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PAU Faculty Build Bridges with Counseling Program in Zhuhai, China

Szu-Yu (Darlene) Chen, PhD and Donna Sheperis, PhD, represented Palo Alto University (PAU) on a delegation to China for a week of educational, business, and cultural exchange. The faculty visited Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai and are exploring partnership opportunities.

China Delegation

The delegation was led and organized by PAU Board of Trustee member and Mayor of Redwood City, Jeff Gee. "I am honored to be the first Chinese-American elected to the Redwood City Council. My grandfather was born in Toisan (Taishen), and brought his family to the States when my father was just seven years old," said Gee. Redwood City has a sister city relationship with Zhuhai, China, to promote international understanding and cultural awareness. "When I served as Mayor of Redwood City in 2014/2015, I was invited to visit Zhuhai, Redwood City's first sister city, to renew our international relationship," Gee added. "Serving again as Mayor in 2023/24, I had the opportunity to visit Zhuhai again this year to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of our sister city relationship. In partnership with the American Chinese International Cultural Exchange Council, I was able to curate a delegation that included individuals that could build and sustain relationships in Zhuhai beyond my time as mayor. PAU was very high on my list as one of the emerging issues in China is mental health," stated Gee. "I am very glad that Drs. Chen and Sheperis were able to take part in this delegation and initiate a conversation with Beijing Normal University about a collaboration with PAU. I look forward to supporting and growing this international partnership between the universities."

China Delegation

The delegation included individuals from various sectors, ranging from business and technology to education and public housing. Amidst a week of diplomatic meetings, factory visits, tours, and many meals, Drs. Chen and Sheperis visited their Counseling counterparts at Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai.

One of the memorable experiences for Dr. Chen was the discovery that every teacher at a middle school the delegation visited had undergone mental health training as part of their professional development. "That's my dream, honestly," said Dr. Chen. "Granted, this was a private middle school with significant resources, but if that could happen in the United States, it would be such a significant preventative intervention."


China Delegation

One of the most memorable experiences for Dr. Sheperis was visiting the campus counseling center at Beijing Normal University at Zhuhai. "It was sterling! They had a multi-story counseling center that served the campus and the community. They had approximately 30 client rooms for all different types of therapies. They had music rooms, meditation rooms, and a room where you could use punching bags. They had massage chairs and giant video screens. They had group rooms, family rooms, and telehealth rooms. It was incredible, all state-of-the-art, and everything one would wish for in a university training clinic."

As they spent time with their colleagues in Zhuhai, Drs. Chen and Sheperis identified areas where their expertise could contribute to a partnership. With PAU's diverse student body, including a growing number of Mandarin-speaking students, they see opportunities to provide valuable training in counseling and mental health interventions.

One of the projects the Counseling faculty is excited about is an upcoming elective course, "Counseling Mandarin-speaking Individuals and Families," tailored to the needs of bilingual students, both in the United States and in Chinese-speaking countries. This course would provide students with language proficiency and cultural competence, preparing them to address the unique mental health challenges Mandarin-speaking communities face here in the U.S. and abroad.

Additionally, Drs. Chen and Sheperis are exploring the possibilities of facilitating virtual exchange programs. Through online meetings or courses, PAU faculty may provide training in Western-approach interventions, which the Zhuhai faculty and students were keenly interested in. PAU students may also gain cross-cultural experience through training, discussions, and language practice.


China Delegation

When asked about the potential partnership with the university in Zhuhai, Dr. Erika Cameron, Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs said, “Our commitment to inclusive excellence drives us to train culturally competent and multilingual clinicians. Through initiatives like our upcoming elective course, 'Counseling Mandarin-speaking Individuals and Families,' and potential exchange programs with potential new partners in China, we provide our students with the skills and experiences needed to effectively serve diverse populations in today's interconnected world."

As they reflected on their experiences in Zhuhai, Drs. Chen and Sheperis were energized by the potential for mutual learning and growth. They envisioned a future where students and faculty from PAU and Zhuhai would enrich their understanding of counseling and mental health on a global scale.