Junior Michael Buening recently returned from his study abroad trip to China with more than the usual souvenirs from an international experience. He brought back something unique—a research partner.
Buening, a health services management major in the Fairbanks School of Public Health, traveled to Beijing and Guangzhou for three weeks—via a study abroad trip organized by Wan-Ning Bao, of the department of sociology in the School of Liberal Arts—while taking a course on a sociological study of China. A key course component then matched IUPUI students like Buening with a Chinese student from Sun Yat-sen University to complete an independent field study.
Together, Buening and Wanyi Huang, his research partner, began a comparative study of health insurance in China and the U.S. Their research continued when Wanyi traveled back to the U.S. with Buening to spend three weeks at IUPUI.
Despite differences in culture and background, Buening and Wanyi bonded quickly as they discovered a new city and delved into their research topic: health insurance. Buening and Huang found that social policy and health care were big topics in China, just as in the US.
“Being that I am a health services management major, I naturally wanted to dive into the health care system. Wanyi is interested in social work and is a graduate student in social work at Sun Yat-sen University. Access to medical insurance for the vulnerable populations dealt with both of our interests,” Buening said.
The research duo mainly focused on how migrants in China and the U.S. navigate their respective health care systems. Buening was surprised to learn that even under China’s socialized insurance, not everyone qualifies for coverage.
The U.S. and China may manage their health care systems differently, but Buening and Huang’s research demonstrated that migrant communities in both countries consistently lack access to health coverage, at a detriment to the society as a whole. “Insurance is what makes people as a community safe and disease free. To receive benefits, you have to be insured,” Huang said.
A distinctive aspect of study abroad through IUPUI is its connection to the RISE Challenge, an initiative focused on increasing undergraduate student participation in research, international, service and experiential learning options.
Instead of mandating the fulfillment of certain standards, RISE acts as a challenge to schools and departments to create unique educational experiences for students that build towards IUPUI’s mission of being a civically engaged urban research university.
Based on this initiative, IUPUI students worked with Chinese students at Sun Yat-Sen University to conduct an independent field study and comparative analysis in Guangzhou and Indianapolis on a sociological topic such as family, the medical system, migration, etc.
By way of RISE’s focus on creating strong community partnerships internationally through the expansion of scholarly and professional networks, Sun Yat-Sen University students made the trip to Indianapolis to finish out the course. Huang found beauty in Indianapolis’ greenery and significantly smaller population.
RISE’s inclusion of the international experience is demonstrative of a university dedicated to providing students with a unique undergraduate experience that will be individually transformative but also applicable in students’ careers and graduate education.
“I think that I am building more cultural awareness and acceptance of things different than what I am used to. I am not afraid of the unknown as much as I used to be. I believe this to be a useful skill,” Buening said.
With the increasing interdependency between nations around the world, knowledge and understanding of other cultures is an imperative aspect of higher education. Through IUPUI’s RISE Challenge, study abroad students are not only witness to different cultures—they directly participate in them and come to apply an international perspective to their academic work.
“I definitely believe that this program has given me a lot that is applicable in my professional endeavors. In the ever growing diversity of America, being able to accept another culture is becoming a must have skill for any organization” Buening said.
After dedicating their summer to learning more about each other’s culture and society, Buening and Huang have a simple piece of advice for prospective IUPUI study abroad students: be open-minded and just do it.