Rollins Educators Enhance Global Awareness

July 24, 2009

As part of President Lewis Duncan’s Internationalization Initiative, a group of Rollins community members recently travelled throughout China for 15 days to enhance their knowledge of the country’s rich history and culture in order to further the College’s internationalization efforts.

The Rollins China trip was organized by Yusheng Yao, associate professor of history, with the assistance of Li Wei, lecturer of modern languages and literatures, and Wenxian Zhang, associate professor of archives & special collections at Olin Library. The international experience was designed to help faculty members have a cross-disciplinary discourse on China—a rapidly rising power in the 21st century. The experience was also structured to enhance participants’ teaching, scholarship and international perspectives. The group visited included Shanghai, Urumuqi, Turpan, Jiayu Fort, Xi’an, and Beijing.

Prior to embarking on their journey, the group took part in a week-long seminar on Rollins’ campus to prepare for their upcoming experiences. Participants learned basic Chinese survival phrases to assist in their daily activities and discussed various topics based on the text China: A New History by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman.

“The seminar prepared trip participants to have a better understanding of China.  Unlike an ordinary tourist experience, Rollins community members were able to develop deeper intellectual insights into the history, geography, societal, economic, and political structures that they would encounter,” said Yao.  “The seminar was beneficial, but actually visiting China and witnessing the vast gaps between cosmopolitan coastal cities and inland towns and villages, the expansiveness of the country’s geography, its pluralistic culture, and personal perspectives from local guides on the psychology behind of China’s rapid changes and tensions, was something you could not get from a book.”

Once in China, the group visited cultural sites important in Chinese history.  Rollins participants experienced the Jiaohe Ruins, the Mausoleum of First Emperor of the Qin, and saw the remarkable Terra Cotta Army.  They also had the opportunity to interact with both rural villagers and bustling city dwellers and encounter the diverse economies and cultures of each.  In addition, the group discovered unique insights into contemporary Chinese education.  Rollins faculty were guests at two Shanghai universities—Shanghai University and East China University of Science and Technology.  Both have exchange partnerships with Rollins. During their visit, Dean of the Faculty Laurie Joyner gave a lecture to Chinese students on the topic of poverty in the United States. Yao said students had a deep interest in her lecture and engaged in questions and answers afterwards.  Trip participants held small group discussions with Chinese faculty on a variety of topics, including questions about the U.S. and differences in educational systems.  Chinese students also took part in group in conversations with Rollins faculty.

 “This was a rich and gratifying experience because each faculty member brought the perspective and lens of their discipline into our conversations in the seminar and during the trip,” said Yao.  “The program was a rewarding experience because we all learned about China’s complexities and contradictions, but we also learned from one other and established bonds.”

“I was deeply impressed by the immensity and complexity of China, as we covered a great deal of territory on the trip, including the densely populated urban cities of Shanghai and Beijing and the remote, western cities of Urumqi and Turpan,” said Alice Davidson, assistant professor of psychology. “With such an enormous population dispersed throughout an expansive country, there is much within-cultural variability, and I am fascinated by this. A large segment of the Advanced Developmental Psychology class I am teaching in the fall will focus on children’s peer relationships within multiple cultural contexts: this will include the peer experiences of children in both the majority Han Chinese and the Uyghurs—one of the largest ethnic minority groups in China.”

“One of the strengths at Rollins is how we honor our John Dewey legacy in experiential education and give our faculty the opportunity to practice what they preach by jumping outside their comfort zone, just as we ask our students to do,” said Michael Gunter, associate professor of political science, of President Duncan’s Internationalization Initiative.

“Our firsthand experiences were an excellent compliment to reading and learning about Chinese history and politics in the classroom,” said Gunter. “You learn what really makes a society tick, so to speak, how contradictions coexist, and where emerging problems like environmental degradation truly lie. My time in China also allowed me to establish contacts with the Chinese headquarters of Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental NGO that is the subject of a Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship project I am working on this summer with Ariane Rosen (Class of 2011) involving civil society in China.”

 “This travel program was a great opportunity to build relationships with my colleagues on campus, particularly in divisions that do not interact as frequently as others.  I believe that is an underappreciated strength to programs like this and a real asset to future professional development of Rollins,” he said.

Yao agreed about the benefits of cross-disciplinary relationships developed during this kind of academic travel program. This was the second faculty trip to China, and when asked about future programs Yao said, “If faculty interest remains high, we will continue organizing this program.  We listen to participants’ feedback and revise and modify the seminar and itinerary to improve their international experience.”

This year’s participants included: Josh Almond, assistant professor of art; Alice Davidson, assistant professor of psychology; Julie Garner, women’s golf coach; Michael Gunter, associate professor of political science; Dana Hargrove, assistant professor of art; Laurie Joyner, dean of the faculty and professor of sociology; Ashley Kistler, assistant professor of anthropology; Marc Sardy, associate professor of international business; Martina Vidovic, visiting associate professor of economics; Jay Yellen, professor of mathematical sciences,
and Yusheng Yao, associate professor of history and group leader.

Read about President Duncan’s Internationalization Initiative.


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