Teaching (and Learning) in Shanghai

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Wrapping Up July 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — doctordelo @ 11:43 pm

Yesterday class ended in great fun and celebration — stories and pictures to follow. One student wrote a note expressing her thanks for the class and said, “I like who I am in your class.” What a lovely compliment for a teacher.

So much to tell, including stories of the disco cab, dinner in the financial district at the foot of the Shanghai World Trade Center, and traveling around the city.

This weekend I’m headed to Hongzhou and will return on Monday. Monday will include dinner with some students and packing. Then I head to the aiport at 8 a.m. Tuesday and will arrive in SFO around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

More to follow … sometimes my access to this site is limited, which, in turns, limits my posts. Thanks for understanding.

PS. I found the photos I thought I had deleted. YAY!


When the students become the teachers July 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — doctordelo @ 10:52 pm

Thursday’s class was simply magical. Really. It was one of those days when everything aligns: the course planning comes together, the students are engaged, and questions produce the most amazing results.

We were discussing narrative research design and using an article in our text about a Chinese immigrant student in Canada as an example. The students were fascinated by the story, some skeptical that narrative research could really be considered research, and some intrigued by the process of the research. The air in the room was electric as they worked in small groups to identify key parts of the article and, ultimately, challenge some of the assumptions embedded in the article.

Now this is not something students in China do often or easily. So to challenge something that has been published demonstrates how far they have come on their journey. Here’s what they brought to the conversation today: First, the subject of the narrative is a young, first generation Chinese immigrant student (named Ai Mei) in Toronto. In reflecting on tensions between the student’s identity development and tensions between the new culture and that of her parents, the author commented on conflicts between peer values and her parents’ values. The students said, “No, these values aren’t in conflict, they’re just different and here’s why …” Their thinking challenged the Western interpretation of the young student’s experience and brought a new perspective to my understanding of the article. While their arguments also affirmed the author’s interpretation, their view on the issue helped me see it differently and will allow me to bring their perspective into future discussions of this same article.

Students also noted that the area where the parents were from in China (Fujian Province) likely had a strong influence on their values and they pointed out that the author didn’t really describe the importance of this. They were unanimous that Fujianese people (who are in the southeastern area of China) are quite different from people in other parts of China. One student in the class who is from Fujian explained some of the differences in that they have at least two dialects in the area and are influenced by their proximity to Taiwan.

I was so encouraged by their willingness to talk about these issues and to bring a completely new dimension to this article. They concluded that while the individual narrative might represent a common experience of a first-generation immigrant student, they didn’t necessarily feel it was representative of immigrant students from China.

As the students shared their thoughts and perspectives, I could easily see how confident they felt and how comfortable they were as they attempted to fill in some of the gaps they perceived in this study. These are gaps that Westerners could easily overlook and it was a real pleasure to be their student.


You learn a lot in just a few weeks

Filed under: Uncategorized — doctordelo @ 2:46 am

The faculty who will be teaching the next course in our program have arrived! They spent their first few days in downtown Shanghai and yesterday afternoon arrived here in the Jiading district (still part of Shanghai, but on the outskirts by some distance).

As soon as we picked them up they started asking questions about the area, how things work, what are things like, what it’s like navigating a city where everything is in Chinese (not in Chinese and English as you’ll find in the city center), what are the students like, what is the Internet access like, and so on. All of the same questions Marilyn & I had when we arrived.

In talking with them, I realized how quickly we acquire and absorb information in order to successfully navigate a new place. In one of my first posts from here I commented on how unfamiliar everything felt and how I would need to re-weave a web of support that fits this environment. What amazes me is how fast I’ve woven that web in just a few weeks. There’s still so much to learn, but I’ve made great progress and can find my way around in spite of the language barriers.

It really is disconcerting to be in a place where nothing at all feels familiar: the smells, sounds, food, language, and all of the visual cues that are part of our daily lives. But humans are resilient and we adapt. We may long for the places we call home, but we also find a way to make this new place our home (albeit a temporary one).

