Last semester English Professor Bruce Degi traveled to China to teach English. This much he was prepared to do, but he was “shocked” to learn he had been assigned 10 different required freshman English classes with about 60 students per class. This is quite different from Metro State, where the student-faculty ratio is 21 to 1.
“It balances itself out,” says Degi, who is part of a year-long exchange program established through a 2007 partnership between Metro State and Yunnan Radio & Television University (YNRTVU). The university is located in Denver’s sister city, Kunming.
“My task is to work with them on their spoken English. I do not grade anything. During most weeks I am teaching what [would equate] to six or more classes at Metro, but I don’t have office hours,” says Degi, who had not traveled to China prior to this trip and does not speak Chinese. “I also hold two hours of ‘English Corner,’ a British invention where students can practice their English with me outside of a formal classroom each week.”
While YNRTVU is enjoying the expertise of Degi, Metro State is benefitting from the knowledge of two YNRTVU scholars – Shiping Li and Rui Li. They arrived in Denver in September and, this spring, are co-teaching their first course, MDL 290B: Introduction to Chinese Cultures & Societies.
Shiping Li, who is director of student affairs at YNTVU, says students at Metro State have more flexibility than those in China. “They eat food in class. It’s much stricter in China. There are no laptops in class because most students cannot afford to buy them. Though some students can afford cell phones, they are not allowed to use them in class.”
From his view, Degi notes that “students will ask your permission to enter the classroom if you are at the front of the classroom, even if it is 10 minutes before the class starts. They also have various assigned duties each day, for example cleaning the blackboard, taking out any trash, taking attendance.”
Classroom etiquette is only a sampling of what all three scholars are learning. For Rui Li, an English professor at YNRTVU who first came to the United States as part of the 2007 delegation that visited Metro State, there’s a world of new information to share. “I don’t think American students know about China. We want Americans to know the great changes taking place in cities like Beijing.” He and Shiping Li plan to integrate movies and documentaries into their course to help students understand today’s China and its leadership.
Degi concurs with Rui Li’s assessment of how American students may view China. “China is beautiful. The food is quite good, though nothing like anything I have ever had in a Chinese restaurant in America.
And I have quickly learned that the China we thought we knew over the past 60 years is absolutely not the China of today. But it has been the people here who have made this experience special.”
The two scholars’ view of America is changing before their eyes as well. “We have seen homeless people and beggars, but did not expect so many in the United States,” says Rui Li. “I am also surprised that Americans drink icy water. We drink hot tea and lukewarm water. We drink hot milk. A lot of families can’t afford a refrigerator.”
They’re also getting a lesson in slang.
Shiping Li thought she understood the phrase “organ donor,” but was introduced to a different meaning of the term when she heard someone use the same phrase when referring to a motorcyclist without a helmet. She was also surprised to see female students smoking on campus. In China, it is predominantly the men who smoke.
Academically, Degi notes that in China “students majoring in the same subject stay together for all of their classes. The curriculum for each major is defined by the college, and students do not select classes they want to take, thus there is no advising for faculty.”
Schedules are also more complex, he says. “Teaching schedules here change every week. They are flexible in the extreme when it comes to schedules and appointments. We have had multiple occasions where classes were suddenly canceled for military training, sports competitions or for holidays. In every case, my schedule was changed significantly,” says Degi. “It is simply a matter of a genuine cultural difference. The Chinese English teachers here tell me that in China it really is the journey – not the destination – that is important.”
He adds, “It is just a different way of thinking that takes some getting used to for a calendar-and- appointment-book-driven American. After a year here I don't know if I will survive back in the American pressure cooker.”
The exchange program with China is one of three partnerships that Metro State has developed in the last couple of years. The other two are with India and Ethiopia.
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