Chinese students visit ECU, local schools

Student teachers from Shaanxi Normal University (SNNU) in Xi’an, China traveled more than 7,500 miles to spend four weeks at East Carolina University to learn more about the American education system and culture.

Boxi Deng (left) and Jiazheng Sun listen as students.

Boxi Deng (left) and Jiazheng Sun listen as students tell them what they’ve learned about Chinese culture. (Photo by Jamie Smith)

ECU’s Language Academy and College of Education are hosting the group of 14 students through Feb. 16. While at ECU, they are participating in English language training along with visits to local schools and participating in cultural experiences – including a trip to Washington, D.C.

ECU hosts groups of students from around the world often but usually for shorter time periods. According to Jon Rezek, ECU’s assistant vice chancellor for global affairs, this visit is also one of the first that involves a great deal of interaction between the SNNU students and other groups in the Greenville community.

“What is unique about this program is the number of ECU students and faculty that have had chance to interact with the SNNU students,” said Rezek. “I think each of the participants on the ECU side has learned a little something about Chinese culture and how to interact in a positive manner with individuals that don’t necessarily share all aspects of our culture. It helps to build skills that our students will leverage to their benefit in the future.”

A very important aspect to their visit to ECU is the opportunity for cultural experiences. The students from SNNU live with American roommates on campus during their visit and spend two weekends with families in Greenville to help immerse themselves in American culture. In addition to a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., the group attended an ECU women’s basketball game and visited Atlantic Beach which was the first time many of them had seen a basketball game or the ocean.

“I liked talking with local people and seeing them showing interest in our culture, our language characters and customs. I also liked last week’s basketball game. It was fun and amazing,” said Boxi Deng who is studying to teach computer science.

Part of their stay in Greenville includes visiting different types of schools in the area because the SNNU students are training to be teachers in China. They will visit Oakwood School, J.H. Rose High School, Nancy W. Darden Child Development Center and Pitt County Early College High School. They visited ECU’s Community School on Feb. 5.

According to the visiting SNNU students, their country is moving more toward a student-centered approach to education versus their traditional teacher-centered approach. They hope their experience at ECU will help them return to China with ideas to incorporate in their classrooms.

Yawen Zhang, answers questions.

Yawen Zhang, answers questions from kindergarten students at ECU Community School on Feb. 5. (Photo by Jamie Smith)

“There are four key ideas that we hope our guests will take away from this experience,” said Allen Guidry, assistant dean for planning and global engagement in the College of Education. “Student-centered instruction, the importance of dialogue in American educational practice, the importance of recognizing the value of each individual, and empowering students through a quality education.”

The visit to ECU’s Community School, which serves as a K-5 laboratory school, allowed the SNNU students to see firsthand how music, art, and technology are incorporated in American classrooms. As students in Dora Ellison’s third-grade class danced in their seats to a song about comparing and contrasting, Yuting Zhang – a future physics teacher – quietly asked why the teacher used music during the lessons.

Questions like Zhang’s were common throughout the group’s visits to different areas. They inquired about food, athletics, the types of students served by the schools and some of the teaching techniques they witnessed.

The SNNU students also visited Kathleen Hawley’s kindergarten class who happened to be studying the Chinese New Year celebration traditions. Chinese New Year began on Feb. 5, the same day as their visit. The kindergarten students greeted them with an enthusiastic hello in Chinese, “Nǐ Hǎo!,” and practiced using chopsticks, tracing Chinese characters, and even treated their visitors to a dragon parade to help ward off bad luck.

“One of the things I like is that American teachers encourage their students to talk about anything. When I go back to China I want to let my students speak what they think. I think it is very important,” said Wenyan Li, who plans to teach Chinese language and literature.

Rezek says this trip has been a success and he hopes to work with faculty at ECU during the summer to create a similar program for ECU students to travel to SNNU to experience the education system and culture in China.

Chinese students studying to be teachers.

Chinese students studying to be teachers observe an art class at ECU Community School. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)