Experience Chinese society from Beijing and Tianjin

There’s no better way to learn about China’s politics, economy, culture and the real lives of its citizens than from the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square and the Hai River.

For the second year in a row, University of Toronto students can apply for a summer abroad course in Beijing and Tianjin that focuses on understanding social change and development in contemporary Chinese society, particularly in how social change affects people individually, with the country as the classroom.

In the course, over four weeks, students have lectures four days a week, attend events, interview local guests, go on trips and conduct field work. The course, hosted by professors Weiguo Zhang and Ka Tat Tsang, is split between Capital University of Economics and Business (CUEB) in Beijing and Nankai University in Tianjin. At CUEB, students will stay at the original Hongmiao campus, just minutes from the city’s business district. Nankai University is one of the most prestigious universities in the country, where students will stay on the main Balitai campus.

During the course, students are introduced to local students and professors, activists, villagers and policy-makers. They go on educational trips to a home for migrant workers, a privately-operated elder-care home, a car manufacturer and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“Getting to experience China first-hand while learning about the country’s history and policy was so interesting,” says fourth-year sociology student Michael Dineen, who completed the course in 2016. “Being immersed in life as it exists there while getting to meet policy-makers and the people who live alongside their policies was very cool. It’s one thing to learn in a classroom, but it’s another to learn through visceral experience.”

Besides it being a heavily experiential-based course, the most important aspect of the course to Professor Zhang is that students can make the experience their own by asking questions at every activity, trip, lecture and interview.

“Asking questions gives students a chance to apply what they’ve learned already and make their own inquiries,” says Zhang. “They always have such interesting questions!”

It’s getting right into China’s communities that gives students a real understanding of social development in China, which gives them the knowledge and skills for critical analysis of issues relating to Chinese society and global issues.

“We are living in a globalized society,” says Dineen, who highly recommends the course. “Gaining a better understanding of a nation that significantly contributes to our global community is something I think everyone should do at some point in their life.”

In order to apply for SOC393Y0, students must have taken a SOC course at the 200+ level or have relevant academic preparation, but do not have to be majoring in sociology.

“For a student to be able to go to China to learn about Chinese society during university is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in so many ways,” says Zhang. “From everything they’ll see and experience, to creating memories that will help shape them personally and educationally to becoming global citizens, this course really provides something special.”

Written by Jessica Lewis