The following is a submission from Dr. Jeffrey Green, dean of the Graduate School and interim dean of the School of Christian Thought, Dr. Marie A. Mater, program coordinator of Speech Communication and Mr. Jesse GrothOlson, assistant professor of Cinema, Media Arts and Writing. These HBU faculty members presented professional development seminars to the faculty of Beijing Jiaotong University (BJTU), one of the oldest universities in mainland China, in June 2017.
Dr. Green led seminars on college administration and global trends in higher education. His lectures included topics such as incorporating the liberal arts in STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) education. He also spoke about developing and assessing vision, and how to help faculty succeed in their publication goals. BJTU has a large English program, and Dr. Green gave a fitting lecture comparing language education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Dr. Mater facilitated seminars for faculty on Intercultural Communication. The topic is particularly relevant since BJTU has a large number of international students. She discussed the relationship between communication, culture and identity. Dr. Mater also focused on the intercultural differences in nonverbal and verbal communication.
Mr. GrothOlson presented nine separate lectures covering topics under the umbrella of innovative teaching techniques. His presentations covered roadblocks to teaching and how to overcome them; storytelling as a teaching tool; personality, communication and management; experience-based learning; conflict, red flags and interpersonal challenges; using media for teaching and communicating; creativity and problem-solving; grades, failure and assessment: the role of the teacher; and subtext: moving beyond language for human connection.
(In addition to presenting these seminars, the trio took time to visit notable Chinese historical sites such as The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square.)
At the beginning of this summer, I had the opportunity to travel to China to give nine unique lectures to the faculty of Beijing Jiaotong University.
Everything from the art and architecture, to the students and faculty of BJTU, speak to the dual nature of the school, the city and the country. Founded as a school to support and run the railways, BJTU is now a thriving university with as many faculty as we have students.
And while it may seem like any other college campus, there are signs everywhere that there is something bigger going on. The palaces and the parks, mountains and crowds, beautiful natural resources and the man-made monuments that hold them captive — all these pairings exist, and create beautiful bouquets of experience.
Everywhere I looked, I saw the natural order striving against the marks of progress. Their celebrations of their natural resources are astounding, and are only eclipsed by what they have been able to create from them. Everywhere, there is a tension between worlds. The juxtaposition of disparate ideas found throughout the city is astounding: rural and urban; new and worn-out; East and West; natural and man-made; ancient and modern; beautiful and grotesque; oppression and freedom.
Nine years after the world converged on Beijing to celebrate our universally shared athletic endeavors, the buildings remain and continue to be developed as a public place for the Chinese people to come and relax, celebrate and enjoy each other’s company. The Olympic park sits as an Ebenezer to the time when China was itself opened to the West and its trappings.
As the country bursts forward into an unprecedented era of modernity that almost looks familiar to us, it also maintains strains of the bygone era that, for many, continues today. A deep history of global influence is striving to peek through the near-modern communist era into an expanding 21st-century globalized China with a burgeoning capitalist sector. And while, as a country, China moves forward with the rest of the developed world, the individual citizens are stuck in the middle of this ideological tug-of-war. Beijing is a city that beckons to the world, and it is eagerly awaiting the responses of businesses, schools and individuals. The people are proud of their culture, and they are eager to share it with us.
As near-history and ancient history mix with modern existence, it should be impossible for us to forget that one of the greatest resources China has always had is her people — people who work hard at whatever task they’re given, people whose efforts and strivings have served to create and build everything from their vast network of highways and high-speed railways, to the large majority of all consumer goods used in the world today. Yet, who themselves live in the humblest of means, stuck between the rock of modern urban survival and the hard place of state-run, state-enforced nationalism. They work, live and build just like you and I. They have even adopted some of our lesser vices. But there is always the undeniable flavor and beauty of a culture much more weighty and aged than our own.
In the weight and line of every ancient stone, carving and artifact one could feel the vastness of the world and the minuteness of the self. My colleagues and I were caught up in a whirlwind of engaging, observing and contemplating everything it was we were seeing. There was simply too much to take in — too much to interpret and too much to think about. There was too much of our own world that needed to adjust to make room for China.
And it was not the China of our own popular culture or the China spoken to us by our own demagogues and media moguls, but rather a China made up of the amalgam of our own senses, our own understandings of history, and the subtext and metamessaging in every physical experience we had. It was a pleasure and privilege to visit, to teach and to engage the culture, the people and the amazing cuisine. To be in the presence of wonders that both the ancient and modern worlds hold as benchmarks for the limits of human effort is humbling. To enjoy them in the presence of a different people is enriching. And to enjoy them while in conversation with peers and colleagues is exciting and challenging.
As a teacher, it was good to get to stretch my legs in a new context and see if my understanding of what education really is held true in a more universal setting. As an artist, I was stretched and awed by the works of humanity. As a human…I was brought closer to an eternal God who made it all possible.
This trip has opened my eyes to many possible opportunities, and I think it would be good for all of our faculty to engage in similar outward-facing explorations. Trips like this will only increase our University’s cultivation of a strong global focus, our ability to engage Athens, and the richness of our own engagement with each other.