Since I last posted…

It’s been an amazing two months.  I’ve spent the time observing, listening, and learning about my colleagues, students, the educational corporation that owns the college, and the institutional parameters of the larger campus within which I operate.  Every day brings new insights and surprises, both professional and personal.  Reflecting back on my entire experience with Yuanjing, I can see the distance we’ve all traveled since I first consulted here 14 months ago–and the distance yet to go.

I first came to the Yuanjing Academy (now renamed Prospect College) in September 2012.  I had been made an offer to become founding dean of the college, sight unseen.  I agreed to come and take a look, nothing more, but was asked if I could provide “training” for the teachers.  Training in what?  “Anything that will help them.”  I knew that a retired education specialist from the Netherlands’ Roosevelt Academy, René Diekstra, had already visited and offered some pedagogical training but I had no specifics whatsoever.  I decided to not plan anything but wait and see what I could suss out as “helpful.”

When I arrived, I was met at the airport by a small contingent: the vice dean (a very earnest but clearly lost and somewhat terrified young man, selected for his international experience, which, minimal as it was–teaching in Thailand–was more than many others’); the German teacher (a woman from Inner Mongolia who’d lived in Berlin for a few years); the office manager (whom I could not understand at all, given the rapidity with which he spoke and his slight local accent); a young administrative assistant with ties to the Party; and Mr. Fu, our driver.  Only the vice dean spoke any English, and not all that well.  Immediate test of my rusty Mandarin.  They took me to the best hotel in Hechuan 合川 and left me until lunchtime.

After lunch, I was taken to campus where a large red banner stretched above the main gate welcomed me.  I was ushered up four flights of stairs to a meeting room.  A beautiful long table had been arranged at the front of the room, replete with flowers, bowls of fruit, bottles of water, and cups of tea.  I and the various administrators in attendance sat at the front table (some with their backs to the room) and teachers and administrative staff sat at the rows of fixed tables making up the rest of the room.  I was given a generous introduction and was then invited to speak.

I explained that I did not know what they wanted from me in the way of “training” but that I thought I might start with questions.  I knew there would be no takers, and there were none.  After a very long and quiet minute, I said (in Mandarin), “I’m very patient and can wait a long time.  I’m sure you must have questions.”  At last, the vice dean ventured, “Could you please tell us just what a liberal arts and sciences college is?”

“Are you saying that you all applied for–and were hired for–positions at a LAS college and you don’t know what it is?”  Shy head nods.  “Okay, well, I now know where to begin!”  And so I explained the concepts of general education and breadth of knowledge in contrast to focused vocational education.  And for the rest of the afternoon, I talked about interactive teaching, stimulating creativity, and fostering in students a sense of responsibility for their own education.  There were few questions but lots of engaged listening.

For this meeting, the vice dean and the newly hired teachers at Yuanjing were joined by a contingent of administrators and teachers from the other LAS college being established by Jason Peng’s educational corporation.  This second college, the Taigu Jingying Academy 太谷精英学院, is part of the College of Information 信息学院 associated with Shanxi Agricultural University 山西农业大学, located in Taigu太谷, Shanxi Province.  Mr. Peng had already indicated that if I were to become dean, he would want me to consult up at the Taigu Academy (since renamed Taigu College) once a month.  The vice dean at Taigu teaches English at the Agricultural University and had been an exchange faculty member in Florida; her English is good, although spoken at the same breakneck pace as her Mandarin.  My poor ears were getting a workout—as they did that evening at a banquet where I struggled with jetlag, unfamiliar accents, and nearly forgotten banquet and drinking etiquette!

The next day, upon entering the meeting room, I asked if we could change the seating arrangement from the previous day.  Most of the lower ranking administrators were not in attendance and I asked if the teachers could move from the rows of tables in the room to the front table, enabling us all to see each other and to talk together.  Although I knew this was a breach of protocol, I wanted to demonstrate the collegial discussion they’d need to make their college succeed.  All eyes turned to Mr. Yao, the president of the Shanxi College of Information and the highest-ranking person present.  He nodded and said that if I thought this was best, he was okay with it.  With some lingering hesitation, the teachers joined us at the front table.  I spent the day responding to their questions (“How can I stimulate creativity in a science course?  It’s all just material they have to memorize.”) and wracking my brains not only for examples but also for the vocabulary with which to explain them (“I’m sure there are all sorts of fun and interesting chemistry experiments that can be done…,” “Take them on field trips…,” and “In physics and engineering, have you ever tried an egg drop competition?”).  I realized then that what seemed obvious to me was truly an array of new options for them.  It was a humbling realization.

The last morning, I entered the room to find the teachers already ensconced at the front table, ready to go.  A good beginning.  And at every tea break, both vice deans peppered me with questions about admissions criteria, courses, credits, scheduling, and assessment.  The task that loomed before these two inexperienced administrators was enormous—and their first classes of students were already on their respective campuses, undergoing their compulsory military training.  In two short weeks, those young people would be in the classrooms with these untried but eager educators.  Doing what?  I could not say.

 

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. C.E. (Carla) Kist
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 23:57:46

    Dear Vivian,

    What an amazing experience, how wonderful. I admire the way you respond to it, with humor, patience. Respect. I love the way you tell the stories:)

    Big hug for you and Douglas,

    Carla

    Op 16 nov. 2013 om 03:02 heeft The Tao is Up het volgende geschreve

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    Reply

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