U.Va.’s New Jefferson Global Seminar in Hong Kong is Taking Students Places They Never Expected

On a recent rainy day in Hong Kong this June, a group of students from the University of Virginia went out to explore the island. One of the students happened to be wearing a U.Va. jacket and was spotted by sharp-eyed 2007 U.Va. alum Chris Grosvenor, who is currently working in the administrative region of China.

He asked if they were U.Va. students, which indeed they were. As anthropology major Riley Hope tells the story, for the next two hours Grosvenor “took the time out of his busy schedule to take us around central Hong Kong ... taking us to some of his favorite food places before stopping at Wang Fu,” a renowned dumpling restaurant.

The chance encounter came compliments of a dynamic, new program just launched by U.Va.: The Jefferson Global Seminars.

For five intensive weeks this summer, students from U.Va. and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology are not only experiencing one of the world’s most advanced cities, they are taking part in the new U.Va. initiative, which partners with leading institutions of higher education around the world. The aim is to provide students and faculty the opportunity to interact with peers, build networks and develop a global frame of reference that will set them apart.

The program is a product of the College of Arts & Sciences. College Dean Meredith Jung-En Woo said the idea is the culmination of efforts that begin in 2009 with the creation of the Joint Institute involving the College, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Peking University.

“Through the Joint Institute, we held collaborative conferences and fostered exchange of faculty and students,” she said. “The Jefferson Global Seminars are the latest effort in a series of initiatives in which we have been engaged.”

Woo said Philip Zelikow, the College’s associate dean for graduate academic programs, has been “instrumental” in bringing the program to fruition.

“At Dean Woo’s suggestion, in 2011 I worked with colleagues at HKUST to develop an innovative kind of study-abroad program,” he said. One thing that sets this summer’s program apart is that the courses are taught by regular faculty from U.Va. and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and not summer or third-party contractors. In addition, the seminar does not focus only on foreign area studies, but on foreign studies with common global topics. Lastly, Zelikow said it was important that the program be broadly accessible, with generous financial aid, “so that a first-rate study-abroad program would be available to College students at a total cost comparable to what they would pay to study here in Charlottesville.”

Students began taking three courses in Hong Kong on June 13, for a total of seven credits. They are spending their last week in Beijing taking part in a series of cultural experiences lead by Charles Laughlin, director of U.Va.’s East Asia Center. They will also interact with faculty from Peking University and get a taste of mainland life.

Thirty-eight U.Va. students are participating. There are 76 students from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and 12 from its partner schools.

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor, a U.Va. religious studies professor who is the program coordinator on the ground in Hong Kong, said things are going very well. “We have an adventurous group of U.Va. students,” she said. “As soon as we’d instructed them in how to use the MTR, Hong Kong’s subway system, they were off and running. They’ve explored all over the island and are venturing out to Macau and Shenzhen, as well.”

Woo delivered the inaugural lecture of the seminar last week in the new Engineering School Academic Advising and Support Center at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“In the talk, I discussed myriad ways in which leaving the ‘comfort zone’ – intellectually as well as culturally – is an inescapable process for students of the liberal arts,” she said. (Her latest blog post is about the new program.)

Although the inaugural session is not yet over, the College already is exploring ways to scale up the Jefferson Global Seminars.

“We hope to expand the program into regular semesters, as semester-long ‘study abroad,’ and deepen the collaboration through greater use of blended courses taught by faculty in the two universities,” Woo said. “Once in place, it could become the core of a global studies major that combines study abroad with on-Grounds training in global matters.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications