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International Endeavors
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Laura Wang and Natalie Dabrowski Endeavor Scholars Guangzhou, China

"It's nice to meet other people with an interest in China. It was such a fresh experience for me." — Laura Wang

Eight Washington and Lee University students spent a portion of summer 2016 overseas in a collaboration that pairs American and international students for projects and service work in the international students’ home countries.

The program, which is funded by part of a $219,000 grant from the Endeavor Foundation (formerly known as the Christian A. Johnson Foundation) is in its second year. This year found students working with refugees in Greece and Germany, and studying the culture of food and film in China.

Laura Wang and Natalie Dabrowski traveled to Laura’s home country, China, to research food and restaurant trends.

Laura Wang ’19 and Natalie Dabrowski ’19
“Food and Modernizing Culture in Guangzhou, China”

How did you settle on your Endeavor project theme?

Natalie: Laura and I were talking about food culture one night — she misses Chinese food when she is here. We started to wonder how common it is to find other regional Chinese foods in Guangzhou. As they try to standardize the language and culture, is that a good thing or a bad thing? It is not good if it comes at the cost of culture. A lot of these arts and traditions are being lost.

Laura: My city is the best food city in China. However, I feel that both the Cantonese language and a lot of Cantonese traditions are disappearing. I was trying to figure out how much real Cantonese food can be found in different districts with all of the other foods coming in, and how well each district preserves Cantonese food.

How did you go about conducting the project when you got to China?

Natalie: Each day, we took the subway around the city and took pictures of restaurant fronts, because we figured that’s the best way to see what type of restaurant it was and to see the signage. If it was something of note, we wrote it down.

Laura: We counted how many restaurants there are, and how many of those are Chinese restaurants. Then we noted how many of those are Cantonese restaurants, and looked at what the Cantonese food restaurants had on the menu.

How would you summarize your findings?

Natalie: In China, there are a lot more little family restaurants tucked into little shopping centers or street sides. Many of them have been there a long time. A lot are Cantonese, but many are more general cuisine.

Laura: Small restaurants in street sides in the two traditional old districts have a lot of featured Cantonese, and lots of those have been there more than 20 years. I feel that even though people in Guangzhou actually go eat in big shopping malls a lot, those unnoticeable street restaurants are the places that preserve the taste of Cantonese best.

Did anything about your findings surprise you?

Natalie: I was surprised by the variety of foods we found — not only many different Chinese dishes from different regions but also many foods from across Asia. The variety was really quite amazing and very diverse.

Laura: I was surprised to find Beijing roasted duck on a traditional Cantonese menu!

What is the next stage for your project?

Natalie: We’d like to create a presentation about our findings, with a particular focus on the photos we took in order to better relate our findings to audiences back at W&L.

Laura: We want to create a presentation where we talk about the restaurants, and introduce real Chinese food.

Natalie, what did you think of China during your first visit to the country?

I’d never been, so it was really exciting. And I actually got to visit Japan just before I traveled to China. It was incredibly valuable as an American, getting to visit both Japan and China in such a short time frame. We have such a limited perspective of Asia, and particularly China. But it’s such a diverse place that is interesting to learn about. There’s so much culture, and I think people in the U.S. tend to be unaware of it.

Laura, did you enjoy introducing Natalie to your homeland?

Yes. I told her a lot about my city before we went — everything I love about it. It made her so pumped. While we were there, my mom was able to help Natalie practice her Chinese. It’s nice to meet other people with an interest in China. It was such a fresh experience for me. When we talk about China to foreigners, people think of Beijing or Shanghai. Not many people know there is a third big city in China. It’s actually a really attractive city, and the food is really good!

Favorite experience of the trip?

Natalie: Being able to see all the beautiful landmarks in Guangzhou all lit up at night — it was a really lovely end to my trip and something I’ll never forget.

Laura: I got to go to those old streets in the Liwan district (not my home district) and had the taste of authentic Cantonese food. Because I barely went there before, I don’t know when I would have had the opportunity to try those foods without the inspiration of this project.

Global Experience

Lexington, Virginia, is a warm, welcoming and historic college town located in the Great Valley of Virginia. Yet Washington and Lee maintains a vibrant multicultural community, with global opportunities reaching far beyond the campus' borders.

In Action People and Programs

Lexington, Virginia, is a warm, welcoming and historic college town located in the Great Valley of Virginia between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. Yet Washington and Lee maintains a vibrant multicultural community, with global opportunities reaching far beyond the campus' borders.

Students at Washington and Lee are encouraged to study abroad, whether it be for a year, a semester or a four-week, faculty-led Spring Term course. Some students seek out international programs for summer experiences and can find funding through Johnson Opportunity Grants or other institutional aid. Over 60 percent of our students study abroad at some point in their undergraduate experience, and students who show significant commitment to global interaction may apply to have their experiences recognized with a Certificate of International Immersion.

W&L's commitment to global learning extends to the faculty as well. Professors are encouraged to integrate international experiences and perspectives in their teaching and research. International students, scholars and performers bring new cultural perspectives to campus, while partnerships with a number of universities and programs abroad provide both students and faculty with valuable research opportunities.

In 2014, the University broke ground on the Center for Global Learning, a 26,000-square-foot facility that will house several language departments, classrooms, instructional labs and public spaces that will encourage student and faculty interaction.

Outside the classroom, students can to apply to live in one of two international theme houses and join a number of globally minded student organizations, which plan events and bring together students interested in a global undergraduate experience throughout the year.

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At a Glance Facts and Figures

Over 60% of the class of 2013 participated in an international experience during their  four years at W&L.
Last year, students studied, interned, did research or volunteered in 45 different countries.
W&L broke ground on the $13.5 million Center for Global Learning in 2014.
W&L students hail from 38 countries.
W&L offers 15-20 Spring Term Abroad courses offered annually.
W&L received $796 thousand in grant funds to support the development of new programs and projects in international education.

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