When President Larry Goodwin and the Minnesota Private Colleges Council (MPCC) were first presented the idea of the United International College on an MPCC trip to China, he had just one question to ask: "Are you looking for any partners?"
Dr. Edmund Kwok, now the executive vice president of UIC, responded with an emphatic yes.
"That was 2004," explained Tom Homan, Director of International Education at CSS. "Dr. Kwok explained that he was working on the development of a new kind of college for mainland China, an American-style liberal arts college with English as the primary language of instruction."
This was a radical change for China, where students take a nationwide examination after high school and are placed in high or low tier colleges based on their performance.
"The Chinese equivalent to the word 'major' is 'career' in translation, so college is just training for the workplace," Homan said.
Most students in China would attend a three-year program, focusing entirely on classes in their chosen career.
"There’s no 'Gen. Ed.' No 'Dignitas.' None of that stuff," Homan said. "If you want to study English, you study English. Medicine? You study medicine."
The same cannot be said for the UIC, which promotes "whole person education," a values-oriented education system not unlike the Benedictine values at the College of St. Scholastica, Homan explained.
"This would break the mold and provide an alternative for students," Homan said. "The liberal arts concept is practically unique to America. The focus on the college campus is especially American."
Based on the way he speaks about the UIC, Homan might be considered its spokesperson, but his knowledge comes from having been assigned by President Goodwin and the MPCC to go on exploratory trips during the initial building phases.
"I reported back to the president of MPCC and our president what I had learned," Homan said. "The college was in rented quarters with a few students and few faculty members."
That did not take long to change.
"When they started building, it went like wildfire," Homan said. "Within one year, they had a major, new administrative classroom building. In two years, they had doubled in size. In three years, the first dorms went up. In four years, the campus was virtually complete."
The campus, located in Zhouhai, China, a southern coastal city, was not the only thing to grow.
"They went from an enrollment of 200 to 4,000 students in four years, a staff of 30 to about 150," Homan said. "Considering we started in 1912, and we are happy to even get 100 more students a year. They added 100 a month."
In Dr. Kwok's initial planning stages, the school was to be 50 percent Chinese and 50 percent international, but today the student body is over 95 percent Chinese.
"Students that end up at UIC tend to be interested in business, English, and want to have a broader education than what would normally be offered," Homan said. "China now has one, four-year, English-speaking, private liberal arts college."
The school, which came together as a coalition of Hong Kong Baptist University and Beijing Normal University, also tries to capture the American college campus setting.
"If you look out at the town at sunset, no one is older than 25," Homan said.
Now five years old, the UIC has set up strong relationships with the MPCC members, including St. Scholastica, and has sent students to CSS in three of the past four years.
Fang Sun, an exchange student from UIC majoring in Advertising and Public Relations at St. Scholastica, said UIC has done a good job of capturing the feel of an American campus, but the class setting is not alike.
"There is a different atmosphere," Sun said. "At UIC, they still have very specific courses."
Difu Lang, another APR student from the UIC, agreed with his classmate.
"I found that courses are more practical rather than just theoretical," Lang said. "And most students have a part-time job here, which is different from China."
Both students were lukewarm about the academic side of college, but have enjoyed their time socially.
"I have great roommates," Sun said. "They were very welcoming, and I spent Halloween and Thanksgiving with them."
Socially, Lang was surprised by the laid-back attitude that most students have at CSS.
"American students like outdoor activities and hanging out with friends," he said. "Just a few of them will worry about their grades."
CSS also sends students to UIC as part of the exchange program, mostly through the School of Business and Technology.
"Dr. Tom Zelman started a couple of years ago to organize an American group [attending UIC] in what is referred to as the J-term," Homan said. "There’s also the capstone project – an international course – that takes MBA degree candidates over for their last project, and that is organized by Randy Zimmerman."
The J-term, a tradition done away with at CSS years ago, has students attending a shorter semester in January.
"They will spend a couple of weeks looking at Chinese business and technology methods," Homan said.
Homan says students can visit UIC outside of these specific programs, but it all goes through him.
"The idea of study abroad is to get immersed in another culture and take some general education courses," Homan said. "You would take history, international affairs, economics, and things you could use for your degree program."
As UIC continues to grow, so does their relationship with St. Scholastica.
"President Goodwin delivered a speech at UIC's President’s Lecture Series," said Homan. "Each year, one or two of the MPCC presidents are invited to come out and give a key-note speech."
Homan hopes that eventually, the relationship will lead to CSS offering Mandarin Chinese courses as well as an Asian studies major, but he admitted, "That's a long ways off."
The relationship between the two schools will continue to grow in the years to come and more student opportunities will develop.
Location of Zhouhai, China, and the UIC: http://uic.edu.hk/en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=354&Itemid=331