In May-June 2018, the LSU in China Program, directed by associate professor of interior design Jun Zou, brought interior design students to China to study art and design and engage with Chinese culture firsthand. The trip included field trips and cultural events, and group excursions to Xi’an, Hunan, and Beijing, which offered opportunities to see infamous sites of Chinese architecture and art.
“Before traveling to China, I had many preconceived ideas about what the trip, culture and traditions of China would be like and wondered if I would be comfortable in an environment that was different from the United States. Some of these ideas were accurate, but some were wrong,” BID candidate Ilana Springer said. “My overall experience in China was amazing.”
Classes offered included ID 3759 Special Studies in Interior Design, ID 4758 Advanced Studies in Interior Design, ARTH 2411 Survey of Asian Art, ART 1001 Introduction to Fine Arts, and ART 4020 Special Topics in Studio.
The interior design courses are organized to develop a global approach to design challenges, professor Zou said. “LSU in China allows students to develop a global perspective and approach to thinking and problem-solving,” she said. “Through site visits, they learned about cultural differences, with an emphasis on the typical regions of China. They had the opportunity to work and mingle with local students to gain experience in art, architecture, interior design, and designing with an awareness of the planet and different cultural/social groups.”
“Going on the trip gave me the opportunity to understand the cultural history and architecture related to Chinese tradition,” BID candidate Brandi Reed said.
The art and art history courses offered are intended to introduce Chinese traditional arts and culture, addressing contemporary and historical influences on architecture and interior design. Site visits helps student to understand cultural, social, and economic differences, so students can reflect on art and design issues.
“One of my favorite experiences was exploring traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy,” Brandi shared. “I’ve always enjoyed painting and had an obsession with traditional Chinese art, so being able to take a painting and calligraphy class was a dream come true. I now better understand the significance of craft and technique from working with masters of Chinese art. It takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication to become the best in any element of design.”
All of the planned excursions were chosen to develop students’ understanding of Chinese culture through an economic, historical, social, and aesthetic perspective. They visited cultural centers, history museums, aboriginal villages, and attend performing arts festivals and live performing arts events.
A most meaningful experience was teaming up with Chinese architecture students at Hunan University, the LSU students agreed. Working on design projects together was eye-opening, and they also learned about Chinese culture – and food!— outside of the classroom.
“The time we spent with the students from China was one of the most rewarding experiences,” Ilana stated. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to collaborate with interior design students from another country, especially a non-English-speaking country, and create amazing collaborative projects. I especially enjoyed spending my free time with the Chinese students. They showed us local restaurants and really helped encourage us to try the local delicacies. I cannot thank everyone enough for giving me this opportunity to fully experience China and Chinese culture.”
Brandi enjoyed attending a workshop about biophilic at Hunan University by Marsha Cuddeback, Director of the LSU School of Inteior Design, that brought together Chinese and American students of design. “The workshop gave me the opportunity to connect with many of the local students,” she said. “My partner, Tracy, however, taught me the most by sharing his design process and giving me the chance to compare and combine my ideas with his. Connecting with him also showed me how similar all people are despite the fact that we live worlds apart.”
The students agreed that their favorite parts of the academic program abroad experience were the field trips to different sites of significance across China, which they described as “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences.
“The field trip that made the biggest impact on me was when we visited the Yuelu Academy in Changsha,” Ilana shared, referring to the prestigious Chinese academy where many famous scholars, including Chairman Mao Zedong, studied. She was fascinated by the elegant architectural style of the site, and the influence of the natural environment on the design.
“After taking Marsha’s biophilic design workshop and visiting the Yuelu Academy, it is clear to me that nature plays such a large role in learning and productivity,” Ilana said. “With the mountain and river close to the campus, students are constantly inspired by their surroundings.”
“My favorite field trip was seeing the terra-cotta warriors. It amazes me that the soldiers were built to ‘protect’ the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi and that they’re so old and still standing,” Brandi said. There’s nothing in the world that is similar to those structures – that’s why it’s so historically important. I learned that intricate details are important, if not more important, than the overall design, and that meaningful art is always unique, no matter how large-scale the project may be.”
They also had the opportunity to hike to the peak of Mount Hua in Xi’an, China. “I began thinking about nature and how I can use the shapes of the mountains and the curves of the peaks as an inspiration for my senior capstone project,” Ilana said.
“The trip was overwhelmingly influential and inspirational,” Brandi agreed.
“I cannot thank everyone enough for giving me this opportunity to go to China,” Ilana said. “I am not sure anything else I will do in my life will compare with this amazing experience.”
Find more information on the LSU in China academic programs abroad.