Chinese teens

Chinese teens learn in, outside Bluffton classroom

Two dozen Chinese teenagers likely gained more from a two-week visit to Bluffton University than just increased knowledge of English, according to their language teachers.

The students, ages 14-16, were in Bluffton July 23-Aug. 6 as part of a Summer English Camp sponsored by Mennonite Partners in China. They were from the city of Nanchong, China, which has partnered with Bluffton for a series of educational and cultural exchanges.

“They were probably disproving some stereotypes they have about America,” including one about the pervasiveness of violence they’ve seen in movies, said Eric Eberly before the group left northwest Ohio. Eberly and his wife, Dong Ling, from Harrisonburg, Va., were the students’ volunteer English teachers on weekday mornings during their stay.

Afternoons were reserved for cross-cultural and recreational activities—on and off campus—for the visitors, who lived primarily with host families. Coming from a city of 1 million-plus people, the teens took notice of Bluffton’s quiet and cleanliness—and slower drivers, Dong Ling said. “It’s eye-opening for them.”

She said she was hopeful the students also learned that cultural differences between China and the United States are just that and not a matter of “good or bad.” Added Eberly: “They’re realizing that maybe we’re more similar to their families in some way.”

He also noted the value of the “human contact” he hoped the students found in Bluffton between the tourist sites they saw on the East Coast and would see again on the West Coast during their U.S. tour. “I think it’s important to connect with people,” he said. “I think that’s what this two weeks is all about.”

The students’ visit was another example of the ongoing relationship between Bluffton and Nanchong.

In July 2012, 16 faculty members and administrators from China West Normal University in Nanchong came to Bluffton for a training institute exposing them to higher education in the U.S.

Conversely, Nanchong has been a primary destination of Bluffton’s undergraduate cross-cultural experience in China, and a stop for graduate students in business on three recent study tours of the country. In addition, Dr. Stephen Harnish, a Bluffton mathematics professor, spent one month of his spring 2013 sabbatical working with students and faculty at China West Normal.