China no longer seems like an exotic destination to me, given all the goods and services we exchange with this country every day. Many of my friends have traveled extensively in China, and I have visited Hong Kong on a couple of occasions. The opportunity to teach a 36-hour class on local government at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing has, however, given me a better view of an amazing place and some great young people.
I have 13 students in my class, ranging from a post-doctoral student to second-year undergraduates. Despite the differences in age and education, they work well together and are unfailingly attentive and polite. I’m not sure I would be willing to listen to me drone on about local government for 36 hours over 9 days, but these students seem to be intent on getting as much out of the class as possible.
I really don’t talk for four hours every class, as I assign projects that require the students to work on group projects a fair percentage of the time. They have produced staff memos, developed a code of ethics, and created a draft strategic plan so far. The students are learning new concepts and vocabulary in a relatively unfamiliar language, yet they clearly understand most of what’s being taught. I wonder how many of us could handle a college-level course on Chinese local government taught in Mandarin.
My two course assistants, Yong and Alice (some students use English names for class), are eager to please and fun to be around. They like to practice their English and don’t seem to mind hanging out with old people to do it. We have made good use of the translator app on our smart phones to help make conversations work.
We haven’t spent all of our time in the classroom, although the schedule and the weather haven’t allowed too many opportunities for outdoor activities. We visited the nearby Ming Tombs our first day here and have had the chance to ride in a rickshaw, shop in a mall, and listen to traditional Chinese music at Chiangping Park. I’ve been running every morning and discovered a great natural area near our hotel today.
China may not be exotic anymore, but it remains an interesting place with remarkable people. I’m looking forward to our remaining two weeks here and the chance to visit historic sites like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Mostly, I’m enjoying the interaction with a great group of young people who are at least pretending to be interested in what I have to say.
Pictures from top: At the Ming Tombs; standing on the library steps at the University; a Ming Dynasty Emperor; and children playing in plastic floats at a park.