In the Spotlight
|Xiamen University on the global stage
|ICE Public:ICE Datetime:2012-5-25
At the 1926 Philadelphia International Exhibition, Xiamen University, together with Peking University, Tsinghua University, Beijing Normal University and National Southeast University, represented the Chinese institutions of higher education and won a First Class Honorary Award. That was 85 years ago, when Xiamen University had only existed for 5 years.
In the 90 years since its foundation, Xiamen University has always regarded promoting world cultures as one of its principal tasks. Its constant efforts to bring together east and the west has led to a better understanding of China by the world. The question is always being asked, ´When will China have a world-class university?´ To answer that question we have first to step out of China and embrace the world, and welcome the world to observe us.
In 2010, Gong Lili, a postgraduate student of French Language and Literature of the 2008 cohort, went to study in French for a year through the Xiamen University programme with L´Université de Caen Basse-Normandie.
The most important change for Gong Lili following her year in France is that her French is much more fluent as a result. When she first arrived in France, even though French was her major, the language proved a terrible challenge. The teachers spoke so quickly that she had to record her classes and play them over and over again before she could understand them. But after two months, her hard work had finally paid off and she could understand her classes much more easily.
Gong told us about the differences between Chinese and French education. She said, ´A French classroom is a very dynamic environment, where most of the students know how to think critically and analyse problems logically. That really struck me.´ She said that teaching methods in France differed greatly from those in China, where all you had to do was listen to the teacher and take notes. In L´Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, where she studied, however, there was no fixed textbook. Instead, the teacher handed out a list of readings before each class, and the main task of a class was to discuss those readings. At first, Gong was not comfortable with this kind of teaching and learning and she contributed little to the group discussions. In order to fit into the classes as quickly as possible, she made extra efforts to learn about the materials and listened to her class recordings repeatedly. As a result, she gradually learnt the ropes. ´I have learned how to learn in a proactive way,´ she said proudly.
Every part of her life in France holds wonderful memories for Gong. She remembers her landlady preparing real French feasts for her; she remembers when her French friends took her on a one-day trip in Paris, and when she was invited into a local family as guest.
Now Gong is back in Xiamen University for her final year of postgraduate studies. She feels lucky to have had the chance to spend such a meaningful year abroad, ´That one year has taught me how to adapt quickly to a new environment, and how to learn, work and have fun.´
At Xiamen University, every student can have an opportunity to study abroad. In 1970s and 1980s, more than 600 Xiamen University students went abroad to study. Now 20 years later, the number of such students has grown. In 2010, 829 students went to over 70 universities and research institutions overseas under exchange programmes.
Xiamen University currently has exchange and co-operation relationships with more than 170 colleges, universities and research institutions. In April 2004, Xiamen University signed a joint agreement with Inha University in Korea, the University of Rhode Island and the University of Washington in the US, L´Université du Havre in France, the University of Haifa in Israel and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia, to form the Global U7 Consortium, with the aim of enhancing co-operation between the universities in terms of education, research and administration.
In Sept.2009, Xiamen University and 9 other top Chinese universities, including Tsinghua University and Peking University, was invited to join the EU ´Erasmus Mundus External Cooperation Window´programme, which gives the possibility for many excellent Xiamen University students to study in Europe with a scholarship.
Xiamen University is member of the Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education, the University Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the University Association of the Yellow Sea area. It also has joint-degree agreements with many universities including, Cardiff University in the UK and Temple University in the US, and the University of Waterloo in Canada. 17 more joint-degree agreements with foreign universities were signed in 2010. Furthermore, every year, the China Scholarship Council provides scholarships for hundreds of postgraduate students to study at first-class universities abroad.
Xiamen University´s plan is to launch a ´Global strategic partnership´ through establishing comprehensive exchange and co-operation partnerships in 50 major disciplines with overseas universities with which it already has friendly relations. It is also planning to establish ´Exchange Student Scholarships´ and an ´Innovation Fund´ to provide finance to give students even greater possibility of studying abroad.
The Director of the Office of International Co-operation and Exchange Mr. Mao Tongwen told us, ´We hope that students will be able to take up these opportunities and go abroad. A taste of exotic and foreign cultures would something for them to treasure in their lives.´
It is not only students who can go overseas; the University also encourages teachers and professors to go abroad for further studies. The Xiamen University College of Oceanography and Environmental Science and the University of San Francisco have operated a joint MSc in Environmental Management. The Xiamen University Schools of Economics and Management have joined the Canada-China University Industry Partnerships Program established by the Canadian International Development Agency. Every year, more than 300 members of Xiamen University academic staff travel abroad to teach and to attend conferences.
