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Building Community

International Programs coordinates overseas trip for local high school students

Students from Topeka in Shanghai

From The Ichabod - Fall 2017

Helping students realize traveling around the world is a rewarding experience is central to what Washburn’s study abroad program does to help college students.

“The earlier someone is exposed to international travel and learning, the more likely they are going to continue to do it,” said Baili Zhang, director, international programs at Washburn.

As a service to the local community, Washburn decided to extend its international program planning beyond the University, and sent its first group of high school students to China this past spring break.

The groundwork for the trip was laid in 2014, when Janie Vogel’s Chinese class at Topeka High School began a pen pal exchange with students at Quzhou No. 2 High School in China. As students got to know each other better, they began exchanging small gifts and pictures of each other’s families.

In 2016, nine students and one teacher from China visited Topeka High and Washburn University. In China, the school day is much longer and can last well into the evening. Since the American school day is shorter, the Chinese students were able to experience cultural events and athletic games.

“Then it was our turn to go to China, but there wasn’t a precedent for a University taking a group of high school students abroad,” said Andy Vogel, coordinator for international student recruitment and retention. “We had to start from the ground up on developing the policies and looking into the liability of the trip.”

It was important the trip was affordable for students who wanted to attend, and Washburn knew it could cut the costs of the trip as it didn’t take any overhead costs that a travel company would charge. A University planning for a trip like this for high school students was unique, and there weren’t other programs to look at for examples. Zhang credited Robert and Marcie Holtz and Barnes & Noble for their generosity in supporting some of the trip.

"Even though the trip was budgeted at cost, it was still expensive for some families to go, so the donations really helped,” Zhang said. “It showed the students that people care about international education, and it motivated them to pursue it."

Seven students from Topeka High School and one student from Seaman High School took the trip with the Vogels accompanying them for 12 days. The students attended class with their Chinese counterparts at Quzhou No. 2 High School in China – getting the opportunity to experience the long and rigorous school days and to stay with Chinese host families.

Tina Williams, study abroad coordinator at Washburn, worked on logistics and policies for the trip. She said the U.S.-China Youth Exchange Program was able to come together because of unique connections in
the community.

“It takes an adventurous and curious student to invest time and resources to travel and study abroad, and these students were perfectly suited for the challenge,” Williams said.

Amber Schmidt, a senior at Topeka High School, said it was interesting to see the differences and similarities of other young adults who were learning and growing up at the same time as her.

“I definitely want to study abroad again; I want to be put out of my comfort zone,” she said. “We started out as pen pals, and then we were able to see them in their world. It makes you realize how small the world is.”

Schmidt said now that she is considering which college to attend, she is looking at what kind of study abroad opportunities are available.

“The students who returned are not the ones who left,” said Andy Vogel. “The hospitality of the Chinese people was wonderful, and everyone came back more compassionate and more mature.”

The work of International Programs is already paying off as several of the pen pals and trip participants are now attending Washburn.

"We hope outreach programs like this will bring more local students to campus and motivate them to consider Washburn after they graduate," said Zhang.

A group from China will come back to Washburn’s campus this spring, and Janie Vogel hopes the trip will continue to inspire high school students in Topeka.

“There really is no partnership more important,” said Andy Vogel of the U.S. and China relationship. “It’s a growing economy and political influence. With these two superpowers, if they are friends, it could create a whole new age of harmony.”

Winter 2019 Ichabod magazine cover with Bob Dole statue on front

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2018-19 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

View past editions


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Topeka, KS 66604
Phone: 785.670.4483