By Yun Qin
When ABBA started singing, “I have a dream, a song to sing, to help me cope with anything,” I was not yet born in a small city in the Yangtze River Delta of China. By the time I was first time humming, “I have a dream, a fantasy, to help me through reality,” I had left my hometown for Shanghai with all my dreams as my luggage. I longed to see the outside world and to experience what novelty could bring to a young heart.
Several years later, I packed up again and moved to the other side of the world. I was ready for and even anticipating strong culture shock. Not until I met various people from around the world did I give in to the culture shock. As I discovered in my new living environment, differences can seem much more interesting when you realize that people actually have a lot in common. I learned that finding similarities between cultures could be a fun endeavor.
I had this same understanding in mind when facing a challenge in the present day: How best can teachers present China and Chinese culture to their students? Should the differences be characterized as something exotic, or simply enjoyable?
With this question, I designed the 2014 China Studies Seminar (July 13–19, Shanghai) with the theme of “Two Nations, One Dream.” The aim was to show contemporary China from various angles to not only Chinese language teachers, but also to their teaching colleagues from other subject areas. I hoped that teachers would reflect on their own understanding of China and the U.S. and inspire their students with collaborations between subject areas.
The Seminar comprised lectures, workshops, and field trips. The famous Chinese historian, Dr. Chang Liu, Professor of History at East China Normal University, gave seminar participants a comprehensive introduction to Chinese history of the past 5,000 years. He explained what’s happened within and beyond China from 1840 AD to today, which is a key to understanding today’s China and Chinese people’s psychology toward foreign cultures. Language teaching experts Dr. Wei-ling Wu and Dr. Frank Tang inspired teachers profoundly regarding how to integrate both traditional and modern cultures into their teaching, as well as how to creatively and flexibly make the best out of target and local cultures in class.
Participants also visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, and the Shanghai Volkswagen plants. One takeaway from these visits reinforced the idea that people, no matter where they are from, own the same dreams of pursing a happy, peaceful, and affluent life.
During the curriculum-design workshops, the Chinese teachers and other subject teachers worked in pairs to create meaningful and inspiring teaching units. Here are two example units, from teachers at Tyee Middle School and George Mason High School.
In providing teachers both content and methodologies to help their students understand how similarities are more common than differences between cultures, I hope to in turn make the learning more relevant and more enjoyable for students.