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Missouri State-West Plains Student Success Story

New Beginnings … Endless Possibilities

Student Success Story – Dillon Cordel

Dillon Cordel and his friend, Holly Zhang, at Quinghai Lake in Quinghai, Xining Province, China.Dillon Cordel almost missed the opportunity to participate in one of the most unique experiences Missouri State University-West Plains has to offer – the China Semester Study Away Program.

“I found out about it through the school email, actually,” he recalled. “University officials said they were extending the application deadline, so I decided to apply and see what would happen. I love experiencing new cultures and meeting new people, and the Asian culture is one that I haven’t experienced before. I’m glad they extended the deadline, or I wouldn’t have gotten to go.”

Cordel, West Plains, a sophomore Associate of Science in Business major, was one of six students selected to participate in the program during the 2016 fall semester at Missouri State University’s branch campus at Liaoning Normal University (LNU) in Dalian, China. Through the China Semester, students are given the opportunity to continue their studies and serve as English language interns while being immersed in an entirely different culture, giving them a broadened view of the world and their place in it.

The group left Springfield Aug. 13 and arrived about 14 hours later in Beijing. “We traveled with the sun, so we never saw a night,” he said, pointing out they left at 9 a.m. local time and arrived in Beijing at 6 p.m. Beijing time. After spending a few days in capital city visiting such sites as the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Confucius Temple and the Hutong Village, an ancient city within Beijing, they made their way to Dalian, where they would spend the next four months.

After they moved into their rooms at LNU’s international dorms, the group decided to set out and explore the city of 7 million. “We toured campus and discovered some local shops. A lot of the signage is in English, which is like a second language there,” he said. “Public transportation was super efficient and super cheap. And, because part of their culture focuses on the outdoors, they have many very nice parks, and many of those have little carnivals, which give you more things to do.”

As interns, Cordel said he and his fellow program participants helped in the tutoring lab, teaching Chinese students curricular English. “We helped them with their classes and academic writing, as well as their conversational English,” he explained.

As a student, Cordel took accounting, business law, philosophy and a Chinese culture class, the latter of which is required of China Semester participants. “It was fun, but challenging,” he said of the Chinese culture class. “It’s a very difficult language. I learned enough to order food, speak basic conversations and ask where I am. It’s the only language in the world without an alphabet, so it makes it much more difficult to learn. To learn the written language, you have to learn characters, and there’s over 5,000 of them! It’s also a tone-based language, so you have to be careful how you say things.”

In his down time, Cordel attended many of the activities offered on campus through the Missouri State University International College of Business. “A lot of their activities were westernized,” he said, pointing out the annual Halloween party, Thanksgiving celebration and Christmas events. He also attended LNU’s English Corner, where Chinese students learned conversational English from their international counterparts. In addition, he joined his Chinese friends at KTV, a karaoke place where individual rooms could be rented out by groups for a fun evening of singing in a variety of languages. “They love karaoke,” he said.

Cordel also had the opportunity to travel to other parts of China during the annual “Moon” festival. The students were given a week-and-a-half break at this time, so Cordel and roommate Justin Butkovich, West Plains, took the opportunity to meet up with a Chinese friend Cordel had previously met at Missouri State, Holly Zhang. Zhang had been a wine marketing student at the university and returned to her home university in Ningxia in July.

The group decided to meet in Quinghai near the Tibetan Plateau where some of Zhang’s family lived to see some of the sites of west-central China, including a number of monasteries and temples. “The area is actually part of the foothills of the Himalayas. The province also has the second largest salt lake in the world,” he pointed out.

The group stayed with Zhang’s family in a two-bedroom apartment. “We got to see how they lived every day in their home,” he said. This included enjoying the family-style traditional “hot pot” meal. “You have a pot of boiling water in the center of the table, then you dip your food in there and let it cook. It was like a broth with different spices, very flavorful,” he explained.

The trip gave Cordel and Butkovic a different view of China and its cultural influences. The port city of Dalian is very international because it’s so close to North and South Korea, Russia and Japan and is greatly influenced by western, Russian and Japanese culture, Cordel said. Quinghai, on the other hand, is more insular, having developed its own food and culture. The area also is known for a high concentration of Muslims, he said.

Although the China Semester experience ended for Cordel on Dec. 15, the lessons learned will last a lifetime. “It gave me a worldly perspective. They live life so much differently there, how they view things, how they work. It gave me a new way of looking at problem solving and relationships. It’s opened up a whole new way of living.

“I definitely gained a love of Asian culture, especially Chinese,” he continued. “The Chinese are very friendship based. When you make a friend there, you make a friend for life. That’s one aspect I love. Twenty years from now, I could go back to China, and they would treat me like nothing has changed.”