August 18, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers chemistry students travel to China for exchange program

Photo by Shiri Nawrocki |

From left to right: Alexander Bahia, Richa Rana, James Liu and Shiri Nawrocki are four students who went to Jilin University in China for an educational exchange program.

An initial language barrier may have existed between Rutgers students and the Jilin University students and professors in China, but when it came to chemistry, everyone spoke the same elements and compound lingo. 

This past summer, chemistry students at Rutgers were able to travel to Changchun, China, for an educational exchange program.

For the last three years, the educational exchange program has been involved with Jilin University, where their students traveled to Rutgers to study. This year was the first time Rutgers students were sent to China as part of the exchange, said John Brennan, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

“Our students get to experience China first hand. It is an interesting country with remarkable people and culture. They also have exceptional research capabilities,” he said in an email.

The students spent more than a month in China and returned to the states in July. James Liu, School of Arts and Sciences junior, believes this was time well spent.

“I wanted to do something related to my major during the summer. I did not want to sit idle. I wanted to expand my knowledge about chemistry,” he said.

After applying in March, Shiri Nawrocki, School of Arts and Sciences junior, found out she was chosen to be part of the program a few weeks later.

Nawrocki said she was excited to learn something new in a different country. Making the decision in the spur of the moment was a sentiment Liu shared.

“I got an email from the chemistry department, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I am Chinese myself, but I never knew what it would be like to study in a different country,” he said.

Traveling to a different country could be an eye opening experience for an undergraduate student, especially in a location as diverse and advanced as China.

Jilin University students attend classes Monday through Saturday, from morning to night and place a high amount of energy solely on academics, Liu said.

Although Rutgers provides a good amount of chemistry-based classes, Liu said sometimes it is better to travel to a new location that can provide more aspects of the same major.

One of the most important educational elements was witnessing the differences between cultures within a laboratory setting. The instruments were different in China, and students were able to learn how to synthesize new compounds with the new tools, Nawrocki said.

On a more cultural level, the students credited China and its citizens for being a great host for their educational exchange. 

“China was so welcoming, and we had such a great time. Everyone made sure that we had the best experience possible,” Nawrocki said.

Chinese citizens asked the students to take photos with them because they traveled from America, Nawrocki said. 

Although Liu went to China as part of the educational exchange program, he also took time out of his studies to visit family members who live in the country. He has lived in the U.S. his entire life, and he thought this was a good time to catch up with family.

The trip to China was not all studies, and the students were able to go sightseeing and enjoy the Chinese culture. They even had an advisor with them at all times to help translate.

Liu also went to a hot spring with his lab group. Although he was skeptical at first, he admits he had a relaxing time during his outing. 

Brennan hopes the connections made will help make the exchange more common among University students in the future.

“Ideally, I’d love to have the two-way exchange deepen so that labs with related research interests can send students [undergraduate and graduate] and faculty back and forth every year,” he said.

Brennan adds that the program is currently in the process of expanding host schools, including a second university in China and The University of São Paulo in Brazil. 

Brennan, Liu and Nawrocki all believe being able to study your major abroad could enhance your knowledge and passion in a way that might not be possible when staying in one place. They promote this experience as a positive and eye opening trip that undergraduate students should participate in.

As Nawrocki said, “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel somewhere and do what I love.” 

Megan Dougherty

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