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Chinese scholars get a taste of American life at CCU

by Prufer

Yili Zhu loves American babies, Wal-Mart and the gracious generosity of the people she has met here. She does not love how cold the University classrooms and offices are or being outdoors unprotected in the hot American sun.

"Many Chinese women do not like the hot sun on their skin," she says, pointing to a barely noticeable spot on her face. "See? This is from Charleston from the horse ride." (She was sitting in the carriage in a sunny spot but was reluctant to open her umbrella for fear of frightening the horse.)

Yili Zhu is from Changshu, China, where she teaches English to non-English majors at the Changshu Institute of Technology. She and three other Chinese scholars are here on the Coastal Carolina University campus this semester, observing their American academic counterparts and working on collaborative projects. 

Their visit to CCU is part of the 1+2+1 Sino-American Visiting Scholar Program, which supports increased cultural awareness, exchange of ideas and collaborative partnerships between CCU and Chinese universities that are members of the double degree program.

The group – three women and a man – are teamed with peer mentor faculty members who help them navigate daily life in America and academic life at a U.S. university campus. Three are English professors, and one, Lu Liang from the School of Tourism at Xi'an International Studies University, teaches and studies resort tourism. Next year the CCU peer mentors will travel to China to do the same sort of observation, research and scholarship. In addition to working with their faculty peer mentors, the visiting scholars take part in an organized cultural exposure program coordinated through the Office of International Programs.

Xiaoman Zhang is from Hefei University of Technology at Weihai, where she serves as associate professor of English language and literature.

Li Jie (he goes by Jack) is from Shandong University at Weihai, China, where he is head of the Department of Language and Translation and teaches English classes. He hopes to start a new class on his return to be called "Practical American Oral English."

"I have learned so much in the 45 or 50 days I have been here," says Jack, who finds American teaching methods very different from the Chinese method. In China, teachers prepare an average of four hours for a one-hour lecture course. Mostly, they teach by lecturing. Here, the classroom is more interactive, and most students are not shy about speaking up, even when they have not read the assignment.

"In China, students are more quiet because it is the tradition," he says. "Even a student who knows the answer will not raise his hand because of modesty, so the teacher must call on him." Jack must speak English during his instruction, and students are required to answer questions in English. "This experience here will make it much easier for me."

In this country, however, modesty and quietness are not valued as in China. "American students have much to say, and they keep things interesting and funny," says Jack.

During the week, since the Chinese visitors attend classes in subjects they teach, Yili Zhu attends Sara Sanders' linguistics and composition classes.

"Her class is unique in the way it promotes students' critical thinking," says Yili Zhu. "Sometimes Sara will play background music to keep students in a good mood. Sometimes she will ask students to write about art works, advertisements and such. Once she even invited a young writer to her class who is only 13 but with profound thinking. Students benefitted a lot from the discussion with the young writer."

"The faculty members I met are very kind, friendly and helpful," she says. "Teachers here are experienced, dedicated, erudite and responsible."

On weekends, the Chinese visitors go on outings to nearby places and attractions, usually accompanied by Geoff Parsons, director of international programs, or their faculty peer mentors. So far they have been to Charleston, Alligator Adventure, the Beach Boogie and Barbecue Festival at Market Common, La Belle Amie Vineyard, the Greek Festival and the Atalaya Festival at Huntington Beach State Park.

Jack's favorite outing was to a pier at the beach where he "touched the water" and took pictures of seagulls hovering nearby. He also is fond of Wal-Mart, where he finds items, especially apparel, much cheaper than in his homeland. "I plan to take new ones back," he says.

He is living in an apartment at University Place, where he enjoys using the workout room. He takes the shuttle bus to campus, though he sometimes rides a bicycle on loan from CCU. (The women are staying at the old Elvington house on campus.) Jack cooks mostly Chinese food every night, and has already set off the smoke alarm barbequing chicken legs in the oven.

He would love to teach CCU students how to cook Chinese food and order from a menu at a Chinese restaurant. He enjoys American fast food, especially hot dogs and fries, though he acknowledges their lack of health value.

"In China, there is a saying from Confucius: 'If you give a man a fish, he will eat for one day. If you teach him to fish, he will never go hungry.' This was maybe 2,000 years ago, yet it is still true," says Jack, who gets excited talking about linguistics and syntax and analysis of language.

For fun, he plays Ping Pong, and he brought his paddle and some balls with him but hasn't found time or a colleague to play with him. He and his wife, who also teaches English at the university, have a three-year-old son whose Chinese name means "beloved, happy, smiling."

One thing Jack finds troubling is the difficulty of getting around for students without cars. "Mr. Geoff Parsons spends all his weekends driving us around, otherwise I don't know what we would be doing," he says. One thing he was expecting (because his co-workers had warned him) was to see more "large Americans" (as in overweight). But this has not been the case, Jack says, at least not on CCU's campus.

Yili Zhu has been especially impressed by the generous hospitality the visitors have encountered.

"Several people have invited us to their homes for meals," says Yili Zhu, naming the people. "They have treated us on their own expenses, not the university's. That seldom would happen where I come from. It is very nice."

She also was surprised to learn that American college students do not have it easy. She had heard they were not stressed about studies and did not study much. "But what I see and hear now in America shows that is not the case…I know two Chinese girls who are studying at Coastal. They told me even on weekends they have no time to go on outings. With limited English, they have to spend much more time than American students on their studies just to keep up."

Other observations in Yili Zhu own words:

•Plagiarism is regarded as a thing with severe consequences. Some useful tools such as SafeAssignment are used to trace the plagiarism.

• Your offices are cozy and distinctive with a lot of unique things in each of them. Of course, the campus is very beautiful and attractive.

• The drivers here always give way to pedestrians.

• The tap water is drinkable. It's very convenient and environmentally friendly in that people don't need much bottled water when drinkable water is available.

• Toilet paper is available in restrooms. In China, only in the mid-high-end places is toilet paper available.

• Sports facilities are free, including swimming pool.

• Many students drive to Coastal, even if they are living on campus.

• The Writing Center helps students work on any project that involves writing. It is very helpful to students.

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