The Backdoor to a Master’s Degree

I’m not a very conventional person. Part of the reason why is because it’s fun, but most of it is because I don’t know the proper way to do things. Unconventional is my life in Tsinghua.

As an exchange student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I had no restrictions on the type of courses I could take. I only had two major regulations: I must take 12 to 18 credits. I can take no more than 8 credits outside my major. In other words, I had lots of room to be unconventional.

The first week of classes here was a nightmare.

The course registration site crashed because the servers couldn’t handle the number of students logging in at the same time. The finalized course list was only available on the course registration site. There was no English translation of the course list. Panicking, I translated the courses and the course syllabuses with my broken Chinese, picked as many journalism courses as I could and hoped for the best.

Tsinghua has a two week time period to sample classes. In those two weeks I flew through about 10 different classes and bought textbooks and completed the first week’s homework for a good half of each of those classes. After realizing it took me thirty minutes to fully comprehend one page of text in Chinese, I decided I couldn’t take courses taught in Chinese.

My finalized course list for the semester is as such: Business and Finance Reporting, Economics and Finance for Journalists, and Mass Communications and Contemporary Chinese Society, and Oral Chinese. All the courses are under Tsinghua’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications except for the Chinese class.

A lot of people ask me why I decided to study journalism in China. China is a black hole for Journalism as we understand it in the U.S: As a journalist, you’re always fighting against censorship. You face difficulties in finding information online. You never know when you’re too political. You can get kicked out of the country at any time. Your stories don’t seem relevant to 95 percent of the American population.

Despite all that, I still decided to study journalism Tsinghua University. In 2002, Tsinghua established a journalism and mass communications academy. In 2007, it started a two year master’s program in Global Journalism. The program is sponsored by big names like Bloomberg, Bank of America, the Knight Foundation and Deloitte. These names, make the institution seem open.

But, interestingly, Liu Binjie, the former minister of China’s General Administration of Press and Publication—the censorship department of the Chinese government—was Dean of School of Journalism and Communications in 2012, the same year Xi Jinping, the president of China, stepped into office. I note this because veteran China journalists, say that the control of media in China has been tightening since Xi has stepped into office. Liu is the one that is leading the ideology of Tsinghua’s school of journalism and mass communications. Is it a big deal? How are his experiences reflected in the leadership of the department here? How much does it matter? Are these the right questions I should be asking?

What happens in the high level decision I probably won’t ever know. It’s been difficult to find Professor Liu to spare a chat. But, experiencing the training that is accepted by this institution will help me better understand the media system in China. I never really put much thought into the administration and history of an institution until I came here.

Media regulation in modern China is a key part of the government. Since the foundation of the Communist Party of China (CCP), utilizing media was a big part of uniting the nation. In the 1930s, during the civil war with the Nationalist Party of China (the one with Chiang Kai-shek) the CCP was on the brink of disintegration. The Nationalists bullied the CCP into the desolate northwestern China. By then, the CCP had little weapons, little infrastructure, little money.

Media and mass communications was the only weapon they had. They were phenomenal with it. From the very beginning, high standing individuals in the CCP made decisions on how media should be made, who should make it, and what can be said to create the idealized image of China. That mindset towards the media as a weapon is still very apparent China today as we can see with heavy-handed censorship and overly positive news reports. My logic follows that tracing the media system in China still reflects the political mindset, internal conflicts and wishes of the party. And today, added onto the media system is a visible platform for the public to communicate back to the official image of China, the internet.

My classmates here too, I’m very interested in them. There are from good mix of nations: Russia, France, Slovakia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Pakistan, Italy, U.S., Korea, and China. I’d say of the 40 classmates that I’ve been able to share a conversation with, most are studying here for practical reasons, a switch in career, a boost in English language reporting, or a prestigious name to put onto their resume. I do get a vibe that they’re not satisfied with the reporting at home. They want to make a difference in the reporting back at their home.

So it is to this school, with an odd mix of Bloomberg terminals in our classrooms, and lecturers from American universities – that I as journalism student would like to learn from like, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania – Annenberg School for Communications – that I found a backdoor into though my exchange as a student from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Orgially posted on Study Abroad Correspondents @ International Academic Programs, University of Wisconsin Madison

Beijing Subway

Ten Things I Am Looking Forward to in Beijing

Ten Things I Am Looking Forward to in Beijing

Over the past few years of researching online, interviewing past China study abroad participants, and grilling professors about their experience in China to plan this opportunity abroad, I have collected a few nuggets of insight:

1. Convenience Stores

No, no, convenience stores don’t mean the commercial pharmacy down the street. It’s not CVS. It’s not Walgreens.