Watching my colleagues as they adapt helps me see how much effort it takes to make a transition to a new place — an effort we may not always fully understand when we’re just looking at ourselves. And, of course, the irony of traveling is that just about the time you’re starting to feel comfortable, it’s time to go home. I’ll return home changed by this experience: a better teacher, a stronger student, and, ideally, a better global ambassador.


Tonight, you eat fish heads July 5, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — doctordelo @ 10:29 am

The campus has all but shut down completely as the academic year comes to an end here. Because our course is part of the University of the Pacific curriculum, we continue on. In the last few weeks final exams have come and gone, the big national college exit exam is over, post-semester meetings are done, and even the compulsory military training ended on July 3. All campus facilities are in the process of closing up for the summer, including the on-campus grocery store, the vendor with the fresh produce, and the barber…even the magazine shop has shut its doors.

But one portion of the dining commons (or “cantine” as they call it) has remained opened. At lunch today, the program director told me they would keep the cantine open so I could eat. It sounded like they were keeping it open just for me (isn’t that what that sounded like?), so I was relieved to arrive and see others eating. They did expect me, however, which I didn’t quite understand until dinner had finished. I tried paying for my food and they refused — twice. I thought maybe I misunderstood, so I tried again & they refused again…they must think I’m a dolt sometimes. I can just imagine them saying, “What is it with these Americans that they don’t understand simple hand gestures? Poor people…and they’re a super power?”

I usually select my food by pointing at what I want & this generally works well. Tonight it was the scrambled eggs with stewed tomatoes (which is actually better than it sounds), eggplant, and green beans — and, of course, the required mound of rice. I swear they must think I’m undereating because they gave me HUGE portions of everything including about 1 1/2 cups of rice. Then, oh, too bad, there’s no room on my plate for the fish heads you’re offering me. No, really…thanks…I couldn’t possibly eat those. No, really.

Having successfully refused the fish heads, I went to my table, started eating, and soon a bowl of cooked shrimps arrived. The server had such a big smile as if to say, “Okay, no fish heads, but here, have these.” Sigh. And the princess inside me thought, “I sure hope these are de-veined.” After delicately removing their heads (The cook probably thinks I’m such a weirdo for bypassing not one, but two opportunities to eat fish heads tonight), I took a peek at the little shrimp (is that redundant?) bodies, saw no shrimp goo, and ate a few.

After dinner a student was talking with the person who seemed to be running things and she was able to ask on my behalf why they wouldn’t let me pay for dinner. It turns out someone has mentioned the foreign guests and that our dinner would be free. He also said that my dinner would be ready every night at 5:00. Now, isn’t that sweet? They’ve taken their responsibility to feed me quite seriously — heaping generous portions of food on this poor, starving American who doesn’t have enough sense to eat a good fish head when she sees it.


Baby on Road July 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — doctordelo @ 9:09 am

I’m pretty sure the sticker on the car meant to say “Baby on Board” but sometimes things just don’t translate very well.

Have a happy 4th of July!


Coffee with the Expats July 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — doctordelo @ 10:37 pm

Friday afternoon I started reading a few of the papers students (draft versions of one of their final papers) and quickly realized that they shared common issues that needed to be addressed. I thought it might be helpful to prepare a Power Point presentation to address the different areas that need some review. I soon realized I had put together a nice teaching presentation and rather than spend about 5 – 6 hours going through the remainder of the papers & making common comments on all of them, it hit me: I can return the papers to them on Monday, go over the points in the presentation, and ask them to make the corrections on their own papers. Brilliant. After class, I’ll post the presentation to our class website so they can refer to it as they revise their papers. This provides a permanent record of the discussion and allows students to focus on our discussion and their papers rather than furiously attempting to take notes on everything I say. More brilliance.

