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UC Students Just Back from Trip of a Lifetime to China

P. Gage Burke and three fellow UC students are just back from a trip to China where they studied globalization and entrepreneurship while practicing their networking skills. Their trip was made possible by UC alumnus, philanthropist and international business leader Peter Woo.

Date: 8/11/2008
By: Keith Rutowski Photos By: Dottie Stover
 

“I’m all about the networking,” P. Gage Burke says with a grin from his perch atop a bed in the Delta Tau Delta house at the University of Cincinnati. 

Burke, 22, a graphic design major in UC’s internationally ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, recently got to extend his budding professional network when he took the sojourn of a lifetime to China this past month thanks to a scholarship from UC graduate and successful businessman Peter Woo.

P. Gage Burke
UC student P. Gage Burke with items he brought back with him from China.

  

The trip was made possible by the Peter Woo-Delta Tau Delta Scholarship Program, a fund that began three years ago, when Woo flew in from Hong Kong to cap off a yearlong fundraising event for his undergraduate fraternity, the Gamma Xi chapter of Delta Tau Delta at UC. Woo made a signature gift to the Gamma Xi 21 fundraising campaign, which generated over $2 million for building renovations, student leadership development and scholarship programs. That wasn’t all. Realizing the increasing interconnectedness of world affairs, Woo proposed a trip that would allow UC students to experience globalization firsthand, while providing limitless opportunity for students interested in networking and entrepreneurship.

“He wanted to broaden our cultural horizons by sending undergraduates to China,” Burke says. “The main goal was to become more globally aware, especially in terms of business.”

The first Woo China Tour was launched in the summer of 2006. Woo provided five students with full travel scholarships based on merit, house involvement and leadership. The scholarships covered the full cost for air fare, hotels, tour guides and incidentals. The venture turned out to be a success and set a precedent. 

“This year was important in making sure that the trip continues,” Burke says. “A lot was riding on this.”

Two individuals in particular, Mark Shanley and Tom Humes, were indispensable in making this year’s trip happen. Shanley, a 1973 Gamma Xi alumnus and Northern Kentucky University faculty member, headed a committee to select this year’s scholarship applicants and coordinate trip planning. Humes, a 1972 Gamma Xi alum and a member of UC’s Board of Trustees, played a vital role in handling the trip’s finances and facilitating communication with Woo. The pieces were now in place and the stage was set.

Jonathan Saffian and P. Gage Burke
UC students Jonathan Saffian, left, and P. Gage Burke hold up a tourist map depicting the Great Wall of China.

On June 21, 2008, Burke, along with fellow UC students and Delts Zachary Becks, Jonathan Saffian, and Neil White, soared over the International Dateline and into the next day. The next 20 days were sure to be what Burke lovingly refers to as “a sensory overload.”

The trip proved to be an unforgettable mix of business and pleasure. In Beijing, they were welcomed by Kimberly Patton of GBBN Architects, a leading firm in the Cincinnati area. The four students were also welcomed by corporate hosts: Deloitte in Shanghai and Woo’s own Wharf Holdings in Hong Kong. They visited Beijing Jiaotong University (UC sister university in China) where they were greeted by four Chinese students majoring in English. Split into pairs, the students had the chance to talk in depth about their respective countries and how they differed from each other in terms of culture, education and foreign policy issues. Communicating on this level was Burke’s favorite part of the trip.

“I loved talking to people, meeting strangers and learning about their lives. Picking brains,” Burke says.

Not everyone they encountered was as fluent in English as the college students were, though, and as always, the language barrier proved to be an inevitable complication of international travel. However,  rather than being deterred, Burke and the others took this as a welcome challenge, one that posed few serious problems other than driving around in taxis in the wrong direction a handful of times. This ultimately proved to be more refreshing than it was frustrating. 

“Calling it [language] a barrier gives it a negative connotation,” Burke says. “There was just a lot of pointing and nodding.  It was a blast.”

After a trip to the Forbidden City, an arduous climb up the winding Badaling section of the Great Wall, and late night walks through glowing, neon-lit Shanghai, the trip came to a close in Hong Kong. The travelers had learned a great deal about themselves, the enormity and intimacy of their host country and the role it plays on the global platform, and also the humbling aspect of international travel.

“This was my first time out of the country,” Burke says. “It makes you feel kind of insignificant. It makes you want to travel more, learn more languages, meet more people. It opened my eyes and mind to greater possibilities.”

The three-week-long trip to China taught Burke not only about spanning cultural divides, but also how that can then work to bridge professional ones as well. In Burke’s case, the international trip has opened a window of opportunity for his design skills.

“I've never been somewhere where advertisements are literally everywhere...true gorilla marketing,” Burke says. “What influenced me most is how lucrative the design business is in China, especially for a Western-educated designer who knows the Eastern culture and languages. I plan to learn more about both to make myself more attractive as an internationally rounded designer.”

Now, Burke wants to share his experience with other UC students. He will be spending an entire seminar class creating a visual identity for the China trip. The project will contain photos, memories, and recommendations for international travelers and it will be presented to UC to be used as a recruitment tool. In turn, this will used to enhance networking between fellow American students wishing to travel to China and eventually for Chinese students looking to come to UC.