Last school year, Tricia Gawlas discovered that she was not only a Forest Park resident, but a global citizen, too.
As a Ricci Scholar at Loyola University, Tricia spent the fall semester of her junior year studying in Rome. For the spring semester, she studied at The Beijing Center on the campus of the University of International Business and Economics in China.
Part of what she learned was academic. In Rome she studied Italian and theology and had two art classes. In Beijing her classes included Mandarin, Chinese medicine, literature and international marketing. In addition, Ricci Scholars are required to complete an individual research project. Wanting to incorporate her two majors – advertising and public relations, and visual communication – in her project, she chose to examine how multi-national corporations adapt their advertising campaigns to local values.
But, during an interview, Tricia mostly talked about what she learned outside the classroom. “You don’t wear flip-flops in Rome,” she said. “That will identify you as an American right away. People pay more attention to style there.”
She also said she noticed how Italians lean into life. “They are a lot more laid back than we are,” she said. “They can spend two to three hours over a meal easily and are very family oriented. It’s not that they don’t work hard. They just work differently.”
Tricia’s mother, Donna Gawlas, was able to join her daughter for three weeks at the end of the semester. She was particularly glad that she got to visit important religious sites. “Rome is a holy place,” she declared. “It was like a pilgrimage.”
As expected, China was much different from both Italy and the U.S. Tricia said the Chinese pay a lot more attention to academics than what she has experienced in Western countries. “In China the teacher is way high above the student,” she said. “You don’t dare miss a class, and if you come in late you have to apologize a million times over after class.” She also said that it is important to never ask questions that would put teachers in positions where they might lose face.
She lived in a dorm with a Chinese roommate and became sensitive to some of the subtleties of relationships in China, one of which is guanxi (that’s pronounced gwahn-chee). Guanxi basically means that if you do a favor for someone, it strengthens the relationship. It’s central to the dynamics of personal relationships in China; so, the more guanxi, the stronger the bond.
Donna was also able to join her daughter in Beijing. Some of her fondest memories came from the people watching she did in the area’s large public parks. Droves of people would come in the morning to do Tai Chi, Donna said. “Men would take their birds for a walk,” she added. “They would perch their birds on a branch, sit down, play cards, smoke and have tea together.”
Donna and Tricia also remarked how much everyone in China seemed to love Americans. “There wasn’t any negativity towards us,” said Tricia, acknowledging that her main frame of reference was a university focused on international business. “Most Chinese idealize America, and they wanted to come here.”
Both women felt that their time abroad changed them. “It was very, very broadening,” said Donna. “It also helped us refocus on what is important and to let go of things a little bit.”
Tricia agreed. Commenting on the unpredictability of domestic flights in China, she said, “You learn to live in the moment as you travel more. It’s ‘enjoy what you have, where you are, and make the most out of every moment.'”