Chinese Fulbrights 'internationalize' campuses

Updated: 2013-12-13 07:00

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington (China Daily USA)

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For Sun Ying, an English language teacher from the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, the students she now teaches Chinese to at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, are quite a bit different from her students back home.

"American students are good at interaction, asking a lot of questions; they are very motivated," said Sun, one of 400 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) in the US this school year under the sponsorship of the US State Department.

Sun taught two classes of two courses each week over the past semester. She also spent some 12 hours a week in one-on-one tutoring.

"The students are very interested in Chinese culture and they worked hard in learning the language," said Sun.

The school has housed Sun and another four international teachers in an apartment and provided them with a car to get around.

So far, Sun has visited the Great Smoky Mountains and the historic seaside city of Charleston. She marvels at the beautiful environment, the fresh air and lush greenery, as well as what she described as "southern hospitality".

"People are very nice and polite," she said. "Everyone likes to say, ‘Yes, ma'am.'"

Sun said that her English language skills have improved thanks to the frequent interactions with students and faculty as well as her local host family which she has met with at least twice a month.

"I have also learned a lot about American culture, which I am going to share with my students back in China," she said.

Sun believes that teaching Chinese for the first time has also helped her to hone her Chinese language skills.

Sun is one of 39 Chinese FLTAs this year, among a total of 400 from 50 countries attending a mid-year workshop Dec 12-13 in Washington DC.

Chen Shenggu, an English language teacher from Hainan Normal University in China's island province of Hainan, agreed that American students at Boston University where he teaches now are very proactive and passionate about learning Chinese.

"It makes my teaching all the more exciting because of this mutual support between students and teachers," he said, adding that the flexibility in teaching in the US has also allowed him to bring more of his skills into play.

"Chinese students are much more reserved and you have to stick strictly to the curriculum requirements," Chen said.

While Chen believes he now has some fresh ideas on how to enliven his classroom back in China, he also admits it might be a culture thing.

Chen likes the international environment in Boston and said he has spent a lot of time writing essays about his cross-cultural experience.

Zhao Xiaoyan, an English language teacher from Inner Mongolia Normal University, said she likes the tranquility of the University of Notre Dame. "It's not that crowded and is very quiet," said Zhao.

Zhao said she has spent a lot of time interacting with students and faculty. In her spare time, she works out at the gym. "It has everything," she said.

Zhao said she is also looking into the possibility of pursuing a PhD in literature in the US in the future. "I have not decided yet," she said.

Evan Ryan, assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, praised the FLTAs for the way they "internationalize our US campuses".

"You all bring American students the gift of your language, culture, and at the same time, I hope you have a rewarding experience while you're here in the United States," she told the FLTAs on Thursday.

More than 11,000 US students at 213 US colleges and universities are learning 29 languages from this year's FLTA cohort, from Chinese, Arabic and Russian to Swahili and Hindi.

Ryan hoped the FLTAs learn not only language skills, but also a little bit of the US culture.

"This is why it's so important when you return home, you share what you have learned here," she said.