Skyping with Students in China
INTERNATIONAL STUDIES STUDENTS TALK HOMEWORK, CULTURE, AND PHILOSOPHY WITH PEERS IN CHINA
Faculty Submission BY HIRSH DIAMANT
Next year, evening and weekend students will have an opportunity to enroll in the program Business and Culture Along the Silk Roads. This program will include an international studies component with Evergreen students traveling to Vietnam and China. In words of the first lady, Michelle Obama: “Studying abroad isn’t just a fun way to spend a semester; it’s quickly becoming the key to success in our global economy. Because getting ahead in today’s workplaces isn’t just about getting good grades or test scores in school, which are important. It’s also about having real experience with the world beyond your borders—experience with languages, cultures and societies very different from your own.”
To prepare for this program, I went as a visiting scholar to Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. I connected Evergreen students in the program I was teaching with Nancy Parks’ program, “A Sense of Wonder” with students in China via Skype, and students were able to seminar in small groups.
The following stories are or reflections on the experience of Evergreen students in the Sense of Wonder program and students in China:
From Falisha Zwolinski:
This quarter I had the amazing opportunity to speak with students in China via Skype. Connecting with students in this way was absolutely incredible and humbling. We spoke about poverty in both China and the US, and I was shocked to hear that the Chinese students hadn’t really talked about poverty in an academic setting. We were able to explain to them how Evergreen works and tell them that we were discussing poverty, and they were very interested in knowing more about our studies. These particular students were studying Eastern and Western philosophy, and we asked many questions of them as well.
I had one incredibly humbling experience with our Skype group. Since we played Tai Ji with Hirsh at the beginning of our classes, we asked the Chinese students we were speaking with if they played Tai Ji with Hirsh as well, while he was with them. One of the students seemed to think that we were implying that Tai Ji was a stereotype and responded with saying that he didn’t, and he also didn’t know kung fu. The important part of this conversation was that we quickly explained what we meant, and it was a learning opportunity on both sides. We learned to be more careful and precise when speaking about particular aspects of a culture, and the Chinese students learned that perhaps not all Americans rely on stereotypes to identify different cultures. It was an incredible experience, and everyone quickly recovered and moved on in such a positive manner. I am so thankful to have had this experience, and I consider myself very lucky.
I really enjoyed our experience interacting with the students from China. It seemed like we were slow to get started, with some technical difficulties, which seemed to have led to a degree of apprehension about communicating for both us and the Chinese students. It would have been helpful to have been able to avoid this. Once the technical problem with the communication was cleared up, we spent a few minutes asking each other whether or not we could see and hear each other.
Overall, I think the experience was new for everyone, and the exchange may have been more productive with an introduction and possible more approachable focus questions, at least initially. Another angle that seemed to prove a degree of barrier in having a rich international exchange experience was relating to the question in general…which was to find a connection between The Sense of Wonder and poverty. Again, maybe just a less abstract conversation at first.
I really enjoyed interacting and was wanting to continue with them at the point at which we stopped. I definitely encourage the continuation of this experience.
From Sarah Calif:
I wonder why it was so thrilling to see someone’s face on a screen. Through all the technical difficulties, we just kept smiling. There was so much to be said, yet we were speechless. A Chinese student asked our group, “Are you familiar with the Tao De Jing?” Another Grad student typed this message: “It’s different from your metaphysics.” We explained that we’ve only tried to interpret the first verse. We tried discussing paradoxes and desires, but the laptop speakers were not loud enough (the Chinese students were smart enough to wear headphones). When the Chinese students changed the subject to Platonic philosophy, we were scrambling to look up words—English words, in fact. While we were in the United States giggling about words like “noumenon,” students in China were listening patiently and compassionately. What a gift to begin the week with a heavy topic like poverty and end the night with lighter hearts.
From Julianne Wlazlak:
The experience of Skyping with students across the globe was one of the most exciting activities that we got to participate in this quarter. It was great to see that even on the opposite side of Earth, we really aren’t that different. We were able to talk about some of the subjects both groups were studying and discussing in our classes—wonder, hope, poverty, philosophy, etc., but we also had fun talking about hobbies, interests, or what we liked/disliked about school. That was probably my favorite takeaway from the conversations—hearing about what they did on an average day. I’m hoping that some other classes will be able to use this to their benefit, especially language classes that might be able to connect with the countries that natively speak the language they are learning.
From Allyson Clayborn:
I loved Skyping with the Chinese students! It was so fun and just amazing to think we were talking with people across the world, living totally different lives, but still in some ways just so similar to us. The girls we spoke to were so kind. They told us about a lake they live close to and how they would like to own a house someday because currently they were renting a space with roommates. It felt so similar to a lot of our situations, and it was so amazing how even with half the world between us, we could still smile, share a laugh together, speak openly to each other about our thoughts and dreams, and ask as many questions as we could squeeze in. Being able to communicate with Chinese students really inspired me and pushed me to think about how I can make my dreams of traveling to China a reality. I think this was an excellent addition to the curriculum and would be eager to participate in Skyping with foreign students again.