Biology Major Pursues Cultural Passion through Magellan Project

Created: August 27, 2015
Last Updated: January 16, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Aug. 27, 2015) – A strong sense of personal agency, adventure and cultural appreciation led Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) student Tina Lee ’16 to spend her summer traveling across the diverse provinces and cities of China.

Lee, a cell/molecular biology major and pre-health program student, truly embodied the liberal arts as she took a break from scientific research for the summer to pursue another passion, researching Chinese cuisine, culture and language.

Growing up in a small suburban town as an Asian-American, Lee always longed for cultural integration and experiential learning because she felt she couldn’t fully embrace her heritage through tertiary experiences.

Lee also wanted to show the rich culture of a country that is often portrayed as homogenous. “I chose China as my first cultural research endeavor, partly for self-reflection, but mostly because the People’s Republic of China is one of the most underrepresented, misinterpreted nations in the eyes of western society.”

Lee explains that the “differences in the provinces of China are comparable to those of European countries in language, people and cuisine, but it is easier to separate France and Germany rather than Sichuan and Guangdong.”

With an empty stomach and excitement in tow, Lee set off to taste-test China’s sights and delights, first stopping in Beijing. Lee tasted the local delicacies found along the streets, including octopus, duck, and pig intestines while passing on the live scorpions and skewed snakes.

Lee often observed the cultural trends and differences among the cities. Much of the cuisine in Beijing is based on noodles, meat dishes and strong flavors, and the city has relaxed vibe where the people are focused on family, education and tradition. Lee found Beijing to be the “epitome of Chinese culture and history.”

Next it was on to Shanghai, ranked as one of China’s most advanced cities. Situated on the Bund (Wai Tan), a central waterfront area separating old and new Shanghai, the city is famous for its seafood dishes. Lee enjoyed fresh seafood as well as Shanghai’s sweets like herbal jelly and snow flower cake. Shanghai’s beautifully modern and ancient infrastructure, fast-paced city life and vast technological development also captivated Lee.

After enjoying a taste of urban China, Lee traveled to the rural, forested province Fuzhou, which held special significance for her as the land of her ancestors. Lee described the simple village as “more serene and raw compared to the city life” where entertainment includes community dances in the local park, and people buy fresh food at street markets daily and ride bicycles or walk to work. Similar to Shanghai, seafood was a large part of Fuzhou’s diet and Fujian dishes tended to be light and flavorful.

After wrapping up her journey in Hong Kong, Lee says that her Magellan Project instilled in her a new sense of appreciation for her own culture and a desire to continue exploring it.

“I have this urgent need to immerse myself in Chinese culture, to rediscover a side of my cultural heritage in which I have hid for so long. I find myself wanting to learn more about Chinese values and languages every day.”

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.

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