Study Abroad in Shanghai Brings New Perspective to International Studies Major

When Jonathon Lenett arrived in Shanghai, the largest city in the People's Republic of China, he had the advantage of knowing the city's subway system.

"I still had my subway card [from a visit to China three years ago]," said Lenett, a junior at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, who returned in 2012 to study Chinese history. An international studies major who speaks fluent Mandarin, he fulfilled the travel study component of the program by spending four months studying at East China Normal University.

"I chose Shanghai because I wanted to go to a place that was accepting of foreigners and had an international vibe," said Lenett, who lived in a dormitory with another American and attended classes with students from around the world. "China is a closed society, but Shanghai has more foreign influence."

His professors, too, came from diverse backgrounds and nations, including the U.S. "I became very friendly with my professors," Lenett said. "Each and every one had something unique about them. It was interesting to see how they all came from different countries but they gathered together in teaching at one university."

During his stay, Lenett visited some of China's historic sites, such as the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where the Chinese Army killed hundreds of protestors in 1989, an event dubbed the Tiananmen Square Massacre. At the western edge of the square sits the Great Hall of the People, the meeting place of the Chinese parliament.

"At Tiananmen Square, I felt like I was living history," Lenett said. "This experience helped me grow as a person. It helped me understand the world around me from a global perspective.

"The Chinese society is totally different from America. People have a different way of thinking. If you're going with a closed mindset, China is not the place to go. Foreigners have to go to China with a mind open to different cultural and social norms."

Lenett was inspired to study in China after taking the Comparative Government course taught by Stephen Levitt, LL.M., associate professor at the college.

"Professor Levitt's course influenced my desire to gain a new perspective, to learn about other societies, other governments, and other ways of thinking," Lenett said.

Levitt said Lenett was well prepared for the trip.

"I think this was a great experience for Jonathon because he was prepared," Levitt said. "The work that Jonathon did in my class about foreign government structures, as well as human rights and international trade issues, prepared him for the experience he had in China. My courses, and Jonathon's courses with other professors at NSU, gave him the tools for critical yet open-minded assessment and analysis of another society.

"The fact that Jonathon speaks Chinese permitted him to look beyond the standard translations and materials available to foreigners, which are often controlled or edited. He had the chance to speak directly with citizens of China."

In addition, being able to witness the daily life of the locals is a "feature [of studying abroad that] cannot be captured in written materials," Levitt said.

With his degree in international studies, Lenett hopes to pursue a career in politics, teaching, and diplomacy, possibly working at the United Nations.

"This experience gave me a better perspective of life. It taught me that everyone has a unique aspect and something to contribute to the world. Although I knew this from books, I actually applied this while I was there."

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