The University of Iowa

A Chinese student reflects on Global Leadership Conference

February 24th, 2014

From the blog Tales from the Global Diaspora By Lu Shen

Participants of a leadership workshop assemble in theatre seating

The most fascinating day of my life at Iowa was not when I received a scholarship from University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication; it was not when my stories were featured on the front page of The Daily Iowan three days in a row; it was not when I got the final internship confirmation from CNN’s Beijing Bureau — it was today — when the “Global Leadership Starts Here” workshop finally took place on the UI campus.

Returning home an hour ago from the day-long workshop, I was excited, exhausted and relieved. I am proud to be one of the 50 student participants, and I feel lucky that I have been able to work with truly amazing people on planning from the very beginning. We all knew the workshop was going to be wonderful, but still, I got emotional the whole time when it really happened — about the gathering of great minds and the day of inspiration.

Professor Polumbaum speaks

The idea of the workshop was born after a poorly-attended film screening and discussion on Nov. 12, 2013. The film “The Dialogue” follows four Chinese and four U.S. students travels throughout south and southeast China, where tensions and conflicts flared during discussions. After the showing, the handful of audience — mostly Chinese students — expressed concerns about issues happening in our lives at Iowa.I haven’t seen the passion, energy and excitement in myself for a very long time. Here, I want to thank all the fabulous student participants, faculty and staff members for helping renew them in such a meaningful way.

My professor Judy Polumbaum, who facilitated the discussion, came up with the idea of bringing international and domestic students together, having them discuss issues arising on the Iowa campus the next day when she was on her way to meet me for a class project. Honestly, when she told me about this, I was not sure if she was being serious — clearly I didn’t know my professor well enough.Judy set everything up in a magic way — a month later, we got a steering committee, a group of facilitators of faculty and staff, a group of faculty and graduate student speakers, and all the auspices lined up.

It’s been three months of numerous email exchanges and meetings with administrators, faculty, staff and students. Discussions involved every single detail of the workshop – from student recruitment, discussion setup, workshop publicity to food ordering, printing ordering, folder stuffing, table setting — some exciting, some funny, some daunting.

students raise their hands

Finally today,  a group of wonderful student participants — half U.S. and half international — got together in the Adler journalism building, starting from talking to strangers at breakfast, listening to enlightening yet fun presentations from professors and graduate teaching assistants on Iowa and Chinese cultures and economies, U.S. academy, and stereotypes that Chinese and U.S. students hold onto each other…

We laughed hard when Prof. Frank Durham said, “Date an Asian girl; take her out to Frozen Yogurt.” — which later became the workshop theme — everyone decided to start international friendships at froyo. And oh, most Chinese students learned today that “rubber” does not mean “eraser” in the U.S.

The small group discussion and conclusion session in the afternoon were even more eye-opening to me. Truthfully speaking, it was the first time that I realized there are open-minded, profound and curious U.S. students who do care about international students. I also surprisingly found that many of my fellow Chinese students are dauntless and out-spoken, who expressed their colorful minds really well. 

See how ignorant I had been – I had carried all these assumptions and generalizations along the way that they had blocked chances I would have to meet and know more people.

certificate of global leadership

At the end of the day, each of the eight student groups came up with 10 solutions to integrate international and domestic students at both individual and institutional levels. I guess one thing that struck most of today’s participants, including me, is that if none of us takes the initiative to know each other better, nothing is going to happen between us, no matter how large the international population is on campus.

Cultural integration is not as simple as grabbing lunch together. We came up with great ideas of bridging the gap between international and domestic students, yet what’s more important is that we consolidate them and lead the trend of the cultural assimilation on campus.

Dear workshoppers, I hope that we didn’t just walk away from Adler and thought it was a  great and fun experience; we are now shouldering the responsibility of being  global leaders to promote “values of diversity, tolerance and global understanding” — it’s on our certificates.