|Beginning of the Program|
The Central Arizona College International Studies Program came about through the efforts of CAC Professor of English Dr. John Paddison. After attending a Technology in Education Conference in Beijing during the summer of 2001, Professor Paddison was invited travel to and teaching at Northeastern University, located in the city of Shenyang. NEU is the 25th largest university in the Chinese post-secondary education system, with a total enrollment of 26,000 students. While at NEU, he taught as a visiting professor for one semester, while on sabbatical leave from CAC. The following is an excerpt from his autobiographical narrative of his time in China.
"I had little trouble convincing my wife Jean to accompany me to China . . . I merely told her we were 'going to another world!' She and I left the United States on January 10th and arrived in China on January 12th, 2003. After staying in Beijing for four days, we were greeted by the Vice-Director of the Northeastern University Foreign Affairs Department, who flew with us to Shenyang. Shortly after our arrival, we met with the university's Dean of Instruction, the Communist Party Secretary, the Foreign Affairs Director, the Chair of the Foreign Studies College, and several professors. Instead of being treated like visitors, we were welcomed more like celebrities; on the second evening of our stay, we attended a lavish dinner, which became our first true experience of Chinese hospitality.
We settled into our small one-bedroom apartment, located in the old, Mao-style, seven story apartment complex that housed the foreign language teachers, on the west corner of the campus, not far from the smoke-belching smokestack of the university's coal-fired heating system. The bathroom, complete with a Western toilet and an almost-shower, lay just off of the living room, as did the kitchen, which contained a two burner gas stove, a miniature sink, and no hot water. Very different from the nice three-bedroom house we had left in America. The small kitchen opened onto an enclosed, concrete balcony, which in the winter worked quite nicely as a walk-in freezer. Despite the cold, we survived very well during January, February, and March, during which time the heat was only turned on for a few hours each day. The government, we soon learned, rigidly set the date and times the heat could be turned on in all buildings and tightly controlled the sparse periods of day and night when the rationed warmth would be issued. So during the cold evenings and mornings we told ourselves that the frosty temperatures would no doubt help keep the roaches in control. Our neighbors upstairs . . . Mohammad and his wife and five children . . . were nice folks from Egypt. They all lived together in their own two-bedroom apartment and the noise that rained down on us sounded like a session of two-on-two basketball and evenincluded Mohammad's chanting, which took place religiously several times a day. The other teachers in the building--a revolving, ragtag, itinerant bunch, somewhat resembling a group of ex-patriots who had come to love China and her students-all proved to be kind and helpful to us. Jean and I tried to never complain about our meager accommodations; after all did live better than probably ninety percent of the people of China, or the world, for that matter.
During the initial part of our stay at NEU, my wife and I collaboratively taught a Conversational English Course through the Foreign Affairs Department. This course was a pre-semester class offered in the interim before the beginning of the spring semester. Then when the spring semester began, I had the opportunity of teaching a graduate Contemporary American Literature class, two undergraduate Cross-Cultural Communication courses, and several Freshman English conversation courses. In addition, I worked with the NEU faculty in various ways.
Stepping into my first Chinese classroom, on my very first day of teaching, was very much like taking a quantum leap backwards of two or three decades. I had, for the past several years at my college, taught in classrooms where all of my students had computers and I could easily use technology to illustrate my lecture notes on a whiteboard presentation platform. My new classroom now had become a cold room with bare neon lighting and large chips of peeling white paint hanging from the ceiling. I scrawled my talking points in chalk on an aged, green chalkboard, the chalk dust coating my hands and clothes. The students sat before me in stiff, hard chairs, behind worn wooden table desks. In the winter they all sat bundled up in heavy coats, quietly waiting for me to lecture them to somnolence. I stood looking back at them, desperately searching for a teachable moment . . . an access point into their reality.
The Chinese system of education, as I gradually learned, has traditionally relied entirely on a rigid, systematic, unvarying method of lecture, memorize, test . . . lecture, memorize, test . . . lecture, memorize, test. Questions from the students are considered disrespectful. As a result, Chinese students have become almost patently non-responsive in the classroom; given my experience in American classrooms I found myself increasingly unable to teach them in the manner they had been taught for the past twelve or thirteen years. In desperation, I resorted to methods of critical thought that I had used fairly successfully in getting passive American students to find their voice in the classroom. I required the students to write and give oral presentations about themselves, their home, their family, their country, their fears, their points of pride and frustration. When students found out they did, after all, have a voice, and they did indeed have ideas of their own, they began to emerge from the shells of their educational experience. Not every one of the students became gregarious, but their growing openness became spontaneous enough to allow me to keep me trying to provide them a forum for self-expression. And I think my approach was at least partially successful. Once they were given an opportunity to communicate their ideas--once given that forum, with such puzzling questions as "What do you think?" or "Why is this so?"-they found a new freedom to express themselves. Students became eager and ready to get beyond tradition and move into the twenty-first century.
This success extended beyond the classroom as well. Each day more and more students found occasion to visit my wife Jean and me in our apartment until we almost always had a continual revolving door of visiting young people. Curiously enough, each visit lasted exactly two hours. The visitor or visitors would all make the same statement, "Oh, you must be very tired," and then leave. Then a few minutes later a new visitor or group of visitors would appear. Although such marathon sessions sometimes became quite tiring, we enjoyed the students' non-stop questions about America and Americans, about our customs and elected officials and laws and just about anything else they could think of.
The students I taught were all enrolled in the NEU Foreign Studies College and they all had fairly good proficiency with the English language. To my amazement most were either bilingual or trilingual. In the 1990s, in order to support the new Opening Up Policy, studying English, the language of international commerce, became mandatory in all public schools. I thought of my own students, back in the United States, most of who also struggle with English even though it is their native language. To a person, the Chinese students were self-disciplined and diligent . . . earnest and unpretentious. But what I found most fascinating about them was their universally naïve quality. They all struck me as being so young and innocent. Every time I tried to guess how old a student was, I would invariable be several years under his or her chronological age. Compared to them, the students I taught in America had always grown up too quickly . . . to be so very jaded in comparison.
As time passed, I moved on from NEU to more advanced teaching environs and higher levels of students. My latest teaching assignment has been at the Liaoning Technical Institute, working with Masters- and PhD-level students. Being part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, LTI is somewhat like MIT in America. But in all my teaching experiences in China, I have been able to learn much more than I have taught. All of the students I have dealt with have educated me about teaching and learning, about people and difference, about cultures and the world. I continue to find them to be a delightful group of dedicated, intelligent young men and women who were much different from than, yet in many ways similar to, the students in America. Whether Chinese or American, these young people, collectively and individually, are the people who hold the promise of the future within their grasp."
From China Photos and Reflections: A Grassroots Look at Chinese Culture and the Chinese People
by John H. Paddison, PhD
Since then the program that Professor Paddison started has grown into full-blown student/teacher exchange agreeements with NEU and with Universidade Federal de Bahia in Brazil. In addition. CAC is expected to complete a new agreement with Assam University in India by the end of 2014.