Study abroad artwork showcased in Graham Center

This summer Eliane Pinillos braved dehydration and sickness to scale the Great Wall of China looking for the perfect scene to paint. Today, her art is on display in the Graham Center.

“This is awesome!” she said of seeing her and her peers’ work in a public space.  “I mean, I don’t really consider myself much of an artist, but it’s pretty great to have it showcased.”

This week, the Graham Center Art Gallery houses more than 35 paintings and drawings from  study abroad students. They will be on display until Nov. 21.

Pinillos, a speech pathology major, was among two groups of students who participated in David Chang’s summer study abroad programs, one in France, the other in China. Chang is a professor in the College of Education and director of art education.

“I feel very honored and I’m very happy and blessed that I had professor Chang because he’s so knowledgeable,” Pinillos said. “I think that he’s the person that really made this whole experience what it was because without him I would be lost.”

For Chang, the most important aspect of the trip is for his students to learn why artists like Monet and Van Gogh painted, rather than how to paint like them. He brings the students to Monet’s home and the Great Wall of China so they can feel their surroundings instead of “just taking a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower” as he puts it.

“I choose the sites based on the emphasis of the program. If I talk about the development of 19th century art, then I would choose sites the impressionist painted,” he said. “It’s an immersive program, even though it’s a short period of time. We’re not just going as a tourist.”

Daniella Martinez met Pinillos during the study abroad to France last year. Both came away from the experience knowing they wanted to go to China this year.

China presented a completely different culture from France, from the United States and from Martinez’s native Colombia. It was modern, fast-paced and, she found, impersonal.

“Everyone just kind of wants to go where they want to go and that’s it,” Martinez said of the constant movement and quick interactions, which contrasts with the generally slower-paced lifestyle she knows in Colombia.


Art major Marco Di Giovanni, left, shows off his painting of the Great Wall of China.

Elena Capablanca teaches graphic design at La Salle High School and said she is using her trip to France to help teach her students. She and her fellow classmates painted at the same site where Van Gogh painted his famous “Field of Poppies,” and she was fascinated by the reactions they received while painting.

“A lot of us had never experienced painting outside,” said Capablanca, whose version of the poppy field is among those displayed. “People were coming up behind us wanting to take pictures.”

Chang believes his program does more than build artists. It builds complete students and worldly adults because they see and experience things rather than simply studying them in a book, he explains.

Nearly all of Chang’s students speak a language other than English and he emphasized further that because FIU is known for its international student population, many students bring their own cultural biases and expectations. The challenges make students stronger.

“The fact that you are a member of FIU, you’re automatically aware of the international nature, the cross-cultural nature,” he said. “That really pushes these courses to a different level.”