September 9, 2011

This article appears as the "Lifestyles" feature in the September issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 350,000-plus members today to start your monthly subscription.

Bucknell Great Zackey Now a Key Player in China

by Clare Lochary |

Justin Zackey, Bucknell's all-time leading goal scorer, says a team sports background helps him understand negotiations in China.

Justin Zackey scored more goals (138) than any other player in Bucknell men's lacrosse history. In 1993, he led the nation with 63 goals and set a single-season record for the Bison.
Today, Zackey's goals are a little more abstract — he's a geography professor at UCLA who also spends half of each year in Nanjing, China, running the UCLA Social Science Education in Asia program. He spoke with LM about travel, teaching and why it's hard to talk lax abroad.

When did your interest in travel and international affairs begin?
In college. I grew up very middle class, most of the time in a single-parent family, so we didn't do much traveling. I never went out of the country — our big vacation was to the Jersey Shore. In college I met Prof. Dick Peterec, and I took a political geography class with him. He led these summer trips that were classes, and he hired me as a teaching assistant. One summer we went to Eastern Europe and another summer, West Africa. It made me really realize I wanted to see other parts of the world.

What drew you so strongly to China?
When I was a senior at Bucknell, I got a Henry Luce fellowship. The scholarship is really cool —every year, they pick about 30 people between the ages of 20 and 30 and they send them over to Asia to work or study. One of the prerequisites is that you had no experience in Asia. It was a really competitive fellowship, and I luckily got it. They had two placements available, Indonesia and China. The China one was in southwest China, near Tibet and Burma. It's a really mountainous region with lots of ethnic minorities. I looked at the map and said, "Hey, that looks cool." So I taught English and did some research and travel, and fell in love with China. I've lived a total of almost six years in China since then.

You're fluent in Mandarin — what's your favorite word in Chinese?
"Suibian," pronounced swee-be-yan. It means a lot of different things, but it kind of means "whatever" or, "whatever you like" or "your choice."

Have you ever seen or talked lacrosse while working abroad?
No. Maybe with westerners or something like that. I never took lacrosse over to China. After college, I kind of put down the stick and started to focus on other things. It's difficult to have a conversation about lacrosse in China because nobody knows what lacrosse is. It's all basketball, soccer, ping-pong and badminton. I've never seen lacrosse in China. There's a big market there for the sport.

Can you tell us about teaching in China with the UCLA program?
We partner with a high school in Nanjing. In their senior years, we bring over professors and lecturers and they teach UCLA freshman-level courses. These are all kids who want to study abroad in the United States, and it allows them to be exposed to western-style education. When they apply to American universities, they have a UCLA transcript. For UCLA, it's been awesome — it's been a way for UCLA to generate revenue, it's global exposure and it's really good for UCLA faculty to get experience in China. I go over in the fall and start the program, and then come back in the winter and spring quarters to teach in Los Angeles.

What's the biggest difference between American and Chinese students?
The Chinese students are really good. They work very, very hard. But the educational focus is much more memorization and repetition and regurgitation, and we try to bring elements of critical thinking in. They're more worldly than you'd think. They know how to get by all the [Internet] filters. Those filters are less for the kids and for the educated class and more for peasants and regular Chinese people. These kids get to start asking their own questions, and to be critical of their society and our society. They just embrace it. They love it.

Your academic work focuses a lot on nature conservation. How did you become interested in that?
As an undergrad I double-majored in biology and geography. My mom's a high school biology teacher, and I really, really like that stuff. I saw an opportunity to combine those ideas with ideas of conservation and development, thinking about the natural systems and ecosystems, and the political, economic and social processes that are really behind conservation. Because conservation deals with public policy, it's inherently political and economic. I call the field political ecology.

Your research is focused on globalization and different actors (states, international organizations, businesses) working together on conservation. Does that come from your background in team sports?
Yeah. Sports are very important in lots of different ways. The basic one is discipline. In sports, you've got to wake up and go to practice and schedule your life. Teamwork, negotiation — there's no doubt that sports play a role. Actually, a lot of those skills are helping me now that I'm more into program running. There are lots of negotiations in China, so sports and teamwork help with that. Also, confidence was a big part of sports. That's the biggest thing I carry with me from sports — just a confidence.

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