Over 100 former SBCC students and faculty, and their families, traveled here from all over the world to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the China Study Abroad Program at the Fe Bland Forum on Saturday, September 11.
About four times that number of students have experienced the trip since 1984, when then-SBCC faculty member Dr. Peter Haslund—now running for a seat on the SBCC Board of Trustees—started the program.
Although the program may not have been possible without him, Haslund said he will not take credit for organizing the reunion. Santa Barbaran Sara Wilcox, Tiffany Tran-Overbo and Elisa Phipps Soth orchestrated the event. A reunion was also held in 1995 to celebrate the program’s 10-year anniversary.
The whole thing grew out of Haslund’s love for China and what he referred to as a “perfectly crazy idea” written out on yellow notebook paper. While in the city of Jinan for the Fulbright Scholars Program, he wrote to then-SBCC President Peter MacDougall, proposing to take students on a study-abroad program to what was still referred to as “Red China.” MacDougall welcomed the idea.
“He was so supportive,” said Haslund. “As president of the college, he would have the most to lose if something had gone wrong. I really admire that kind of courage,” he says.
One year and a few negotiations with Shandong University’s Lu Zonggong later, the program was underway.
On their travels, Haslund and his students witnessed history unfold before their eyes. In 1989, the group got to know the students camping out at Tiananmen Square, leaving Beijing one day before the shootings occurred. The following year, Haslund took the students to the former Soviet Union, because he says he was not sure how Americans would be perceived in China. In the Soviet Union, while they were on a field trip to the opera house, the group witnessed a statue of Lenin being taken down and hauled off in a truck.
The program did not return to China until 1992.
In 1996, Haslund expanded the program to include one month in Vietnam. He developed what he describes as “cordial relations” with the faculty at Vietnam’s Hanoi University, at a time when many Americans still saw Hanoi as the enemy.
“I wanted to debunk the notion of the enemy, maybe for myself as much as anybody else,” said Haslund, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force. “And it was just healing. I don’t pretend to understand it. It just was. It was a good thing.”
Haslund accompanied his students every year that the program went abroad, until 2006, when he retired. Since then, he has taken three groups of Santa Barbara high school teachers to SBCC’s sister college, Weihai University, in 2002, 2004, and 2009, to teach conversational English. He is currently working on getting a grant to fund another trip to Weihai University.
The reunion consisted of photo albums, slideshows, and taped greetings from Shandong University’s Foreign Affairs Directors Lu Zonggong and Tong Guangwu. Ding Qiao, a representative of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Los Angeles, was in attendance. There was also a segment of reflections from Haslund and the students. MacDougall was the keynote speaker. And donations were accepted for Study Abroad t-shirts commemorating the various trips, to raise money for the Study Abroad Student Scholarship Fund.