Professor Concepcion Gliesman wasn’t sure what to expect when counterparts at Southwest University in China offered an almost expense-free trip to their country for her and ten of her NIU students this past summer.
They said they wanted to expose the students to their culture, while learning English from native speakers.
“I’ve never really worked with someone who says ‘I’m going to pay for everything if you bring your students to our country,’” said Gliesman, coordinator of NIU’s Foreign Language Residence Program (FLRP).
But it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up for her students, most of whom knew nothing of the language or the Chinese culture.
So for two weeks last May, they immersed themselves in the culture of Chongqing, China, learning the language and making international connections that mean even more FLRP students can experience the experiential learning opportunity next summer.
Their hosts paid for their lodging, food and cultural experiences, including museum visits, tea ceremonies, Kong Fu lessons, iMandarin language and Chinese music instruction, paper-cutting, and trips to cities and an ancient ruins site that many students recognized from the movie “Kung Fu Panda.” Their only expense was airfare and spending money.
“It was a great experience. At one point or another, many of these students will have a relationship or work with China. Our hosts loved it because they picked up our pronunciation and our culture,” Gliesman said.
The hosts invited students from NIU’s Foreign Language Residence Program, because of the diversity of languages and cultures within the program.
At first, Gliesman was concerned their lack of Chinese experience meant they wouldn’t know how to navigate, what to eat or local customs. However, each traveler got a Chinese buddy who helped guide and translate for them.
“We saw everything and ate things we wouldn’t normally eat. Just walking around their campus, which is humongous, was an experience,” Gliesman said. “What we learned about their culture was amazing. The students took away actually knowing part of another language and how that benefits them tremendously.
“Their methodology of teaching us Chinese was so good that on the fourth day we decided to go by ourselves to the city, and were able to get there without any buddies,” she said.
Gliesman said the trip also highlighted for students the freedoms they have at home.
In China, she said, they were constantly watched. When they decided to venture out at 10 p.m. one night, they realized none of the locals were on the street, and they were being followed. They also found that all of their conversations back home were monitored.
“They learned to appreciate how we live,” she said. “It is amazing that we don’t need to be watched at 10 every night, our freedom of speech, liberty of wanting to do things — and just doing them.”