Spreading Confucian philosophy
Ai Di is an 11-year-old boy attending the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University.
A cross-talk act, All men are brothers, put on as part of the SDSU Confucius Institute 2011 Spring Festival Gala, attracted great interest. One of the performers was an 11-year-old boy named Ai Di, who joined Dashan - Mark Rowswell, although largely unknown abroad, Mark Rowswell is very widely known across China for his comedy performances and work on Chinese TV - in giving the audience a wonderful performance. His fluent Chinese made a lasting impression.
Ai Di was a pupil at Barnard Elementary School in San Diego, concurrently learning Chinese at the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University. His gift as a student of Chinese was first discovered by the Dean of the Institute, Professor Liu Lirong. Prof. Liu says that Ai Di displayed remarkable talent at school and was a diligent and attentive pupil. Inspired by his passion for Chinese, Prof. Liu decided to recommend him an appropriate school in China. In 2010, Ai Di was given a free place at a school in Shanghai. In summer 2010, he took part in several events concerning the teaching and learning of Chinese, and was received by Li Changchun, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China. Through hard work and excellent performances, he was one of the performers at the 2011 CCTV Spring Festival Evening Gala.
Sun Tingting, a postgraduate student of English Language and Literature taught was a volunteer teacher at a Confucius Institute in Thailand in 2009.
Xiamen University has always considered the promotion of the Confucius Institute to be a matter of great importance. Each year, the Xiamen University Arts Troupe visits Confucius Institutes co-established by Xiamen University, putting on splendid performances. The University also encourages students and staff to teach as volunteers in the Institutes as a way of spreading traditional Chinese culture.
Sun Tingting was a volunteer Chinese teacher at the Confucius Institute at Mae Fah Luang University in northern Thailand from May 2009 to March 2010. She told us that Mae Fah Luang University boasted the largest number of Chinese-learners in Thailand, all of them passionate about learning the Chinese language and culture.
Sun Tingting told us that it was a great opportunity for students like her to go abroad and meet and communicate with foreign students, enriching their knowledge and broadening their minds. She had had a wonderful experience in Thailand, making a lot of close friendships with genuine and hospitable Thai people. ´Being a bridge between Thai and Chinese students gave me a great sense of fulfilment,´ Sun says proudly. Thanks to Sun Tingting and the other volunteers, more and more Thai students learn a great amount about Xiamen University and choose it for continuing their studies.
The Office of the Chinese Language Council International - known familiarly as the Hanban - was established in 1987, with the aim of promoting the Chinese language and culture. Confucius Institutes are non-profit organisations financed by the Hanban, operated around the world in co-operation with local affiliate colleges and universities, and supporting local Chinese teaching as well as facilitating cultural exchanges.
The first Confucius Institute opened in October 2004 in Seoul in South Korea, since when 322 have been set up in 96 countries around the world. In all, 61 Chinese universities are involved in these Confucius Institutes.
As the Southern Base of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, Xiamen University has co-established 14 institutes since it opened its first at Mae Fah Luang University in November 2006, sending some 10 deans and 200 other teachers and volunteers to the Institutes. The staff of the Institutes visit their local communities, provide Chinese language classes for colleges and schools, and the Institutes put on lectures on traditional Chinese culture and organise a wide range of events. They are also involved in developing teaching methods and materials tailor-made for the different countries.
An alma mater for overseas students
Cai Puping (Putping Mityaporn), from Bangkok in Thailand, is a postgraduate student of Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.
Cai Puping has been at Xiamen University for 2 years studying for her MA. Before coming to Xiamen, she had a good job in Thailand, but she was driven by a passion for Chinese culture and dream of studying in China. But why did she choose Xiamen University? On the one hand her interest was aroused by a friend´s telling her all about Xiamen University, and on the other she was attracted by the temperate and comparatively humid climate of Xiamen. ´We Thais prefer warm weather to cold weather,´ she said. ´I´ve spent a bit of time in Shanghai and Guangzhou, but I much prefer Xiamen where people are much more kind-hearted and friendly.´ Ms Cai was also attracted by the distinctive Xiamen University buildings, which she feels combine traditional Chinese style with Southeast Asian flavour.
Cai has a black three-shelf book-case in her room, filled with books on Chinese language teaching and Chinese culture and philosophy. She told us that she had to work twice as hard to keep up with her classmates, most of whom are Chinese. ´I´m sticking to my choice, even though it is a challenge for me to read and understand so many books. I know I will finally make it by taking it step-by-step.´ In fact, Cai Puping speaks fluent Chinese, and sometimes uses Chinese idioms as she speaks; she also told us that her Chinese name was a transcription of her Thai name.
