SALEM — Nearly 200 years after ships sailed from this port to the Far East, Salem State University is launching a new era in the China Trade.
President Patricia Meservey flew to China this summer to confer Salem State degrees on 19 Chinese students who attended college here and in China through something called the 1+2+1 dual degree program.
This fall, 28 new students will arrive from seven partner universities in China. In all, there are about 90 Chinese students from different programs at Salem State, according to Provost Kristin Esterberg.
The increase in Chinese students at Salem State is mirrored across the country, where there has been an explosion of students from China seeking an education in the United States. There were 157,558 Chinese students in the U.S. during the 2010-11 academic year, a jump of more than 23 percent over the previous year, according to the Institute of International Education.
“Part of it is because the Chinese are really pushing for globalization,” said Li Li, a native of China and professor of history at Salem State, who is deeply involved with the international program. “They want students to become more globally oriented ... and they want their people to know the global standards, the global demands. China has a big push on now for a global perspective.”
Most of the students who come to Salem State are studying business and education. Visiting professors from China are also coming here on a regular basis to audit courses and learn more about the American educational system.
Under the 1+2+1 program, students study for a year in China, two years at Salem State and then a final year back in China. They receive degrees from colleges in both countries.
Although this is largely a one-way program right now, Salem State hopes to change that.
“We need now to reciprocate,” Meservey said. “We have been looking at strategies for how to accomplish that. We hope to have a travel seminar next summer,” she said, of a planned two-week program.
In time, Meservey wants to establish a study abroad program, with Salem State students spending a semester in China.
Although both an ally and rival of the United States, lauded for its dramatic economic growth and condemned for human rights violations, China is too important to ignore, Meservey said.
“China is just such a force in the world ...” she said. “I think our understanding of the culture, the history and (the economy) of China is critically important to our overall success as a country.
“What fascinates me is the willingness of the Chinese government to send their students to the U.S. to study. That’s how important they feel we are as a country, and I feel the reverse is also true, that we need to know much more about China as we move forward.”
Meservey learned a lot on her first trip to China, a two-week sojourn in late June and July. In addition to awarding degrees, she delivered a keynote speech at an educational forum, visited three universities sending students to Salem State and signed an agreement at one college to start a joint research center for the study of the China trade between Salem and Canton.
She also hosted a dinner for Salem State alumni and visiting scholars, where she discussed establishing a Salem State alumni club in China.
One of Meservey’s best memories is from her last night in China, when she dined at a restaurant owned by the family of a Salem State graduate. She sat with six Salem State graduates from China and their families.
“I asked them what they missed about Salem, and the answer I got floored me,” Meservey said. “It was seeing the blue sky,” a reference to the severe and widespread air pollution in China.
Then the president asked the students what they don’t miss about the U.S.
“They said, ‘We didn’t like American food.’”
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.