Family Mart

It’s nostalgia. Convenience stores are a happy place (Disclaimer: This is coming from someone whose childhood was transplanted from Chinatown, Chicago to Wisconsin suburb). All the happy memories of childhood – warmed steamed buns, rice dumplings, bottled red tea; even better bottled milk tea, childhood heroes reproduced as collectible goods (Naruto, Hello Kitty, Pokemon anyone?) – jewels that once took a 2 hour drive, can be found in that convenience store right outside the door.

2. Being near Major E-Sports Competitions

Maybe it’s the recent hype for THE major DOTA 2 tournament in August, Ti5, but, E-Sports in China are big (DOTA 2 is a popular online game produced by Valve).

DOTA2 G Leauge

The second biggest international DOTA 2 tournament featured an opening by JJ Lin, the beloved singer-songwriter that has been stealing hearts across Asia since 2003. Think someone with the cultural presences of Usher holding a concert at a gaming venue. But, the wonder of E-sports goes beyond the glamour. It’s the story. These video gaming enthusiasts tucked away as outcasts in the basements of their parents home have made a multimillion enterprise and a new culture. It’s lovely.

3. Visiting the Expat Communities

Imagining the costs it takes to leave home, these people must have great stories to tell.

A district in Beijing known for expats
Beijing is a rather internationally oriented city. It’s a mix of Washington D.C plus the shopping districts, financial districts like Chicago or New York has. It’s fun to look at what aspects of the expats’ homes are carried over to China. I hear that microbrews and cheese enthusiasts are popping up around Beijing. Perhaps one day, Americatown (or would Wisconsintown be more proper?) will be accepted by google’s auto-correct.

4. Asking Chinese locals how they view America and China

Communist, eat dog, immoral, job sealers, try-hards, sounds like China in the U.S. It’s hard to get anything more than an outdated stereotype inside the U.S.

Snapshot of China

Our information about China goes through a filter before reaching us, whether it is through the government or the press. Stereotypes are necessary, but there should be stereotypes that are closer to the actualities that are happening in day-to-day China. The last fifty years in China were crazy. People who lived through it are still alive. People who are going to shape the next fifty years are shaping their view on the world.

5. Looking Like the Majority

Edited photo with a face photoshopped onto 10 different heads

Being Chinese-American in a quiet Wisconsin Suburb means sticking out like a sore thumb.

China isn’t as concerned with being “politically correct” about identity as the U.S. may be. There are horror stories about Chinese-Americans or simply Asian-Americans being mistaken as Chinese-Chinese (Nationals sounds odd), and being scolded for not understanding Chinese and Chinese culture, but I’d rather have that – and the ability to blend in the background – than being odd all the time. It can get exhausting (I’ve also learned a trick to tell people I’m from Korea when I can’t handle being scolded anymore — if you’re reading this, thanks Frances).

6. Visiting Friends from Across the World

ProjectPengyou_UW

Food with good company, what more could anyone want? Shout-out to Project Pengyou!

7. Crowds in the Subway
Crowded subways are a great way to study people-to-people interactions while appreciating high-tech public transportation.

Beijing Subway

The subway is a unique mix of routine and chaos. There are people from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are regulars, some are lost. The stops indicate the district people are headed to and from. The time, the location, the people, a PhD candidate struggling to finish could write their dissertation from the intersection these variables. After a week of riding the subway in the sweaty summer months, this statement will probably be retracted.
8. Taking Journalism Courses
News in China is run under the Propaganda Department.

02

I’m sure, journalism is not an attractive profession to anyone looking for good income or a normal job — that I have learned over my meager years as a J-school student myself. Journalists are in it for the story that speaks to the heart. In the U.S. journalists are romanticized as the fourth estate, always keeping the big guys in check. That doesn’t fly in China. Then, how does the mind of a journalist work in China?

9. Indie Film Festivals

Indie films are great because they’re made for the spirit of filmmaking promoting a cause and story-telling, not necessarily commercial value.

BIFF

That’s not to say commercial films are terrible either, they serve different purposes. Unfortunately, last year, the Indie film fest in Beijing was cancelled by the government. Hopefully this year, the screening will be approved. If not, well, then there are trusty streaming sites thanks to poor IP laws and regulation.

10. Traveling outside Beijing

Photo of Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou beckons — photo credit to creative commons

It was a lazy summer day filled by lounging in my bed when I stumbled across this image. I had to sit up to take a proper gasp of air when I saw it. This image has been saved onto my flash-drive since middle school. This is Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟) in Sichuan Province. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am going to go here before I leave China.

My only fear is that my expectations of this list of ten, will be too high. Coming next, 10 things I am not looking forward to in Beijing!