Two Chinese educators explore the American university system at Bluffton
Thousands of miles separate Bluffton University and Jiangsu, China, a province located on the east coast of China. However, two Chinese scholars are living and learning at Bluffton University for the year to build bridges and to establish durable partnerships between Bluffton and its Chinese counterparts.
Li Yan, a professor of literature and English at Nanjing Tech University, and Jin Tao, a lecturer of English literature at Jiangsu University of Technology, are completing research, learning about American culture and studying the American-style university system at Bluffton University during their sabbaticals.
Dr. Paul Neufeld Weaver, director of cross-cultural programs and assistant professor of education, says creating opportunities to “internationalize” campus are necessary as globalization becomes more of a reality but for other reasons as well.
“For a private, Christian, Mennonite university like Bluffton, we feel all people are one people, and we should know and care and love people from other places who are different from us,” said Neufeld Weaver. “If we don’t meet them, though, it’s hard to do that. We try very hard with our cross-cultural program to make that possible, but in addition to sending our students to China and other places, why can’t we bring people from China and other places to visit us?”
Li came to Bluffton in July. She spent the first part of her yearlong stay visiting classes at Bluffton University and teaching English as a second language to Japanese students enrolled in a program at Ohio Northern University in Ada. The major difference she’s noticed between her classroom in China and Bluffton’s are the class sizes. She typically teaches 50 students or more in a lecture-type setting.
“The faculty here have such spirit, and maybe the students are more creative,” said Li. “I’ve noticed that especially after I visited Paul’s classes and Perry Bush’s (professor of history) classes. I really think those students are quite creative, and they have their own thoughts whereas Chinese students are more traditional.”
She would like to increase classroom participation and do more hands-on activities back in China, but she understands with large class sizes, it won’t be easy.
Jin is taking Dr. Cindy Bandish’s Survey of English Literature and Dr. Jeff Gundy’s Advanced Writing: Poetry classes. She came to Bluffton in September and will also stay for one year.
“In these two courses, I’ve learned so many things—teaching methods, how to conduct the classroom in different ways, how to lead activities, how to encourage students to speak,” said Jin. “I believe I can bring something back to my Chinese classroom with some alteration. Their skill to kindle the students to think is very inspiring to me.”
Along with observing the American educational system, Jin is researching the poetry of John Updike. She can often be found researching and reading in Bluffton’s Musselman Library.
Jin also volunteers at the Bluffton Public Library and participated in The Holly Follies charity show at Bluffton Middle School.
“Bluffton is not very big, but it provides me many chances to encounter American culture,” said Jin. “I participate in as many activities as I can. During Homecoming, I went to the Fall Concert and watched an American football match for the first time. On National Poetry Day, I even shared my English poem with other poetry lovers and poets.”
Li brought her daughter, Ouyang Zhixuan, to Bluffton where she is attending the second grade at Bluffton Elementary School. However, the seven-year-old prefers to be called Emily while living in America. It’s a name she chose for herself because it has the same pronunciation as “love beauty” in Chinese. Emily initially had a difficult time making friends because of the language barrier.
“Sometimes when I passed by the playground, I would find she was swinging alone. As a mom, I was really sad. I asked her if she was alone, and I asked if I was right or wrong to bring her here,” said Li. “She said, ‘I understand why you brought me here. You wanted me to experience the different life, different culture here.’”
Emily’s language skills have progressed quickly. She now has a best friend and already plans to return to Bluffton as an adult.
Li is a regular volunteer at the elementary school and does activities with the children ranging from providing academic help to assisting with crafts.
Both have visited the nearby communities of Bowling Green, Lima and Findlay. However, over Christmas they have booked a trip to New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.
This is the first time Bluffton has collaborated with professors from Jiangsu, but Bluffton has held a relationship with China West Normal University in Sichuan province for the past 15 years. The relationship is facilitated by Mennonite Partners in China (MPC).
Six undergraduate student groups and three graduate student groups from Bluffton have visited China West Normal University. Dr. Stephen Harnish, professor of mathematics, also completed a sabbatical there. In return, China West Normal University has sent two groups of faculty and administrators to Bluffton to learn about higher education in America as well as a middle school delegation.
“The presence of people with different backgrounds and learning from people who have different ideas and experiences, stimulates and enriches the academic, spiritual and emotional growth of our students and our faculty,” said Neufeld Weaver.
Along with the two visiting scholars, one traditional, undergraduate student from China is currently studying at Bluffton. Two students from China West Normal studied at Bluffton last year, and Bandish will lead a 20-day, cross-cultural experience to China in May with 15 students.
Bluffton is not very big, but it provides me many chances to encounter American culture,” said Jin. “I participate in as many activities as I can. During Homecoming, I went to the Fall Concert and watched an American football match for the first time. On National Poetry Day, I even shared my English poem with other poetry lovers and poets.”