Currently, Cai is busy writing her dissertation. She is determined to become a Chinese teacher, to promote the Chinese language and culture more widely amongst the Thai people.
Xiamen University was one the institutions to pioneer educational programmes for overseas students, establishing Overseas Correspondence Courses in 1956. The first foreign students came to Xiamen University in 1981, and over the next decade, some 400 students from twenty or so countries studied here. Currently, the number has is over 3000, most of them at the Overseas Education College, with the others principally students at the School of Economics, the School of Management or the School of International Relations.
As a way of attracting more students from overseas, Xiamen University is currently running pilot programmes for international students in six major disciplines, namely Economics, Accounting, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology and Oceanography. These programmes are of international standard with the core courses taught in English. In addition to these, Xiamen University has set up ´International Master´s´ in 11 majors including Economics, Chinese Civil and Commercial Law and Marine Affairs.
In April 2006, President Hu Jintao visited Saudi Arabia. He was accompanied on his visit to Saudi Aramco by two young Saudi guides, Hassan and Mohammed. They were among the first Saudi students to come to study in China. They did such an excellent job with their fluent Chinese that President Hu stayed 15 minutes longer than scheduled, and at the end of the tour, when President Hu asked them where they had studied Chinese, they were proud to answer that they had both graduated from Xiamen University.
Overseas students of different races and different mother-tongues mix freely with Chinese friends on the flowery Xiamen University campus, creating an air of inclusiveness and openness.
Foreign teachers in Xiamen University
Jean Christophe, foreign teacher of Xiamen University French Language and Literature Section
When Jean Christophe arrived at Xiamen University in September last year, it was actually his twentieth visit to China. On his previous nineteen trips, he had been to many places, including the Shaolin Temple in Henan, where he spent nearly a month learning Kungfu. This time, he planned to stay at Xiamen University.
He told us of his connection with Xiamen University, resulting from his experience back in France. He had met an exchange student from Xiamen University there and they had kept in touch. Through his student friend, he had been able to contact staff at the French Language and Literature section. The end result was his coming to work in Xiamen University. He said he liked Xiamen, especially the peaceful and neat Xiamen University campus, as well as the enthusiastic students. He is now known as ´Lao Jiang´.
Lao Jiang had taught Economics at L´Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 for fifteen years. But now he teaches courses including film appreciation, literature and other courses for undergraduates, and writing courses to graduate students. He has been to dozens of countries and picked up several languages. As he shares a lot of his fascinating experiences with his students, he enjoys their respect and affection.
From contacts with the students, Old Jiang gruadually found that Chinese students were greatly different from their French peers in that even the extroverted and talkative ones become silent in class and spend most of the time taking notes. Therefore, he takes on a new teaching approach for his new students: in contrast with what he did in France-writing down a question for the students to discuss before presenting his lecture and drawing a conclusion, now he gives a lesson ´reversely´ in China-assigning the question at the end of the class and leaving the students to write down their ideas as homework.
Xiamen University first employed foreign teachers as early as 1924, when four foreign teachers - a Swiss Professor of Linguistics, an American Professor of Zoology, a German Associate Professor of Philosophy and German, and a British Honorary Lecturer in English). Xiamen University employed a total of 14 foreign teachers, during the period of the Republic.
Following the founding of the People´s Republic, Xiamen University was involved in an ever increasing number of international exchanges, the number of which has expanded rapidly since the institution of the reform and opening up. A large number of foreign teachers have taught at Xiamen University, with more than one hundred foreign teachers and scholars who have been working here long-term. They hail from more than a dozen countries including the US, the UK, and Canada, and are involved in teaching or lecturing at the College of Foreign Languages and Cultures, the School of Management, and the College of Oceanography and Environment Science among others.
Some of the foreign teachers give courses such as American Culture, English Writing, English Speaking and Colloquial English to graduate students and doctoral candidates across the university, to help students could improve their understanding and knowledge of western culture through exchanges with foreign natives. Cai Changda, a graduate student at the Department of Public Finance, is taking a number of general courses given by foreign teachers. He likes listening to authentic oral English and experiencing a different way of thinking. He finds the foreign teachers ´easy-going, friendly, passionate and humorous´. Despite the differences in ways of thinking, these teachers try their best to help their students´ understanding through detailed case studies, sharing their own experiences and lively discussions. Cai says he feels respected when a teacher helps him out whenever he cannot work out the right answer, and he has developed his own approach to getting high marks on a course taught by a foreign teacher: active participation + thinking + experience = good results. ´Overall, foreign teachers focus more on the learning process rather than on results,´ he says.