Exchanging Expertise

Marine Sciences exchange studentsKathleen Marciano’s interest was piqued last spring when professor Fei Chai announced in class that summer marine science internships were available in China.

Marciano and friend and classmate Timothy (TJ) Goodrow decided to apply. In May, they learned they had been accepted and in mid-June, the University of Maine students boarded a plane destined for at Xiamen University on the coast of Fujian Province.

“…[I]t was a pretty hectic process; it happened so fast, it didn’t seem real,” says Marciano, who in December completed her degree in marine science with a concentration in aquaculture.

The 22-year-old from Scituate, Massachusetts, says she’s always loved the ocean. “Once I got to UMaine I became interested in aquaculture because I believe it to be one of the few ways to sustain a seafood industry while reducing fishing stress on the oceans,” Marciano says.

The internship in China, she says, was a valuable educational, cultural and life experience.

The educational component included working in an environmental toxicology lab 50 hours a week for two months. She studied chronic effects of butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (used in skin sun protection products to absorb ultraviolet radiation) on the development of the marine copepod Tigriopus japonicus.

Goodrow called his internship a once-in-a-lifetime experience to view the world from a vastly different perspective.

“Traveling across the world is not for everyone,” says Goodrow, 22, of Ayer, Massachusetts. “It takes a strong-willed person to complete the challenge, but in more ways than one, it changed me into a better person and I would recommend anyone to do the same.”

And Goodrow plans to take more challenges; after he graduates in May with a degree in marine science and minor in aquaculture, he plans to travel the world.

Students’ pursuit of excellence at Xiamen University made quite an impression on Marciano. Founded in 1921, the university’s motto is “Pursue Excellence, Strive for Perfection.”

“Before I went to China I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated from UMaine,” she says. “When I … saw how hard the students worked — most of our friends were grad students — I knew I wanted to do the same. I also learned a lot of valuable things from my research that have helped me in classes and in writing my capstone paper. I did environmental toxicology for my capstone.”

Marciano also appreciated the opportunities to see sights, explore and learn about China’s history and culture.

In Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province, she toured museums and ancient dynasty sites. She also rode on a train for 24 hours to reach Wuyi Shan — a wild, protected mountainous area that includes rare wildlife species. She says it’s the most beautiful place she’s ever visited in her life.

“…All the mountains and crazy wildlife made me really appreciate where I was and how lucky I was to get such a unique experience,” she says.

Due to her unfamiliarity with the Chinese language and due to the intense heat and humidity, Marciano says she occasionally felt lonely, weary, and dependent. But she says the new friends she made in Xiamen were the nicest, most genuine, and helpful people she’s ever met.

“I also loved attempting to learn Chinese, emphasis on attempting,” she says. “My friends loved teaching me words and phrases, and no matter how badly I butchered them I still felt like I was learning.”

Communicating also was sometimes a challenge for Goodrow. But he says many people in China spoke some English, and he used actions to convey his intentions. Like Marciano, he says the extreme heat and humidity, as well as the rich food, took some getting used to.

Goodrow says the internship — which included lab work and traveling to aquaculture farms — significantly enhanced his knowledge of marine science. The rural communities along the coast cluster around aquaculture farms and organisms raised there, he says.

“The communities are like families — selfless groups of people with the same goal of bettering themselves by working hard,” Goodrow says. “I was so impressed by the tenacity of the aquaculture farmers and their ingenious methods of culturing species of abalone (snail), shrimp and sea urchins.”

Chai, director of the School of Marine Sciences at UMaine, says the exchange program provides students with opportunities to enhance their learning experience and gain a more comprehensive perspective, which will help them in their careers, and will benefit marine science.

“We need to foster global thinking to meet the challenges and issues of the 21st century,” says Chai, who earned his undergraduate and master of science degrees at Shandong College of Oceanology (now Ocean University of China), on the coast of China about 690 miles north of Xiamen University.

“We’re all interconnected and we need to understand each other’s cultures and concerns. And we need to try to find common solutions to address global issues.”

During the fall 2014 semester, 25 students, including 17 from Brazil and eight from China, attended UMaine through the marine science exchange program. Of the eight students from China, four took classes at the flagship university in Orono and four studied at UMaine’s seaside Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

Xiamen University students Yuwei (Talifin) Wang, 20, and Xiaoling (Zoe) Zhou, 19, studied on the Orono campus and Ocean University of China students Shuling (Shirley) Chen, 20, and Yumeng (Julie) Pang, 19, studied at DMC.

These four exchange students say they started learning English at 5 or 6 years of age.

Wang is from Beijing, an ancient city with a population of 22 million people and Zhou is from Chengdu City; the natural home of giant pandas has a population of about 14 million.

At Xiamen University, which has 38,000 full-time students on its three campuses, Wang says his schedule is “study, study, study.” The standard protocol, he says, is for professors to lecture the 140 or so students in class, and for students to sit and take notes.

Wang liked the interaction between instructors and students at UMaine, which has an enrollment of about 11,300. “Here in Maine, we talk with people with different ideas and use knowledge to solve problems in class,” he says.

Zhou appreciated the participatory approach, as well. “The way of thinking in China is to receive knowledge from the teacher,” Zhou says. “Here, it is more active. We ask questions and have to figure things out ourselves.”

Chen, of Changsha, Hunan Province, and Pang, of Linyi, Shandong Province, were impressed with the hands-on learning they participated in at DMC.

“I think I totally engaged in the courses and experience…,” says Pang, who liked the scent of the ocean.

“We have been lots of places for social research or field trips and I also conducted an independent study with the help of several professors; we really had a good time on that. If you really want to get to learn the marine science and you have a strong interest in marine science, you can experience it [at] Darling Marine Center.

Chen was thrilled to be immersed in the ocean environment and said that multiple field trips and cruises provided the opportunity to “connect theory with reality.”

“I feel … much closer to real marine science than before and I really like marine biology,” Chen says.

Pang liked participating in community events, including oyster and pumpkin festivals, and Chen enjoyed spending the Christmas holiday — “one of the best and sweetest time periods here” — with research associate professor Rhian Waller.

The DMC food was delicious and the people were friendly, says Pang who, like Chen, said the Maine winter temperatures were a shock.

The exchange students returned to China in late December. Chai says five students from Xiamen University have been accepted to study marine science at UMaine in fall 2015.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777