Senior business major Jon Li’s entire family is from China, but as a U.S. born citizen, he felt no connection with Chinese culture until he studied abroad last year.Li said he walked into the WSU Education Abroad Office with his mind made up: he was going to China in order to finally connect with the heritage he knew almost nothing about.Li is one of the increasing number of WSU students who choose to study abroad for heritage-seeking reasons. While it is likely many second- and third-generation students went abroad to seek a connection with family ancestry in the past, more students are now actively voicing it, said Kate Wray Chettri, an Education Abroad adviser and outreach and assessment coordinator.
I’ve worked at WSU for the last five years and our conferences always focus on trends in education abroad or issues in education abroad,she said.Heritage seeking is definitely something that comes up on the list of popular topics, which is a reflection on what’s going on among students who study abroad.Wray Chettri said it has become more common for students whose majors do not easily accommodate for studying abroad to legitimize going if they have family or heritage overseas. She said students probably have more setbacks financially and academically than they did 10 or 20 years ago when education was less expensive and there were not as many academic restrictions. Li said in addition to choosing to study in China to gain a better understanding of his Chinese background, he went to create an experience that would set him apart from other business students. He said the economic downturn of the economy in 2008 willed him to delay graduation in favor of studying abroad.I feel like if I didn’t have family there, it would have been more difficult to justify studying abroad,Li said.It would be a shame to carry out your life not knowing all the members of your family.Data taken from Education Abroad Office files shows five students identified an interest in studying abroad in a country where they had family ties in 2009, but only three students actually followed through with the trip. Data from 2010 shows an increase to nine students initially showing an interest in studying abroad for heritage-seeking reasons, and five sticking to their plan. Students can also get a lot of exposure while studying in such universities and different course European Studies ,Intercultural Anglophone and Engineering.Many more students likely studied abroad in countries where they had family ancestry, but did not state it outright, Wray Chettri said. She said students who want to go abroad for heritage-seeking reasons may be steered away from studying in a country of their family’s origin due to cost, especially in European countries. For senior zoology major Blair Hamacher, the trip was worth the expense.
Hamacher studied in northern Germany because she wanted to gain a better understanding of the country where much of her family came from. Having additional family to visit in Ireland added to her desire to study in Europe in general, she said.Hamacher said she felt a strong sense of pride in having a more personal experience abroad than the average American student. “My major doesn’t have anything to do with foreign language, so I think that really drove me to learn more about my family,she said.I also came back with a strong sense of what it’s like to be an American. It was a really valuable perspective that is hard to gain if you don’t remove yourself and go abroad.Li echoed Hamacher’s insight on uncovering family roots and discovering new perspectives abroad.I think I definitely have an increased appreciation for China because I saw family that I’d never seen before,he said.But beyond China itself, I think I have an appreciation for the world. I realized that the people beyond our borders are friendly and nice and just like you and me. In the end, we’re all people.