Asian Affairs Center works with MU geography instructor to foster diverse learning experience for students

Aug. 19, 2019

By Soomin Kang and Sean Na

Asian and domestic students sit along both sides of a long table in a crowded room.
MU students interact with Asian Affairs Center students from South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan during a GeoBuds session on March 8 in Memorial Union. | photo by Soomin Kang

“How do students actually learn?”

That was what Brad Hanson, a University of Missouri geography instructor, asked himself many times while drafting lesson plans for his East Asian geography class in spring 2019.

He wanted to prepare lessons that would go beyond textbook knowledge. To do so, he needed Asian natives who could share their culture and perspectives with his students.

While brainstorming for ideas, he learned the MU Asian Affairs Center has been hosting several groups of college students from various Asian countries every semester to MU for more than two decades.

He soon reached out to the center to discuss a possibility of holding a sequence of conversational events in which both American and Asian students could share each other’s culture and values.

He said the center staff worked diligently with him to help boost students’ learning experiences. And from March 15 to April 19, the Geography and Buddies session, or GeoBuds, was offered to MU students in Hanson’s class four times in spring 2019.

Two female students sit together at a table and talk.
Xiaoyin Guan, of Shanghai, talks to an MU student during the GeoBuds session on March 8. | photo by Soomin Kang

During each session, the 16 MU students interacted with 33 students from South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan for about an hour on a Friday afternoon, asking questions related to culture, trends and international perspectives that American students would have not learned from their textbooks.

MU senior Avi Desai, one of the students in Hanson’s class, said by attending all four sessions and interacting with Asian students, he was able to find answers to most of his questions that he’d been curious about Asian culture and stereotypes of Asians.

“The closest we could get is (by) Googling it,” Desai said. “And a conversation with people from that country gives so much more.

“It’s so unique.”

MU sophomore Katilin Rolhfing, who plans to study abroad in South Korea in 2020, said that the GeoBuds helped her be more understanding of different trends and perspectives among South Koreans.

“It’s such a good opportunity to meet diverse people and make some new friends,” she said. “I would not have gotten that experience if I had not been in this class.”

Hanson said the majority of students enjoyed all of the GeoBuds sessions.

Two male students sit together at a table and talk.
Yechan Lee, of South Korea, talks about his hometown, Daegu, to an MU student during the GeoBuds session on March 8. | photo by Soomin Kang

“Fairly immediately (after the first GeoBuds session), students told me, ‘Don’t stop doing this! I am learning a lot through this experience,'” he said.

The MU Department of Geography chair, Soren Larsen, said he hopes the GeoBuds program would continue to benefit both MU and international students in fall 2019 and beyond.

“From the MU students’ point of view, GeoBuds provided an opportunity to actually interact with people from parts of the world they are studying in class,” Larsen said. “Friendships were made, and a lot of learning occurred regarding stereotypes and our different mental maps of the world, (such as) what the world looks like from an American student’s point of view versus an Asian student’s point of view.”

Additionally, a 2013 study by the Journal of International Students reported that American college graduates who interacted with international students more than their peers in college have the ability to:

  • Question their own beliefs and values;
  • Acquire new skills and knowledge independently;
  • Formulate creative ideas;
  • Integrate ideas and information;
  • Achieve quantitative abilities;
  • Understand the role of science and technology in society;
  • And gain in-depth knowledge in a specific field.