    I have also enjoyed this eye-opening experience on my first trip to China.

    I was compelled to return many times after my first visit..

    Nothing like what we have been told, and more exciting than you could ever imagine….right ?

  2. BX says:

    Great article. Glad everybody had a good time in China. Yeah, people like giving comments on something they don’t actually know at all. I would totally understand it if it happened 30 years ago. However, today I can say these people are not well-educated. Maybe they are too focus on food, sports, TV show to spend time to search online and get to know the things outside of their comfortable small world.

  3. ce says:

    What a wonderful experience!

  4. Eric says:

    WOW, I could feel the excitement from reading this article. Go Mocs!