Tianjin lessons: ‘Informed global citizenship’

Aug 16, 2012

Four students in front of the Forbidden CityDifferences in Chinese culture are not only subtle but also profound; an understanding of the differences is necessary. That was the assessment of an eight-member delegation from Heidelberg that spent a month there this summer as part of an ongoing exchange with Tianjin Normal University.

"Chinese professors don't usually call on their students," said history professor Dr. Courtney DeMayo. "Students aren't really used to interacting with their professors in the same way that American students do."

After teaching in China, DeMayo believes she will bring insight about the country into her teaching. "I gained more insight into a country with profound influence in both ancient and contemporary world history, and for that, the experience was invaluable,” she said. “Developments in world affairs mean that knowledge about China—and understanding of Chinese politics, culture, history and economy— isn't just important, it's necessary for informed global citizenship."

The delegation also included Heidelberg marketing professor Dr. Mary Lou Kohne, psychology professor Neil Sass and athletic training instructor Jerry Bean, and students Mia Swartz, Tierney Czartoski, Courtney Waldsmith and Kathryn Noppenberger.

The Summer Program in Chinese Studies takes students and professors one hour southeast of Beijing to Tianjin Normal University, with whom Heidelberg has had a professional exchange for more than 20 years. For four weeks, members of the summer program taught conversational English to Chinese teachers and students. In exchange, the Heidelberg delegation studied the Chinese language and culture.

Waldsmith, a senior studying early childhood education and intervention, enjoyed being invited into the homes of the Chinese students. "I was even asked to stay a weekend to experience the traditional Chinese living style," said Waldsmith.

"I worked with Neil Sass and our students were secondary English teachers," Waldsmith said. "We would joke, laugh and play games to make the English learning more relaxed."

Waldsmith thought that the majority of the Chinese people were caring but shy at first. "They look out for us and make sure we were taken care of in everything we did. … I noticed that they wanted to give, but wouldn't receive gifts as well."

Four students on the Great Wall of ChinaThe experience also brought more opportunities to Heidelberg students for after graduation. "I am already in contact with a primary school in Tianjin to teach a year when I graduate," said Waldsmith.

Noppenberger, a senior psychology major, enjoyed teaching her students about the culture of America. "I taught the students about Walt Disney World, American holiday traditions, I Love Lucy, and tongue twisters," she said.

Along with teaching American traditions, Noppenberger learned Chinese traditions on the trip. The food was most surprising to her: "I enjoyed almost everything I ate and even became a little adventurous, eating jellyfish and pigeon."

DeMayo’s most memorable experience was "seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xian." Built under the reign of the first emperor of China, the tomb and life-sized army was only uncovered in 1974 and has been open for viewing since. "Each warrior is unique," said DeMayo. "They have individual hairstyles, armor, facial expressions, facial hair and each was completely painted."

Swartz, a senior accounting major, worked closely with Kohne. She explained that after a flood, their plans for sightseeing had to be canceled, and several of her students brought homemade food to their hotel so they could still experience more of their culture.

"Before this trip, I had a hard time explaining issues to other people," Swartz said, "Because I taught English as a second language, I feel that I have learned how to speak more clearly and that I can get my point across better with more understanding."

Bean had a personal connection with his group of Chinese students, whose devotion to the subject and the program was noteworthy. "Their interest and dedication to wanting to learn and excel at the material was impressive," he said. "The exceptional manner in which the entire Heidelberg University group was treated … was greatly appreciated."