U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

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Day 3 - Shanghai Study Abroad Visits

Today was a day for engaging Bryant’s study abroad partners in Shanghai, along with some potential partners.  It was a very productive day despite some significant failures in those logistics of communication.    

We currently have three partners in Shanghai – The Alliance for Global Education, CIEE, and IES.  We are also exploring the possibility of partnering with the Education Abroad Network.   Moreover, several of these partners actually operate more than one program in Shanghai.  IES, for example, has three very different and distinctive programs.  The Alliance operates two separate programs, one at Fudan University and another at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.  Actually, my count (which may not be absolutely accurate) says that with our current partners, Bryant students can already choose among nine different semester programs in Shanghai.  With the summer programs, that number more than doubles.

The Alliance language classes at SUFE are intense, interactive, and quite lively.

So, you may ask, why so many programs?  And, with so much on offer already, why are we thinking about a new partnering agreement?

The answer is very simple.  Students have different educational and developmental needs, as well as different language capabilities and aspirations.  Study abroad is, for most, an formative and intense experience.  It’s really critical that students get a program that fits their interests and capabilities.  Just as with choosing a college in the first place, success depends on getting it right.  With just a semester for most students, it’s really not wise to say things like “stick with it, maybe it will get better.”

Academics, co-curricular life, language instruction (requirements), possibilities for social life, internships, roommate experiences, home-stay and travel possibilities, dietary restrictions – all these things, and more, take on heightened importance in students’ minds as they plan for their study abroad experience.  They also need to become a part of our institutional planning.

There are several sharp divides in the study abroad, and they show up with terms such as “island programs,” “immersion experience,” “cultural competencies,” and “area studies.”  Just a couple of points are particularly important to bear in mind, however.  For some in the study abroad world, the idea of “island programs” is anathema.  For others, they are touted as building group cohesiveness and as the gateway to cultural competency.  There is a great deal of talk about “island programs” in the world of global education.  Most frown on the practice - even as they may find some of the characteristics useful.

Basically, an “island” in study abroad is a cohort, a group of similar students traveling, studying, and socializing together.  Those students may come from one school, or they may learn to flock together through the orientation program for their experience abroad.  Good study abroad partners strongly discourage these “insular” tendencies even when and where they find they need to use them.  This is especially true in regions such as China.  Thorough-going “immersion” is tough except for students who have already demonstrated very strongly developed cultural competencies.  In a country such as China, it’s not reasonable to think of trying to avoid some significant grouping of the study abroad students.  The question comes down to “how much?”

Every provider in China works to build programs that shelter their students to some extent.  At the same time, the good programs work very hard at developing the cultural competencies that will help students move toward the capability for immersion experiences.

CIEE Programs are among the most respected and long-standing programs in the study abroad world.  The CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) was created in 1947 by a consortium of academics to send American students aboard with the goal of promoting peace and international understanding.  In many ways, the non-profit CIEE model created the “modern” era of study abroad in the second half of the 20 th century. 

In Shanghai, CIEE offers its programs through East China Normal University.   By all accounts, the CIEE program provides the broadest array of programs for students, and East China Normal certainly has a strong academic reputation.  Unfortunately, during my time in Shanghai, I did not get to meet with the resident program director, Justin O’Jack, but we did manage a fair amount of communication via e-mail.  It was the CIEE that was knocked off the Shanghai schedule by the flight delays and diversion to Japan.  Justin and I both had conflicting commitments today and tomorrow.   

Besides the programs in Shanghai, the CIEE is among the largest study abroad providers in the world.  CIEE programs are known especially for their academic quality and their commitment to that original vision of promoting global understanding.  Besides Shanghai, there are over 100 other CIEE programs available in 41 countries around the world.  A visit to their website is worthwhile:  http://www.ciee.org/study/index.aspx

The Alliance for Global Education has made a big push into China over the past several years, and currently have one of the largest study abroad footprints in China.  The Alliance is actually a new entity formed by a partnership between two of the oldest and most respected schools in the study abroad world, Arcadia University and at Butler University.    Bryant students have traveled and studied with their programs for many years.

