Brianna Billingsley

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

Washington & Jefferson College

Heinz Programming Area:
Study Abroad Country: China Cohort Year: 2019 Home Institution: Washington & Jeffrson College Programming Area: Learning
International Experience Summary:

As a member of the 2019 cohort of the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership, Brianna spent eight weeks in Shanghai, China. She enrolled in two accelerated intensive Chinese language courses at East China Normal University for her time there. Brianna spent the entirety of the trip under a strict language commitment to speak and write in only Chinese with her friends, teachers and host family. As a part of her class, she interviewed local Chinese people on campus to learn about their perspective of what it’s like to live in China, and they visited a local tea shop to learn more about the process of tea making. Brianna accompanied her program to Beijing for a weekend to explore the capital, Great Wall, and Forbidden City. She continued to learn about Chinese culture through playing Shanghai-style mahjong with her classmates and through art as she navigated calligraphy exhibits and a ballet performance. On the weekends, she and her friends would take the initiative to explore lesser-known parts of the city to get to know a more authentic Shanghai. While on a trip to Suzhou, she and her friends danced with strangers at sunset, and she defines this as her revelation of the major difference between American and Chinese people.

Through her entire time abroad, while analyzing the cultural experiences, she inadvertently learned more about the underlying presence of community between people, and the diversity that highlights our individuality. Along with this sense of community, the recent environmental laws that currently affect China were a sign of how a group of people working together can bring about change. In addition to living with a host family, to increase her understanding of the culture, she took the time to talk with locals about their interpretation of the recycling process. In China, Brianna learned a lot about a culture entirely different from her own, but along with that, she learned a lot about what it means to interact with strangers in a positive way, and the impact that people can have when they work together. She hopes that in her life and future career in physics, she’ll be able to have meaningful relationships with people through advocacy for diversity in thought and action to broaden the ideas that are brought to research in her field.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: Connecting Across Cultures

Our Community Engagement Event was titled “Connecting Across Cultures” which was rooted in the international experience of both me and my fellow cohort member, Amanda. While abroad, neither of us had really felt like an outsider or as if we were in a completely different setting, and this event was to convey that message. Our CEE set out to show that travelling to an unfamiliar place does not have to be daunting and that there may be a surprising number of similarities compared to what you may have heard. Our event aimed to promote human togetherness as opposed to otherness, and that despite geographical or language differences, people are just people. To achieve this, we invited six female faculty and staff on campus to speak about their experiences in a culture different from their own. All of these women had either started their journey in the United States or had come to the United States and all at different stages in their lives. 

Our panelists were able to show a broad and diverse group of perspectives that still had a common thread which was human nature. Our questions for the panel asked them to reflect on their experiences and primarily, the transition between cultures with questions like “What was something that you found to be universal across cultures?”, and “Was adjusting to the country difficult and in what aspects? Talk through your first days in a new country and how you dealt with the first challenges you faced if any.” We had a list of ten questions we asked our panelists, and then we spent about 25 minutes in roundtable discussion facilitated by our panelists. The roundtable discussion was meant to initiate conversation between our attendees and panelists to create a more engaging experience overall. 

At the end of our event we had one spokesperson from each table share what they learned from the panel or what their table discussed during the roundtables. We had heard from the attendees that the panel assuaged their worries about their own personal travel plans, and that they were reassured and empowered to have their own international experience. From our panelists, they had shared that having the opportunity to reflect on their own experience and share it with the intent to help others had value to them as well. With this positive feedback, we can confidently say that we held a successful event that had value to our community.