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Wanxiang Fellows Program: A Study Abroad Experience

The Wanxiang Fellows Program has paved the way for students at UIC and its sister campuses in Urbana and Springfield to explore topics related to sustainability, green technology, and the utilization of renewable resources in China. One of the fortunate students at UIC who was selected for the three-week study abroad program in the summer of 2019 was Jyotsna Bitra, a UIC Honors College graduate (class of 2020) who majored in Biological Sciences and Economics. Jyotsna decided to enroll in the Wanxiang Fellows Program with the motive of learning more about China-US relations while also learning about how sustainable energy can be implemented in different countries.

How would you describe your preparation for the Wanxiang Fellows Program?

We had one online class from the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) that we took the semester before, a few meetings with the study abroad advisors, and mostly e-mail exchanges. We met the students in the program from UIC one or two times, and everyone else from the Urbana-Champaign and Springfield campuses at the airport/in China.

How would you describe your stay in China to our readers?

It was super nice. We were lucky enough to be able to stay in a hotel accommodation with buffet food because it was a part of the newer campus of the University [Hangzhou Polytechnic University]. We explored a lot on our own of course, and everything was much cleaner and much more sophisticated than I had been told. Without data, it was a little hard navigating (particularly since most of us were essentially illiterate there), but we made it through and figured it out. Most of us had been abroad before for longer periods of time which definitely helped. I loved the food, the people, and the infrastructure.

When comparing your experience in China to the USA, what are your thoughts on developing a sustainable environment, the utilization of green technology and renewable resources?

For one, it’s really expensive and sometimes building wind farms to harness wind energy uses a lot of nonrenewable resources. That’s one thing to keep in mind. I think China sometimes has an easier way of implementing green technologies, but it is still very difficult to keep people accountable and ensure that they continue to use them. It’s hard to monitor everyone in such large countries, and I think until we get a mindset shift where people are more invested in and care about green technology usage, we aren’t going to get everyone to follow through. We need everyone to be interested in climate change and the huge impact it will have on us, otherwise, it’s going to continue the same way it has been for a long time.

Could you share what you learned from the fellowship program and how it could be implemented? Has this study abroad opportunity molded your future plans?

I learned a lot more about sustainable energy, but I think as with many countries, we’re still trying to figure out the best renewable resources that can be harnessed and the best ways to convince larger corporations to really utilize these resources, even if they’re more expensive. The experience taught me a lot about how different countries and people operate and think, the different values and mindsets around the globe, and of course how it all influences their actions and behaviors.

What would you like to convey to the readers regarding the Wanxiang fellowship program? Any recommendations or advice for the Honors College students?

I’m assuming it’s canceled for this year, and I’m sure people will be hesitant to go but I really think it’s a great opportunity (not to mention fully-funded!) just to explore another country and learn so much more. I feel like people always want to go to countries they are familiar with or they are super comfortable with, but I encourage everyone to explore new places! I really think China is a wonderful place to visit and study, there is so much to learn, and so much to explore.