High School Students in China and the United States Collaborate

Students in SPICE’s China Scholars and Stanford e-China Programs meet in virtual classrooms.
arches at Stanford University Archway at Stanford University; photo courtesy Jason Leung

Working across linguistic and cultural differences, students in the China Scholars Program (CSP) and Stanford e-China (SeC) met and collaborated online as partners, from opposite sides of the world, in November and May. The two programs focus on different themes—U.S.–China relations writ large (CSP) and emerging technologies through the lens of design thinking (SeC)—but found common ground in finding local solutions to environmental sustainability problems.

The students were divided into groups, each including both U.S.- and China-based members. Each student shared a sustainability issue that they observed in their home communities—discovering similar issues around recycling, food waste, and environmental pollution, in particular. The group then selected one problem to focus on and brainstormed a specific solution targeted at a specific user group using the design thinking process. Finally, they shared creative presentations of their process and their proposed solutions with both classes. 

Although these projects have real-life applications—with at least one group intending to go forward with actually prototyping their idea to see how far they can take it—the true challenge of this assignment for the students was to figure out how to collaborate across technological, cultural, and (to a lesser extent) linguistic barriers and solve a common problem together. It was not easy. But many students reported that it was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences in their program. We hope it will seed the skills they need for cross-cultural collaborative problem-solving in the future.

Following the joint project, students sent reflections to CSP Instructor Tanya Lee and SeC Instructor Carey Moncaster, marveling at how much they had in common, and at the value of their differences. An American student noted, “Working with students from [China] showed me what true cross-cultural collaboration is like. It was cool to see how cultural differences affect the way in which people approach and work on a task and how collaborating with people who work differently than you can produce better results or help you see things in a new way.” Reflecting a similar team-driven sentiment, a Chinese student noted, “There are more similarities than differences that divide us. We really need to promote communication between individuals in two countries instead of knowing the other country from the authorities’ slogans.”

Fall 2020 marked the inaugural session of the Stanford e-China Program, an English-language, online program for high school students across China exploring current technological innovation and human-centered brainstorming strategies. The China Scholars Program completed its seventh and eighth sessions this past year, bringing together students from all over the United States to study the politics, economics, and society of contemporary China. Both programs feature lectures and discussions with Stanford University faculty and are offered twice annually, in fall and spring.

Applications for the Fall 2021 Stanford e-China Program are currently open with a final deadline of September 1, 2021. 

Applications for the Spring 2022 China Scholars Program will open in September, due November 1. (Applications for Fall 2021 have closed.)

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