Research, Travel, Networking Nourish Student's Passion for China
Dec. 17, 2013
Public affairs senior Giovani Jonenson stands near Beihai Park, a former imperial garden that is now a public park, during a recent trip to Beijing.
Senior Giovani Jonenson first discovered his interest in Asian culture when he met a group of Taiwanese students while attending Plano Senior High. But he couldn’t have imagined how his UT Dallas experience would foster that curiosity.
Jonenson found the Taiwanese students intriguing: they seemed calm and had a deliberate way of speaking. After he arrived at the University, he met two Chinese students, and his interest soon became a passion.
“I had never met anybody from China before. I thought it was a faraway land at the time,” the public affairs major said. “I was completely amazed by how much they were able to share with me and how much I was able to learn from them. It was a launching point for giving my studies a purpose. After meeting those students, I was able to solidify my goal of becoming a bridge between the East and the West.”
Raised by parents from Puerto Rico, Jonenson found many similarities between himself and his Chinese counterparts on campus, such as a focus on education and a duty to honor his ancestors. He wanted to connect with more Chinese students and see what other traits they shared.
A key connection for Jonenson at UT Dallas was Mary Beth Goodrich. The senior lecturer of accounting serves as the faculty advisor for the UT Dallas chapter of Ascend, an organization for Pan-Asian leaders in business. Goodrich, who lived in China from 2007-10, welcomed Jonenson to join the group and has since become his mentor.
“If you’re interested in a different culture, nurture that interest,” Goodrich said. “Interest can become passion and drive your academic and career aspirations, as it has done with Gino."
Goodrich also introduced Jonenson to a colleague who afforded him the opportunity to visit Beijing in June 2012 for 10 days as a U.S. Student Ambassador of the U.S. Virtual Trade Mission, taking part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation China CEO Forum. Entrepreneurs, policymakers and economists spoke at the symposium, and Jonenson began to see what Eastern-Western cooperation looked like in the business world.
He also visited monuments, exhibits and museums, trying to immerse himself in the culture.
Jonenson visited the Great Wall of China during one of his trips to the country.
“I relished it,” Jonenson said. “I enjoyed seeing everything I could. My interest only grew when I visited China.”
Last summer, he traveled to the capital again with a study abroad program. He stayed at Capital Normal University from May through July and made trips to Shanghai and Xi’an.
Jonenson hypothesizes that through the exchange of ideas by migrant workers and students in the U.S. and China, there will be a visible trend of integration of their popular cultures and adaptation to each nation’s ways of living.
“It is a very interesting research project,” said Ho, who studies East Asian politics. “He has a grand idea about how American and Chinese cultures can have better interaction and better interchanges, blending into each other and adapting to each other to come up with a blended culture with the best characteristics of each.”
“That experience of study abroad has changed him. He’s looking at how things in the U.S. impact China and how things in China impact the U.S.”
For the study, Jonenson plans to survey and interview college students and American expatriate workers. He also intends to investigate immigration rates between China and the U.S., as well as both countries’ visa issuance and college student population.
Jonenson is writing a grant proposal to finance a trip to China for more in-depth research and aims to eventually have his research published.
“This is why I’m teaching, so students can succeed,” Ho said. “And through our training, through the learning process, they will open their eyes, open their hearts and open their minds and get to explore the world and be world citizens, and also bring American culture to other areas.”
Goodrich said she enjoys seeing students become passionate about other cultures. UT Dallas has rich diversity, she said, and students should take advantage of that.
“It’s so rewarding to see the growth in students,” Goodrich said. “That experience of study abroad has changed him. He’s looking at how things in the U.S. impact China and how things in China impact the U.S.”
Jonenson, who plans to graduate in December 2014 and apply to law school, credits UT Dallas faculty for giving him the opportunity to explore his interest in China.
“Had Ascend not existed, had there not been professors here who have an extraordinary interest in and a passion for China and its culture, I probably would not be the person I am today,” Jonenson said. “UT Dallas’ professors are probably the greatest resource I could have.”