Frostburg State University professors are already known for their dedication to teaching that goes above and beyond the call of duty. That reputation gained worldwide renown recently when two FSU faculty spent the fall 2009 semester in China, an experience that entailed sharing their knowledge with Chinese students in new ways and expanding Frostburg’s relationships with key institutions there.
Sally Stephenson, an associate professor in FSU’s Department of Educational Professions, spent her time in China teaching English to students at Hunan Normal University (HNU) in Changsha. The trip was not Stephenson’s first journey to China. A member of FSU’s Chamber Choir, Stephenson was initially introduced to the country and its culture when she traveled there with the Choir and performed as a cultural ambassador at HNU and other Chinese schools in March 2008, paving the way for FSU to enroll 16 students from China in 2008, followed by 25 in 2009. HNU also invited Frostburg to send a University delegation and attend its 70th anniversary in fall 2008, an effort that resulted in an expanded agreement with HNU.
Stephenson’s sabbatical this past semester is evidence that FSU’s work in China is opening doors for its faculty to add international education to their resumes. From Aug. 19 through Jan. 21, she lived in Changsha and taught around 150 Ph.D. students from nearly 30 different majors—everything from physical education to ancient Chinese language to political ideological education. Her task was to help them fine-tune their reading and writing skills in English to meet needs in their doctoral programs and professional settings.
“Professionally, it has definitely been a ‘stretch’ of my teaching skills and forced me to adapt to new educational situations,” Stephenson said. “And from the perspective of international education, I am more convinced than ever that all students should have an international experience as part of their education.”
The new educational situations Stephenson encountered included everything from standing up and teaching for four hours straight (her schedule included one-and-a-half hour classes with 10-minute breaks) to figuring out how to respond to cultural differences in the classroom.
“Chinese students have great trepidation about making mistakes in front of others, and consequently don’t like to speak out in class,” Stephenson said. “My solution to this was to give them practice tasks to do in writing, walk around the room to find people with the correct answers, and then specifically ask those people to share their answers, which were added to projected class notes.”
Incorporating these projected class notes into her teaching helped Sally to accommodate the disparity between some of her students’ English listening abilities and reading levels.
“Some who could not understand anything I said to them were often able to comprehend written English,” she said. “This is the result of being taught English in the schools by Chinese teachers who know the grammar but are not comfortable speaking the language.”
Stephenson also made time for connecting with her HNU students outside of the classroom, frequenting HNU’s “English Corner,” the designated outdoor area on campus where people gathered informally twice a week to practice their English skills.
“I think the biggest impression on me has been the generosity, diligence and fortitude of the Chinese people,” she said. “They are so appreciative of my contributions, and extremely respectful and polite. … I have been very inspired reading the essays my students have written, realizing the sacrifices they are making for their education—many of them have families, some with young children, that live far away, which they only see on rare occasions. The value of family is of utmost importance to them. There is a great love for and devotion to their ‘motherland’ as China is frequently called, and pride in China’s recent progress and emergence onto the world stage.”
New and Expanded Opportunities
Yan Bao, associate professor in accounting in FSU’s College of Business, also had the opportunity to learn more about education in China this past semester while on a sabbatical in Shanghai as the Senior Visiting Scholar in the School of Management at Fudan University. She held the position of Deloitte Chair Professor funded by the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Certified Public Accountants Ltd. in the Chinese Mainland, and was in China from July 3 through December 16 advising Chinese doctoral and master’s students for their research work.
“Teaching and doing research in China is a valuable experience for me to have a better and more updated understanding of Chinese students and Chinese culture,” Bao said. “In the future, when I have Chinese students in my MBA class, I will be able to handle a diversified classroom setting better.”
Bao earned her B.S. and M.S. in economics from China’s Xiamen University and wanted to do her sabbatical at Fudan University because it allowed her to reconnect with her undergraduate research advisor and work with him on a few research projects. And as she eventually learned, it was also a valuable opportunity to share ideas not just with Chinese colleagues, but with other international faculty.
“At Fudan University, I attended academic seminars every week. Many of these seminars were presented by professors from all over the world. In addition, Fudan University has developed various MBA/EMBA programs with Hong Kong, the United States, Norway and other countries,” Bao said. “I saw students from other countries take classes at Fudan. I saw Chinese students go to study overseas and Chinese professors go to visit universities internationally.”
In addition to Fudan, like Stephenson, Bao also visited Hunan Normal University, where she presented one of her academic articles, conducted an open house for FSU’s College of Business and met with the deans of HNU’s College of Commerce to discuss expanding the relationship between HNU and FSU.
“During the meeting, we talked about the potential collaboration between HNU College of Commerce and FSU College of Business, which includes student exchange, faculty exchange, sending FSU business students to HNU for a few weeks’ internship and having FSU business professors teach in HNU’s MBA program,” she said. The meeting also set the stage for HNU to consider the possibility of having Bao as an accounting professor to help develop HNU’s accounting program at the College of Commerce.
In addition to HNU, Bao also visited a new institution in China open to FSU collaboration—the Hunan University of Commerce.
“HUC is very interested in building a 3+2 program with FSU, which means that Chinese students study three years at HUC, and then study two years in FSU’s MBA program,” she said. “I felt that I was talking to the right university, determined to move forward with their outreach efforts, which is a perfect match for what FSU has been looking for.”
Despite her long-standing history with China as a student and scholar, Bao returned with a renewed sense of commitment to and understanding of the Chinese educational culture and China’s interest in the United States.
“China is developing very fast. Students work very hard. They are motivated and dedicated and anxious to experience the rest of the world through studying abroad or having foreign professors teach in China,” Bao said. “In the past, most students had to have scholarships to study overseas. Now more people are getting rich enough to send their kids for overseas education without financial aid. I see a growing need for various ways of developing international higher education in China.”
In addition to HNU, FSU currently has partnerships with Chengdu’s Southwest University for Nationalities, Sichuan Normal University and Sichuan College of Education. The agreements lay the groundwork for collaboration in the specific areas of faculty, student and cultural exchanges and joint research and development programs.
To learn more about the ongoing work at FSU’s Center for International Education, call 301-687-4714.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 13 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. To learn more about FSU, visit www.frostburg.edu.