Gordon in the News: last updated 08/03/2015

When Business [Class] Goes to China

Faculty in the Summer Series: What exactly are Gordon professors doing during their summer vacations? This is the first in a series exploring that question.

By Jo Kadlecek

For Alyssa Maine, a 2011 communication arts graduate, the country of China was as foreign a topic to her as economics. But that didn’t stop her from enrolling in Gordon’s third international “China Seminar,” led by economics and business professor Stephen Smith and offered in collaboration with Gordon’s Global Education Office, Biola University and Westmont College.

“I’m not sure how I found myself studying economics and business throughout China at the start of my summer vacation,” said Maine. “But I wanted to immerse myself in a culture and topic that was new and exciting, something I hadn’t studied at Gordon before—and I wasn’t disappointed.”

Maine, along with eight other students from Gordon, 16 from Biola and eight from Westmont, traveled with Smith and two other professors May 27 to June 15 for the 19-day intensive study tour, logging some 20,000 miles along the way. As part of the four-credit academic seminar, the group visited businesses, factories, social service agencies and churches, talked with executives and professors, and learned about the realities of economic growth in a nation that has experienced massive change over the past 30 years.

“China right now has shifted away from low-tech, labor-intensive production to more high-tech production,” said Smith, who grew up in Hong Kong, earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University and now regularly visits China as part of his scholarship and research on international economic issues. “It’s a classic transition that happens in countries where you see economic development working.”

Smith and his students saw such transitions up close, making stops at a variety of businesses, including a plastics factory and a General Motors plant, while travelling close to 20,000 miles within China. From Beijing through Taiyuan, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Shanghai, they also took in cultural and historical sites, walked the Great Wall, ventured into the Forbidden City and sat with students in Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics. They visited a tiny school about 35 miles from Taiyuan that served 50 children from six villages, and worshiped at a church where the students had to wear headphones to hear the sermon translated into English. Each experience offered a lesson that brought to life far more than they had studied in their economics textbooks.

“The most important thing we’re trying to do in the seminar is cultivate students’ understanding of China in all of its present glory and difficulty,” said Smith. “In the U.S. we perceive China mostly through the ‘MADE IN CHINA’ label on some products we buy; what’s harder for us to grasp sitting here in the States is just how big and vibrant the Chinese economy is. What that implies for the U.S. is really very important.”

Just ask Alyssa Maine, who after listening to Chinese business professionals and visiting their companies, discovered just what Smith had hoped: China’s economy had affected her personally. “My world collided with both economics and Chinese culture,” she said, “and my vocabulary—which now includes concepts like inflation, GDP and macro-policies—will never be the same.”

View more photos from the China Seminar trip >>