Rice alumni get insider tour of China

Updated: 2014-09-26 04:37

By MAY ZHOU in Houston(China Daily USA)

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Rice alumni get insider tour of China

David Leebron (right), president of Rice University, and his wife Y. Ping Sun, who is university representative, talk about the upcoming educational trip to China at their residence. [MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY]

A group of more than 40 alumni of Rice University will embark on a trip to China in early October with a very special "insider tour guide". Y. Ping Sun, university representative and wife of Rice President David Leebron, will be their escort.

The trip, led by Leebron and Sun from Oct 5 to 21, will combine a tour, cultural learning and educational exchange to give participants an insider's glimpse of different facets of China. The group will visit Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Dunhuang, Xi'an and Shanghai, and for some, also Guilin and Hong Kong.

According to Sun, the group includes influential lawyers, architects and business leaders from the US and especially Houston. For some, this will be their first trip to China.

Prior to the trip, Rice's three top experts on China — professors Richard Smith, Steven Lewis and Qian Nanxiu — will talk to the group about Chinese history, art, culture and current affairs. "So that the travelers will have a framework of China from the scholars' point of view," Sun said.

Sun said she is excited about leading the trip. "I want to show them things that many travelers don't get to see," she said. "Like in Tianjin, we will go to a regular residence and see how ordinary Chinese people live. I will invite some of my classmates from Tianjin Foreign Language School to have dinner with us. They all speak English and will have a wonderful time speaking with each other. I will also take them to Goubuli (the most famous local cuisine) and share tidbits about what it's like growing up in China."

Growing up in Tianjin, Sun studied at Beijing Languages and Culture University. "I will probably talk to them about what it is like to be in the first group to take college entrance exams and how I came to the US, how I was a national tour guide for a group of American pediatricians, and how stubborn I was petitioning the Ministry of Education for permission to come to the US."

The group will also tour the campus of Tsinghua University, Peking University (Beida) and witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Rice and Beida.

"We currently have collaboration with Beida in nano-photonics, and we want to involve more exchanges in research and graduate studies," said Leebron.

Sonny Lim, special assistant for international collaborations at Rice, said that the MOU reaffirms and deepens the collaboration between Rice Quantum Institute and Beida's International Center for Quantum Materials.

Since taking the reins of Rice in 2004, Leebron has been making trips to China almost every year. "We hosted the 2007 leadership forum here at Rice and had about 20 university presidents and senior leaders over," he said. "We have built quite a few relationships since."

According to Leebron, Rice is currently working with Tsinghua, Beida, Nankai, Zhejiang universities and others, and among its foreign undergraduate and graduate students, the largest percentage is from China.

"We have undergone the most change in the undergraduate student body. We went from almost no Chinese students to more than 200 Chinese students now. I think our students benefit from having Chinese students in their classes — they live and study together and build bridges," he said. "Chinese students are very smart and bring a different perspective."

Speaking of the trip, Leebron said he's happy that some important people from the US and especially from Houston are joining the trip. "I have to come back early and I don't get to go anywhere new like Dunhuang, as Ping does," he said. "But I am excited to sign the MOU with Beida, meet with the university president and I am happy the group will get to see China through Ping's eyes."