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Willamette professor Robert Trapp teaches a class on debate.

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Zack Lange discusses his sustainability project with professor Joe Bowersox.

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The students visit a beach near Dalian that was the site of a recent oil spill.

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Students from China, South Africa and the U.S. work together on a class project.

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Learning to be Advocates

Willamette students and professors turned a critical eye toward sustainability and debate in China.

Solar thermal hot water collectors spanning the roofs of buildings while nearby coal-fired power plants clog the air with pollution. A light rail line encouraging public transportation amidst high-rises that have been boarded up because they were only made to last 20 years. Deluxe-sized department stores displaying lighted billboards as the country experiences rolling electricity blackouts.

Six Willamette undergraduates and four professors observed these contradictions during a summer trip to Dalian, China — in a country trying to keep the environment in mind while working to maintain its place as a developing powerhouse with a population of more than a billion.

Exploring sustainability abroad — and making comparisons to a sometimes equally contradictory movement in the U.S. — was just one of the goals of the group participating in Willamette’s China Advocacy Institute.

They also studied alongside Chinese and visiting South African students, encouraging everyone involved to turn a critical eye toward these issues and to use debate and advocacy as a way of creating solutions.

A Different Look at Sustainability

The Advocacy Institute allowed the Willamette group to spend about two weeks at Dalian Nationalities University taking classes on sustainability and debate.

Their studies included field trips to nearby sites — including a town that was slated to be demolished to make room for modern apartments.

“The institute encouraged us to ask questions like, ‘What are we losing when such a place is destroyed?’ ‘Are such areas worth preserving at all?’ and ‘What do we gain, and what is the cost?’” says Torey Osborne, an anthropology and English major.

Gaining New Perspectives

Many of the Willamette students had never been abroad, and they valued their new friendships with the Chinese students.

“We spent days discussing countless cultural similarities and differences,” says Zack Lange, an environmental and earth sciences major, “anything from how we’re able to voice our opinion on political issues, to the proper uses of the word ‘cool’ in conversation.

“Some of my biggest learning experiences were the exchanges with them about what our countries are like.”

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