I’ve found that when traveling in the U.S., I tend to feel right “at home” when visiting a university campus. I can always quickly find the cheap eats, the good bookstores, the coffee houses, the best places to print/copy… and I guess it’s fair to say that my general interests and priorities seem not to have changed all that much over the years.
Well, my experience in China offered a similar lesson about my comfort in university culture. While touring Beijing was certainly fun, I don’t think I really felt at ease until we arrived at Dalian Nationalities University. Of course our hosts there were extremely generous and kind and welcomed our large delegation of 13 faculty (many, many thanks to Prof. Mark Zhang and all of our faculty contacts at DNU for their incredible hospitality). And I immediately found comfort in the familiar university atmosphere even though we were in northeast China, in a city and region I had never visited before. There were the departmental offices (e.g., English language and literature), the library, the cheap eats, the campus dining halls, the small market on campus, the inexpensive printing/photocopying places (which I used about once a day). . . And perhaps most familiar of all, there were the classrooms–with anxious, hardworking, talented, friendly, and sometimes distracted students (sound familiar?), lecture-style seating (not my favorite but very familiar), and standard classroom computer technology using outdated software. Yup, I felt right at home!
Many of us were invited to give presentations or teach a class, and once I stepped into the classroom and greeted the students and struggled with the computer technology (in this case also trying to navigate MS Windows in Chinese!), I really felt right at home! I gave a formal presentation to about 100 first-year English majors on “Cultural Pluralism on U.S. College Campuses,” and a more literary presentation to about 25 advanced English majors on “Late Twentieth-Century U.S. Multicultural Literature.” While it was a considerable amount of work to prepare and give these presentations, this was probably the most enjoyable, inspirational part of my trip. I guess I really do love to teach! The second presentation was particularly enjoyable because I was able to assign a short reading prior to the class as an example of a certain development in multicultural literature. I selected Helena Viramontes’ short story, “The Cariboo Cafe.”
So I delivered the first lecture at my usual pace (i.e., close to how I speak to U.S. first-year students, and I think I typically speak at about a medium speed–not especially fast or slow), but I learned afterward that it was quite challenging for my audience members to keep up and that they perceived the lecture as being extremely fast-paced. So for the second presentation I really slowed things down and saw the improved results right away. The classroom body language of Chinese students is quite different from American students, however, and it was not easy for me to interpret their responses to particular moments in my presentations–e.g., whether certain points were entirely clear to them, whether the literary passages were provocative, whether key ideas resonated with their bodies of knowledge, experiences, etc. I’m sure this would all become easier for me to read with more experience teaching in the Chinese classroom.
Here are some pics of me and Zubair at Dalian Nationalities University (DNU), and also some pics of Olga and Steven at Dalian University of Technology (DUT). Olga and Sandra gave a series of presentations and workshops at DUT.