Date: July 11, 2012

on the beach rWhen chemistry student Xin Zhang left her home in Heilongjang Province, China for six months at Rutgers University she was looking forward to her first trip abroad even if her parents were hesitant. Two months into her American adventure Zhang and many of her 19 classmates from Jilin University in Changchun, the first chemistry students to participate in a special student exchange program, have been impressed enough to consider studying in the U.S. on a longer term basis.

“I would like to study and live here, but I would have to convince my parents to come visit to see what life is like here,” Zhang said. “My mother was very worried about me. She thinks I’m not eating right and dressing warm enough.”

Bo Li, a student from Hubei Province, is hoping to complete his chemistry graduate studies in the U.S., but seemed equally interested in the New Jersey beachfront. “I was impressed by the beach,” said Li, who had never seen an ocean or a beach before a faculty-sponsored trip to the Jersey Shore. “Everyone seemed to enjoy the sunshine and I certainly did too.”

“And there were a lot of pretty girls,” Zhang added. “He liked that too.”

The 20 Chinese students have been brought to the U.S. as a result of an agreement between Rutgers University’s Chemistry Department, the Rutgers Program in American Language Studies, and Jilin University’s College of Chemistry.

Their first eight weeks at Rutgers focused on developing writing, speaking and listening skills in English, which many of students have been studying in China for the last 10 years. The remaining time at Rutgers is primarily focused on chemistry course and lab work. Jilin University has funded all of the expenses for the student visit and educational program.

“Our English has improved greatly since we arrived,” said Ling Ling Liu, a Jilin student from Heilongjang Province. “We met people from many different countries in our English classes and have learned about many different cultures.”

Professor John Brennan, Vice Chair of Rutgers Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, manages the students’ chemistry experience with Professor Eric Garfunkel.

“Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. are globalizing their educational programs,” said Brennan. “Jilin University is a good match for us because they are our primary ‘sister school’ in China, and are one of the five strongest chemistry education and research programs in China. Our goals are to offer the students an excellent research and education experience, help them develop their English skills, and open them up to the possibility of studying or working abroad in the future.”

Jilin University’s Professor Guangsheng Pang noted that the program is valuable for both the students and the universities.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for some of our leading students to study in a new environment and to gain confidence while strengthening their scientific and language skills,” said Pang. “The students will experience a different academic atmosphere and culture. It’s a transformational learning experience that allows the students to develop a fresh perspective both in science and on international issues.”

Over the last 18 months, Rutgers faculty has made two trips to Jilin University to help finalize the student exchange program. Former Jilin University President and Chemistry Professor Tang Aoqing helped initiate a cooperative relationship with Rutgers some 30 years ago, but the new program represents the first formal chemistry student exchange between the universities. The students, the top 20 among 250 senior chemistry undergraduates at Jilin, are supported both in China and the U.S. by a fund established in Prof. Tang’s memory.

“Starting with the exchange of students, we will open a new era for the relationship between Rutgers and Jilin,” said Pang. “We look forward to strengthening our collaboration on both educational and research initiatives, as well as increasing opportunities for the exchange of students in the undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral levels.”

Since 1984, Garfunkel, the immediate past chairman of Rutgers Chemistry Department, has been visiting China, where he performed post-doctorate work and was a visiting professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. Three Chemistry department faculty members of Chinese descent – Kuang-Yu Chen, Jing Li and Xumu Zhang – have also been actively involved in promoting student exchanges. They all emphasized the importance of continuing to build a strong relationship with leading universities in China such as Jilin.

“We hope to reciprocate by sending Rutgers students to Jilin in the very near future,” Garfunkel said. “Jilin University is a very strong international partner for the Rutgers Chemistry Department and together we can offer both Chinese and U.S. students an exceptional cultural and educational experience.”

The partnership seems to be producing results already.

“We understand chemistry, but Chinese people often have a different way of thinking about things,” said Qiuju Liang, a student from Jilin Province. “We are learning more about the scientific process and how to analyze things from beginning to end, and at the same time we are becoming more independent.”

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