Saturday morning I put the finishing touches on said Power Point presentation, reviewed two chapters for next week, and by 8 a.m. was ready for the day (I get up much earlier here and find that I’m super productive at 5:00 a.m.). There’s a group of expats who live and work in Shanghai, and also get together fairly regularly. One of their activities is coffee at The Coffee Bean in the city center — conveniently located near a metro stop. The group is well-organized enough to have a website (you’ll notice I’ve stopped including links to other sites in my blog; they often end up getting blocked and messing up my post so I’m leaving them out for now). It’s also a nice way for folks new to Shanghai to get to know others, learn some good ideas for adjusting to life here, and to go out together for specific activities (such as go-cart racing last weekend). There were about 12 of us at The Coffee Bean yesterday: 3 Americans (including Mark – a journalist, Adam, and me), some Brits, a Canadian, a Malaysian, Brapu from India (by way of the U.S. and Australia), and Vanessa from Holland. We had coffee together & talked about their lives in China. What brings people here? Teaching for several of us, their companies for others, and a marriage for at least one other … it was a pretty typical Saturday afternoon of coffee and conversation. Nice. Several of us then headed to lunch, which was typical Chinese & included lots of vegetables, chicken, noodles, and steamed buns.

One thing I noticed about the expats is that they treat the world as a small place. Much like some of us consider our hometown as our center, this group of international nomads feels quite at home in the world at large. I’m spending just a month here while Jo and Brapu have multi-year contracts to teach. Mark the journalist has made Shanghai his home and works with a local media group to offer English language news. The other Mark, from the UK, just returned to Shanghai after 6 years in the UK running an international small business with this wife, and is now looking for new opportunities here. Vanessa is on assignment from her company in Holland, similarly Cesar works with a Canadian company with offices here in China. They made working as an expat seem so … well, normal … Many, such as Brapu and Mark the Journalist, have spent their careers in other countries, moving about as easily as some of us move from town to town. It takes a special person to constantly adapt like this and I’ll admit I admire their fortitude.  Things don’t always go perfectly for them here — as we know from reading books about people living abroad, the things that go awry are the stuff memoirs are made from — but they generally have positive attitudes about life here and the adventures they’re on. One note about Mark the Journalist: his parents had lived in Walnut Creek so we had a local connection to talk about, but he has spent his entire career in journalism: as a university faculty member, as an original journalist for CNN in 1980, and all around the world. Long past the age when most people would have retired, he’s here in China bringing us the news. He can’t report on protests, but can report on the new high-speed rail. Still, censors & all, he’s committed to bringing people the news. Pretty nice life mission.


Week Three July 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — doctordelo @ 8:46 am

Today I’m experiencing that odd sense of time moving both slowly and quickly…It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here three weeks, yet when I look back at all that has transpired, I think, “Wow…I’ve only been here three weeks.” I’m enjoying my time here and continually discover new things about teaching, learning, and humanity in general. In spite of cultural differences, when it comes down to it, we’re all just people. We want many of the same things from life, we may just go about them in different ways.

After lunch (over coffee) one of our doctoral students, Amy, who is also a faculty member was lamenting how her students don’t want to do the work required for class, how they come to class unprepared, and how they just want the teachers to give them all the right answers. As I listened to her and looked around at the familiar surroundings of a Starbucks, it was hard to believe we were in China. Her concerns are universally shared.

We had a delicious lunch together tasting a variety of foods, some familiar, some new. Everything quite tasty.  Amy is heading off later this summer to spend a year in Germany while her husband is on assignment there. The other student, James, is concerned because he wants to get married and, if I understood this correctly, before you can get married, you need to buy an apartment. The down payment for the apartment is about $50,000. Amy explained that often when a couple marry, the parents and even the grandparents of the couple will give money so the newlyweds can buy their apartment. Even so, it seems this is primarily the responsibility of the groom. As a result, James feels a lot of pressure to be able to save enough money for the apartment so he can then marry his sweetheart.

The picture below gives you a sense of our lunch. There was a lot of light behind us, so we’re a bit dark in the photo.

Amy is on my right, Adam is on Amy’s right, and James is on Adam’s right.