International connections

Bluffton hosting educators from China

A 23-member delegation from China West Normal University is learning about American higher education at Bluffton University as part of an ongoing exchange program between the two institutions.

The China West Normal faculty, administrators and government liaisons—including 16 men and seven women—arrived in Bluffton July 27. During a nearly two-week stay, they are also scheduled to spend time at Bowling Green State University and in Lima, Toledo and Dearborn, Mich.

On the Bluffton campus, a Higher Education Training Institute (HETI) is exposing the visitors to Bluffton academic programs and instruction, support programs, facilities, finances and student life.  They are meeting with university President Dr. James Harder; members of his Cabinet; and various faculty, staff and students.  

A tour of the Bluffton community and a stop at Bluffton Exempted Village Schools are also among the items on the itinerary.      

The institute is the second that the university has hosted for representatives from China West Normal, an institution with roughly 30,000 students in Nanchong, China. A 16-member, all-male contingent came to Bluffton two summers ago, helping launch the educational and cultural exchange program.

As part of a sabbatical in spring 2013, Dr. Stephen Harnish, a professor and chair of mathematics at Bluffton, worked with the math and physics departments at China West Normal as a visiting scholar in its physics department. Last summer, two dozen teenagers from Nanchong were on campus for a Summer English Camp sponsored by Mennonite Partners in China. That came a couple months after a group of Bluffton students traveled to China for a cross-cultural experience—one of several offered by the university in China in recent years.

Borrowing an idea from the cross-cultural program—in which Bluffton students stay with host families—the current HETI is taking the Chinese educators to the homes of several Bluffton faculty members one evening for “a taste of how families live here,” said Dr. Paul Neufeld Weaver, director of the institute and of cross-cultural programs.  

Other changes from the 2012 institute include at least one business visit and small-group sessions with faculty peers from comparable China West Normal and Bluffton academic departments, the associate professor of education added.

The institute and other exchanges with Chinese collaborators are only part of a hoped-for expansion of Bluffton cross-cultural programs, which also include a new experience in Guatemala beginning this fall.

Noting that the university’s curriculum is “very much focused” on students becoming world citizens, Neufeld Weaver said “we’re hoping we can deepen and broaden these connections with other institutions around the world.”