Anthropology Professor Jiemen Bao and Study Abroad Opportunities

Nov. 29, 2017

As an integral part of UNLV's educational opportunities the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) provides students with a way to gain experience and an appreciation for many other culture's approaches to education. UNLV Anthropology professor Jiemen Bao has spent the past semester teaching in Thailand for USAC and has generously provided her perspective on study abroad and its benefits for both students and educators.

From Dr. Bao:

In Fall 2017, I taught cultural anthropology at Chiang Mai University in Thailand for USAC, the University Studies Abroad Consortium. Personally, this was a kind of homecoming, as 29 years ago I studied the Thai language at Chiang Mai University as a study abroad student from UC Berkeley.

In Thailand, the USAC program benefits from local professors, retired United Nation experts, and visiting scholars. The program offers 15 classes and a wide range of formal and informal opportunities for enriching students’ lives. The experienced local USAC staff helps interested students integrate into local communities through field trips, volunteer work, and internships. On weekends and during breaks, many students take the opportunity to travel within Thailand and to nearby countries such as India, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and so on.

For teaching in this setting, I use a question-oriented approach and small group discussions to connect living abroad and travel experiences with classroom learning. For example, in Vietnam, two students, on two separate occasions, were not served and told to leave a restaurant simply because they were “Americans.” I asked the class to think hard about what “American” means to them, what “American” means to Vietnamese in different contexts, and why the effects of the Vietnam War persist to this day. In addition, I send study questions for our weekly reading ahead of time so that students have a chance to prepare for the upcoming class while doing multiple projects. The students have gradually learned to connect our reading with new encounters in relation to identity formation, the meaning and politics of food, gender inequality, international relationships, immigration, and so on. Class discussion helps students digest theories, gain new perspectives, and analyze their cross-cultural experiences. When learning becomes relevant to daily life, students tend to do well on quizzes, exams, presentations, and papers.

Studying and teaching abroad, indeed, has been a life-changing experience and not only for my students but for myself. As the USAC Mission Statement aptly puts it: “The benefits of study abroad are multifaceted and extend far beyond the classroom—there is no substitute for the experience.”

-Jiemen Bao