The Alliance actually maintains three centers in China – Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.  In Shanghai, there are two programs, one at Fudan University and the other at SUFE (Shanghai University of Finance and Economics). 

Wang Kai, Dean Lux, and Tian Zhou.  Wang Kai has a very strong academic background in language instruction and communication. Tian Zhou oversees the Alliance language curriculum in China.

I did have the opportunity to visit with the program directors at both SUFE and Fudan.  Wang Kai is the director at SUFE and Michelle Sans directs the program at Fudan.   Both Wang Kai and Michelle have strong experience in global education and in academic program development.  The universities hosting the Alliance – SUFE and Fudan -- are two of the top universities in the entire Chinese university system, and while the Alliance system is based in island programs, the Alliance places great emphasis on cultural integration through the uncommon practice of arranging for selected Chinese graduate students to become roommates with the study abroad students.  At SUFE, the program is an international business program, and the Chinese roommates are selected from among the top MBA students at the school.  The Alliance progam at Fudan focuses on Contemporary Chinese Society and Language.  The Chinese students selected as roommates are selected from among those students studying for the MA who plan to become teachers of English.

It’s interesting that everyone at Chinese universities – students, faculty, and staff – lives on campus.  One of the important ingredients in the Alliance success, then, is their ability to attract the very highest quality of student roommates.  They can do that, at least in part, because the accommodations for the study abroad students are considered more attractive than what is available for domestic students.

I also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Tian Zhou, the Language Coordinator for all the Alliance Programs in China.  She had arranged a visit to two of the language courses at SUFE.  The first was in introductory Chinese year class with three students.  The second was a second year with five students.   Altogether, the Alliance is offering eight levels of Chinese at SUFE.  In both classes I visited we were in the second hour (of three) that students meet each day for four days a week.  The teachers had already covered the basic grammar and structure issues for the day.  In this second hour they were doing what is called “drill,” but I would describe as practice and skills development.  In the third hour each day, they have a more open format discussion and further skills development.

The engagement in both classes was very, very impressive.  Tian Zhou has trained all the teachers in Alliance Programs very thoroughly in the ways she wants “give-and-take” between the teacher and the students.   I later told Wang Kai that it reminded me of something akin to a choreographed dance.  The teachers were in constant motion, encouraging responses, calling on individuals to formulate responses, correcting tones, and reminding students of how the exercise linked back to the earlier lessons on grammar and structure.

I’d call this consistency in the Alliance language program as one of its greatest strengths.  I reaches across all sites and all instructors.  My understanding is that Tian Zhou makes her rounds between Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi’an to ensure that the language instruction is standard.

Roommates, focused academic programs, language instruction – these are real strengths.  Likewise, each of the Alliance programs does a one week field experience related to the course theme.  The SUFE program, for example, will be doing their field experience in the south, Shenjen, Hong Kong, and Denfen, the village of painters.  One of the things that I found most impress ive is the way that the resident directors here – Wang Kai and Michelle Sans – have worked to integrate their academic goals with the co-curricular programming. 

The final visit for the day was to be with the Education Abroad Network, which is an Australian agency that has developed a very interesting model for direct enrollment in classes with Chinese students.  Effectively, they have made a direct connection with an academic department at Fudan (History).  Students enroll directly in that department and then choose courses from across Fudan University that are taught in English.  As the Chinese universities have stressed English, more and more courses are actually taught for Chinese students in English.  Russ Alexander, the Program Director for China, tells me that students this semester had a choice of more than 80 courses at Fudan taught in English.  The Network, then has been able to offer direct enrollment program courses for students with little or no Chinese language background.  As at the Alliance, the Network also specializes in matching its students with Chinese roommates in order to bridge into the development of cultural competencies.

One interesting thing that Russ Alexander passed on with regard to the debate over island programs and cohort programming is the Networks desire to get students “mixed” as quickly as possible.  To that end, they run several in-country orientations for new students and work to keep students coming from the same U.S. Schools from attending orientation together.

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet with the in-country staff or students from the Network.  I guess I’ll need to make that contact on my next trip to China.

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