China is becoming an increasingly popular study abroad destination for outbound
students in the United States. There is, however, a lack of research on study abroad in
China and its impact. This dissertation seeks to illuminate the influence of a short-term
study abroad program in China on its participants’ attitudes towards China. The case this
study focuses on is a three-week faculty-led and non-language-based study abroad
program in China. The Faucauldian theory of power and knowledge, Said’s Orientalism,
and the social psychological theory of attitude and attitude change are used as the
theoretical framework for this study. Qualitative methods are mainly used to collect
qualitative data and a quantitative survey is used to select interviewees who represent a
maximum range of participants and identify the sources of information students had used
to learn about China.
Focusing on the image and knowledge of China emerging from the spoken and
written texts of the students and reflecting the students’ attitudes towards China, this
study looked into the representation of China in mainstream discourse in the United
States with which the students were familiar. The findings demonstrate that the students’
attitudes towards China and how the students interpreted their experiences in China were
shaped by how China has been represented in the mainstream discourse in the United
States, which is influenced by the ideological difference and power dynamics between
the two countries covers more negative news about China. This then is reflected in the
students’ surprises about China and their “This is China” moments. Setting China at the opposite to what the United States is and viewing American knowledge system as the
authority, many students used “face” and government control to decode what they had
seen and learned in China. These two concepts prevent these students from learning about
China from the local perspective. This study also illuminates the effective and ineffective
elements in changing students’ attitudes towards China. The source of a message, the
way a message is delivered and the students’ related prior experience and knowledge all
play an important role in the effectiveness of a message.
These findings have significant theoretical, practical and policy implications. The
influence of the unbalanced representation of China in the mainstream discourse of the
United States needs to be counterbalanced by more local perspectives and a deeper
cultural understanding students can acquire during their study abroad trip. Also the
Chinese government needs to improve its image in the West through enhancing its public relations strategies and its way of handling problems existing in China.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2012. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisor: Gerald W. Fry. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 213 pages, appendices I-II.
The impact of a study abroad program in China on its participants' attitudes towards China..
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