Southwest University (Beibei, China)

Students on the Fall China Program in 1988.png

CSB/SJU China Program, 1988

Sister Baulu Kuan of Saint Benedict's Monastery led the initiative to develp a study abroad program in China. After leading several study tours in China and undertaking a sabbatical in China, she identified Southwest China Normal University (later Southwest University) as an ideal partner site. Sister Baulu was joined by Sister Ingrid Anderson, OSB, in leading two January term sessions at SWCNU for the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. The first semester-long program was offered in 1988.  

Southwest University (SWU)

Southwest University (SWU) is in Beibei, Chongqing Province, China. (Note: Chongqing used to be a part of the Sichuan Province but in 1997, Chongqing was made a Municipality, so it is simultaneously a city and a province). SWU opened in 1950 under the name Southwest Teachers College after the National Women’s Teachers College and Sichuan Provincial Education College merged. In 1985 it became Southwest China Normal University. Finally, in 2005 it became known as Southwest University (SWU) when Southwest Normal University and Southwest Agricultural University merged. SWU is a liberal arts school with its own town. On campus there is a bank, hospital, factories, post office, and museum.


The Beginning (1985)

CSB and SJU’s partnership with SWU started in the 1980s, when Sister Baulu Kuan, art professor went on sabbatical to China in 1984-85. While in China, Baulu taught at SWU in the fall of 1984 and noted that SWU’s rural setting mirrored Saint Ben's and Saint John's. Kuan was one of the first art scholars invited back into China following the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). She was awarded the “Consultant Professor of Southwest Teachers University” by the president of the university, Mr. Chen Zhongmu. In April 1985, Dr. Charles Villette, vice president for academic affairs at CSB and Robert Spaeth, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SJU, visited SWU. In September 1985, a four-person delegation from SWU, including the then-current president Zhong Zhang-Cheng, visited CSB and SJU to discuss the program. In 1986, a formal agreement was signed, with the first semester program during the fall of 1988. As a part of the agreement, CSB and SJU agreed to send 2 or more graduates to teach English at SWU and some faculty as visiting scholars, along with an average of 15 students on the study abroad programs every year. SWU also sent faculty to be visiting scholars here. The first scholar came in the 1987-1988 academic year. Professor Jia-rong Liu of SWU English Department taught Chinese history at SJU.

Students on the semester study-abroad program at Southwestern University would be taught in English by both SWU professors and the program director(s) from CSB+SJU. The directors of the 1988 program were Sister Baulu Kuan with assistance from Father Cyprian Weaver (biology professor). Sister Baulu taught a watercolor course at SWU during the 1988 semester. Courses offered during the Fall 1988 trip included language, philosophy, fine arts, history, literature, and martial arts (such as Tai-Chi). A student from SWU was assigned to each CSB and SJU student to help them get acquainted with their surroundings. Additionally, students received a two-week crash course on Chinese when they arrived. CSB and SJU students stayed in the newly built foreign student apartments called Waiban. Cassey Kurtzman CSB ‘90 went on the 1988 program to Beibei and in 1991 was working in the World Trade Center in Hong Kong. The 1989 program was canceled due to the Tiananmen Square events.


5th Anniversary (1990)

In 1990, Brother Dietrich Reinhart, O.S.B., then the Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, went to China with Sister Baulu and Gary Miller, CSB history professor, who was the Director of International Studies for CSB and SJU, to update the 1985 agreement. In the late 1980s and early 90s, Sister Baulu invited 12 artists from SWU to serve as visiting scholars on campus. The artists mainly visited during J-term or fall semester to give lectures on Chinese art. Fu Yi-Ben was one such artist from SWU who came to CSB in February 1991 to lecture on Chinese Art. However, the 1991 study abroad program to SWU ended up being canceled due to low enrollment. The next year, in 1992, The Chinese Club was created to save the China Study Abroad Program, which had been facing lower numbers in the surrounding years. This was successful, as the 1992 program had 17 students. Father Cyprian directed the 1992 program and studied Mandarin Chinese beforehand at Fu-Jen University in Taipei, Taiwan.


10th Anniversary (1995)

In 1995, the China study-abroad program hit a record high, with twenty students going to study at SWU.


15th Anniversary (2000)

To celebrate CSB+SJU’s and SWU’s 15-year partnership, SWU erected a sculpture. The sculpture is located outside of the Waiban building, where many CSB+SJU students have stayed. 2001 had the largest recruitment, with 30 students total. In 2003, 6 students and 2 professors, one being Kevin Clancy (SJU ’00), from SWU visited campus for two weeks. They sat in on classes and explored different parts of Minnesota, such as Duluth. In the Fall of 2003, the program to SWU was canceled due to SARS.


20th Anniversary (2005)

CSB President MaryAnn Baenninger and SJU President Dietrich Reinhart visited SWU from November 11-12, 2005. There they finalized a proposal for an exchange of science students, which was announced during the 20th anniversary celebration. The program began in 2006. While on their visit to SWU, Baenninger and Reinhart signed a new five-year agreement with SWU President Song Naiqing to reflect changes since Southwest Normal University and Southwest Agricultural University merged. By 2005, over 300 CSB and SJU students had done the semester-long program and an additional 100 had done the J-term program. CSB and SJU had also hosted at least 3 presidential delegations from SWU by this time.

In 2008, Valentin Sierra Arias (SJU ’10) went on the study abroad program at SWU. Valentin is originally from Colombia. While on study abroad, Valentin entered a singing competition in Chongqing and was the runner-up.


30th Anniversary (2015)

By 2015, the 30th anniversary was celebrated as over 450 Bennies and Johnnies had spent full semesters at SWU and 100 more students visited on shorter one-month trips. Presidents Mary Dana Hinton and Michael Hemesath traveled to China to celebrate this partnership in November, 2015  A new agreement was signed with SWU President Zhang Weiguo and Vice President Jin Yule. Hinton and Hemesath also met with alumni groups in Chengdu, China and Hong Kong.


Future (2018-)

In 2018, 10 CSB and SJU students went to China and 3 students from SWU came to CSB and SJU. The last China study abroad program was run during the Fall 2019 semester. Paul Marsnik was the faculty leader for 14 students. As of this writing in 2023, the future of the China Program is unclear, given repercussions from COVID-19 and the changing political climate in China. 

CSB and SJU Go To China!
Southwest University (Beibei, China)