Professor encourages students to 'think global' during study abroad program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Associate Professor Moses Ling encourages his architectural engineering students to think outside the box during their summer study abroad trip to China.

Ling took fifteen Penn State students on a seven-week journey from Beijing to Hong Kong this summer to look at the world overseas and encourage them to think bigger than central Pennsylvania.

For more than 30 years, the architectural engineering department had an established exchange program with the University of Leeds. Around 2000, the Leeds partnership dwindled, causing architectural engineering students to turn to the Penn State Department of Architecture’s program in Rome to fulfill their desire to study abroad.

However, Ling noted that the Rome program focused on architecture-specific studies and did not have enough significant engineering and contemporary content. He wanted to design an alternative study abroad program that related more directly to architectural engineering.

“Starting around 2005, I began to look for opportunities in Asia,” Ling said.

In 2008, Tsinghua University in Beijing extended an invitation for Penn State students to join their 10-day summer school for international construction.

Tsinghua provided an anchor around which to build a study abroad program. In the summer of 2009, Ling and three architectural engineering students took off for China. They spent two weeks in Beijing and then a few days in Hong Kong. The following year, six students went. With that, a tradition began.

In 2011, Dr. Steve Rowlinson, a faculty member in the Department of Real Estate and Construction at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), offered to accommodate Penn State students at his university.

Starting in the summer of 2012, this partnership sparked the full-fledged seven-week, 12-credit summer program in China.

This past summer, the full program’s third running year, thirteen architectural engineering students and two architecture students accompanied Ling on this journey across the world.

The program kicked off with a weekend at the Great Wall before students immersed themselves in the 10-day summer school at Tsinghua University. After two weeks in Beijing, students moved to Hong Kong to study for four weeks at HKU. In Hong Kong, students took a studio course and an urban development course around the Pearl River Delta. The program concluded with a week of traveling to Shanghai and Fujian.

“The program intentionally explores a variety of architecture, from historical to contemporary,” Ling said.

Students are immersed in the culture, the cuisine, every form of public transportation and many housing options.

They are expected to work on projects that are culturally and socially significant while abroad. Their task this year challenged them to find ways to bring wet markets and open-air eateries, called Dai Pai Dongs, up to 21st century standards and expectations.

Fourth-year architectural engineering student Drew Nicholas said “you can’t pay for the experience” he had on the trip to China this summer.

He recalled that a studio project challenging the students to modernize a Hong Kong wet market was “such a cool process” that taught them a lot about China without even realizing it.

Ling said it is gratifying to see students expand their horizons and discover a “new world” that they had never experienced.

“It was amazing to see everything from the other side of the world,” Nicholas said. “I want to travel everywhere now.”

“The future is global,” Ling said. “Students must be open to learning and seeing new ideas.”

Students explored everything from traditional residential structures like the Walled Villages in Hong Kong to new high-rise structures like the World Financial Center in Shanghai. They also toured historical structures such as the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace in Beijing as well as less known fortified residences such as Tulous in Fujian and Diaolous in Kaiping.

Ling said the cultural experience is vital for learning that it is easy to adapt to a new culture “if you let yourself be open to it.”

“I constantly come back to my well-worn statement: you don’t know what you don’t know,” Ling remarked.

“Perhaps my most gratifying moment came when one particular student, who hung on to my shirt upon arrival in Shanghai, disappeared for a while on the last day,” Ling recalled. “When he showed up again, he said to me ‘I think I can come back and work here.’”

A number of alumni working in China get involved in the program by being studio critics, inviting students to tour their offices or showing students around their cities. Their involvement helps show students the possibilities for architectural engineers working outside of the United States.

“We want students to be open to new ideas and possibilities,” Ling said. “China is building. There is a future for students who want to work overseas.”

Nicholas recalled that seeing the alumni was “like fast forwarding life” and realizing what is possible for Penn State architectural engineering graduates. Alumni shared their stories of successes and failures and showed the students that their long-term goals are attainable.

“Their success through our program makes high expectations seem possible,” Nicholas said. “I can’t wait until I can do that for someone else.”

Last Updated November 13, 2014