SGA president debates world politics in China

Published on
August 27, 2012

After spending nearly a month in Asia, Union College Student Government Association president and Corbin, Ky., native Richie Mathes announced that he was back from “the Great Wall of China to the Great Flood Wall of Barbourville.”

Mathes, a 2010 Corbin High School graduate, spent most of August in Asia, arriving on American soil just hours before classes began at Union to launch his junior year. He had travelled abroad for a course offered through the London School of Economics, which collaborated with Pei King University in Beijing. The purpose was to host a debate among undergraduate and graduate degree-seeking students, as well as working professionals, about power transitions. Specifically: Has there been an international power shift from the West to the East?

Mathes was one of two American participants who currently live in the states. This made him a likely source of information when the role-playing discussions focused on American politics. But a few other factors helped boost his credibility as well. He is an international business and political science major; he is lead the Union College Student Government; and he spent seven weeks this summer as an intern to Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers.

“With my political background, the role I had was U.S. politics,” Mathes said. “So when it came to American politics, I was the go-to guy.” Overall, the students in the course were mainly European and Asian. The rest of the make-up consisted of North American and South American students, and all were English speaking.

While the debate resulted in a split decision (the conclusion favored the theory that power is shifting from the United States to China), Mathes is not conflicted about the value of his experience. It was resolutely positive, he said.

Learning to effectively interact with people of different nationalities was the most valuable aspect of his experience. “The thing about programs like this is, for one, the course information is important. But even more important is the people you’re around. It was great to be surrounded by people and cultures that aren’t in my back door and get a sense of their ideas,” Mathes said.

He also added that he is eager to apply what he learned in Asia to his Union College life. “Here at Union, we have a large population of international students, and after this experience, I feel like maybe I could relate to them better,” Mathes said. “The important thing is to remember is to think globally and act locally.”

His experience in China wasn’t all work and no play. Mathes said he had the opportunity to sightsee and experience the Asian culture. He visited the Great Wall of China and a Chinese acrobatics show, among other local cultural activities. But the thing that stands out in his mind the most is something he had, before now, associated with home: Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“I was amazed to see the amount of KFCs they had in Beijing. They had at least one on every street,” Mathes said. “I’m from Corbin, and even I was overwhelmed by how much they love Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

Mathes said he highly encourages traveling and studying abroad. “Get out of the country,” Mathes urged. “It doesn’t matter where. Growing up American, you learn to think the American way, but through traveling, you learn there are other stereotypes for America—both good and bad—that you may not have been aware of. You just have to keep an open mind.”

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