UMD: A Globally Connected University

U21 Summer School Students Experience Ancient and Modern China

UMD students Laura Maza ‘17, Anna Lin ‘18 and Alice Lu ‘17 participated in the U21 summer school held this year in Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, around the topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its Culture. The trio were interested in both the cultural and the scientific implications of the course and in gaining firsthand experience in drug discovery, development, and manufacturing by observing clinical practice. They spoke to the Office of International Affairs (OIA) about their experiences over the two weeks they spent in China.


Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from and what you’re studying?

Alice: I’m double majoring in Biology and English, and am a senior. I’m in the Gemstone and Writer’s House programs on campus.

Anna: I’m from Montgomery County, MD. I am currently a junior in the Gemstone Honors Program. I am studying General Biology as my major and Asian American Studies as my minor.

Laura: I am a senior here currently studying Psychology with a Pre-Med track. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and came to the United States for my undergraduate studies.

How did you become interested in this year’s summer school topic and how does it tie into what you’re researching or studying?

Alice: Overall, I was curious about the way Traditional Chinese Medicine is portrayed in the Western media, and the intersection of Western medicine with traditional beliefs. In terms of the pharmaceutical side, I was also extremely interested in the drug development process, and how the complex components of each herb could possibly undergo enough fine-tuning to become a regulated pharmaceutical product. I wanted to learn more about the scientific basis of acupuncture and cupping, and hear from pharmaceutical companies on future development.

Anna: Because I am pre-med, I really wanted to learn more about medicine in the Eastern side of the globe.

Laura: I have always been interested in medical concepts, and I’ve had some familiarity with Chinese traditional medicine before, but not enough to actually be knowledgeable. Being able to study it in Shanghai was a dream come true not only as an avid traveler, but as a student who is interested in any means of medicine. I hope to go to medical school after graduation and knowing about alternative methods will allow [me] to treat patients as best as possible by considering all viable options.

What were your first impressions about China, and Shanghai in particular?

Alice: My parents are from China, and I have travelled to China with them before, so the country was not altogether unfamiliar to me. However, it was my first time travelling independently to China and my first time in Shanghai. My first impression was that it was extremely, extremely hot! I was surprised by the humid weather in Shanghai. And of course, the population density always surprises people.

Anna: When I first arrived in Shanghai, I was astounded by the skyscrapers and the local culture. Everywhere I looked, there were buildings of all different architectural designs. Some buildings were modern, reflecting globalization in the last few decades, while others maintained the traditional Chinese pagoda-like design. I really appreciated the local culture, where people practiced Tai chi outdoors and street vendors and craftsmen displayed their wares for everyone to see.

Laura: At first I was overwhelmed with the weather and the air quality because I was used to cooler and less humid weather. I did enjoy the views on my ride to the hotel, and it seems like such a modern city. It reminded me of a much larger New York City with its skyline and busy atmosphere.

What did you learn about China that surprised you?

Alice: I saw some thought-provoking advertisements in China. One was inside a silk factory. The three plastic models of little girls wearing traditional Chinese silk Qi Paos were blond-haired and blue-eyed. It was honestly disappointing to see this kind of media showing through. What kind of influence might this have on kids growing up in China? I was pleasantly surprised by the deep shade of blue in the skies. I had read that pollution in China was quite awful and people hadn’t seen blue skies for decades, but air quality was not bad at all in Shanghai.

Anna: I was really intrigued by the mix of mysticism and science that traditional Chinese medicine maintained. While holding onto the ancient principles of the five elements, traditional Chinese medicine also includes advanced technologies and pharmaceuticals to make herbs into carefully measured dosage-dependent pills.

Laura: Their culture around appearances and capitalism. They center a lot of their life around the clothes they wear, which in my opinion was amazing. I also found it amazing how they had an establishment for almost anything. It was very eye opening to just walk around and see others interact with each other and us.

Did you make friends and forge relationships during the program?

Alice: We did make many friends! There were students from 18 universities and 11 countries, including Sweden, Chile, Mexico, Singapore, and Australia. It is really nice to think that these may be our future colleagues. Some have also met up when they travelled to each other’s countries. Anna and I may meet up over winter break with an Australian friend who is studying abroad in the U.S. 

Anna: I made a lot of friends during this program, many of whom I still keep in contact with. I’m really happy that I was able to meet people from all over the globe and thrilled that I made close friendships with people from Australia, Canada, the U.K., and China

Laura: I made a very good group of friends. Not only did I befriend the rest of the girls from UMD, but I also met other people from Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, Mexico, Chile, and Connecticut specifically. We got close rather quickly, and it became the norm to take evening trips to experience the city life as well as the food.

What was your favorite part of the experience?

Alice: I really enjoyed learning from some of the lectures, especially “Traditional Chinese Medicine: A European Perspective.” It analyzed the feasibility of TCM to be approved in the Western market. TCMs are multi-effect and multi-component. It’s difficult to extract one single active ingredient. It was very informative to meet students from different parts of the world, and compare how we reacted when placed in Chinese culture. Therefore, the experience was not purely U.S.-meets-China, but multinational.

Anna: My favorite part of the experience is the novelty/travel aspect because I learned a lot about my culture during that two-week program duration. It was a really enriching experience getting to see the ancient Chinese buildings, history, and subsequent developments and modernization in the China we know today.

Laura: I appreciated the travel and social aspect more. It was amazing to be in one of the most developed countries in the world with the ability to explore the city at my will. I also enjoyed meeting and learning from other people about their cultures, experiences, and just them as a person. Although the educational aspect was enriching and opened my eyes to different aspects of medicine, being able to share it with others and see it firsthand around the city made it more real and understandable.

Did you do things that put you out of your comfort zone? Was that a positive or enriching feeling?

Alice: I tend to enjoy a calmer, organized pace of life. The bustling city of Shanghai was a lot of stimulus and full of things you can’t plan for. It was an enriching experience to interact with so many people, be placed in unplanned-for situations, and struggle with the language barrier. Anecdote: A group of six or seven students went to a little shop for lunch. Two of us figured out that the first thing on the menu said Fish Wonton Soup. Everyone else ordered the same thing, because we couldn’t figure out what the rest of the menu said.

Anna: I definitely did things that put me out of my comfort zone, which included navigating a foreign space and being the group leader of seven other international strangers. Nevertheless, this experience has been educational and enriching because I was able to develop better leadership and communication skills during this trip.

Laura: I think the dining was something that took a couple of days to get over. I am naturally in love with food, but I did have some reservations when it came to eating on street venues. I did let myself try new recipes and dishes that I would otherwise never eat and was mostly a pleasant experience overall. The culinary involvement did help establish the basis for what TCM is all about by trying teas and knowing what they are medically for, as well as other ingredients used for medicines.

Would you recommend the experience to other students?

Alice: I would definitely recommend the experience to other students! It was very enriching both educationally and personally.

Anna: I would definitely recommend this experience to other students!

Laura: I have already done that. I have a few friends who are interested in the health fields and have been dying to do something different and learn about new aspects of health. But, even if I hadn’t, I definitely would because it was one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken, educationally and socially.