Queen's University

Chinese exchange a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience

Students travel down the Yangtze River in China and studied balancing sustainable development with maintaining environmental integrity.

Students from seven Canadian universities and two Chinese universities are taking part in a Queen’s-led exchange that studies the human impact on two of the world’s greatest rivers – the St. Lawrence and the Yangtze.

“There are not many courses like this in Canada,” says Queen’s biology professor Yuxiang Wang, who teaches the course alongside professor Stephen Lougheed. The course received an award from Canadian Bureau of International Education as the most innovative course of 2005 when it was first launched.

“Students learn more here than they ever would in a classroom. I’m still getting letters from previous exchange students telling me what they are doing now. Many of the students from my regular class lectures can’t even remember my name,” jokes Professor Wang.

Chinese students from Fudan University in Shanghai and Southwest University in Chongqing are currently conducting research at the Queen’s Biology Station in Chaffey’s Lock, located just north of Kingston. At the beginning of August, the Canadian students spent two weeks travelling more than 2000 kilometers in China by plane, boat, bus, and train studying the Yangtze, the world’s third-longest river (6,300 kilometres).

The students looked at balancing sustainable development with the need to maintain environmental integrity in both rivers. But the exchange goes beyond simple biology – students also learn about each countries’ culture.

People have been living off the Yangtze for more than 5,000 years and more than 400 million people are near its banks. With China’s booming economy, there is a lot of industrialization.

“In China, you never see blue sky, it’s always smoggy and hazy,” says Queen’s student Mackenzie Tummers (Biology ’12). “In terms of learning experience, this trip really opens your eyes to the vast environmental changes around the world.”

Many of the Chinese students who come to Canada are shocked they can look across the river and see the United States but no border guards or fences. The amount of wide open spaces is also surprising.

“The power of the St. Lawrence hasn’t been harnessed for the economy like the Yangtze,” says Professor Lougheed. “There is no pressing need to turn the forests and open spaces into productive fields to support the population.”

The exchange is the latest example of Queen’s building ties with its partner Fudan University and other universities in China. In 2007, Queen’s became the first Canadian university to open an office in China.

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Last updated at 4:16 pm EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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