GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘China’

(Dis) Orientation: From Airport Pick-Up to University-Branded Lanyards

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/26 at 09:00

I am yawning as I sit down at my computer to write this post.  Yesterday, I worked a long day, from 8:00 AM until 1:45 AM.  We welcomed a large group of international students from China to our campus.  The students arrived on five different flights coming from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Suzhou and Hangzhou. They were welcomed by a university team at the airport, and then shuttled to their campus dormitory, where another group waited to help them with their bags, give them gift bags with university t-shirts and thumb drives attached to university-branded lanyards. They also helped them to their rooms which were spread out over five different floors of the dorm.

It was amazing to see how the University community worked together to welcome the group.  Directors and Deans and student ambassadors met them at the airport. Cheerful student employees welcomed them with signs saying ”Welcome!”.  In the dormitory, a team of international student volunteers from Nigeria, India, China and the US carried their bags and pillows.  Other students operated the elevators, and explained that the dorm keys worked on a key card system.  My role was to size up each student and present them with a small, medium, or large university t-shirt and give them a formal welcome from the University.

The night went fairly smoothly, but we had a few mishaps.  Several students locked themselves out of their apartments within 15 minutes of arrival.  Others wanted to return their t-shirts for different sizes.  One mother called frantically, because her daughter had not called her the second her plane landed.

The excitement about this new group from all parties was really genuine.  We cheered when the new students arrived, and happily worked into the wee hours of the night to make sure that everyone was comfortable.  It was rewarding when the exhausted students got off their bus, in the US for the first time, and told us how nice everything was. They liked their rooms, the campus, and the staff who greeted them.

Despite my exhaustion, I can’t wait to attend the Welcome Reception later this week.  It will bring students, faculty and administrators together. It reminds me that the work really is about the students, and that the other, more complicated things about working in an institution of Higher Education are worth it.

Meg Palladino

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A Little Less Conversation

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/07 at 09:23

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.
 – Herbie Hancock

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.
 – Lao Tzu

As Elvis Presley once said, “I don’t know anything about music, and in my line of work, I don’t have to.” For one of the programs offered at the University, I am in the process of hiring instructors to teach academic content courses to students from China, who will have arrived in the US for the first time just days before they will join their courses.  One of the courses is called Music of the USA, a music history course.

As part of my interview questions, I ask the prospective instructors about their preparedness to teach a class of only Chinese students, newly arrived in the US. Each of them cites their experience of having a few Chinese students in each class, or a mix of students from various countries in their classes.  One of them taught music lessons in Korea for a few weeks.  Another music instructor that I interviewed today asked me how much these students know about the history of American music.  Frankly, I had no idea. 

The last time I mentioned Elvis Presley to a very Westernized student from China, he had no clue who I was talking about.  I was shocked.   I had thought that it was impossible for anyone to not know Elvis.  However, when he mentioned a famous Chinese pop star, I also was uninformed, and he was equally stunned.   It was an eye opening experience in some ways.  Although I have worked with international students for over a decade, I always have something to learn.  I vowed that day to learn more about Chinese pop music.

I always hear about how the world is getting smaller.  I am happy to see that it is still big enough to introduce people to great new music.  I envy the music instructors that I am hiring for my program.  They will have the pleasure of introducing American music to our students, and through the music, talk about American history and culture.  I am certain that this will be a very rich experience for these students.  I hope that I can observe the class on the day that they discuss Elvis Presley.

Meg Palladino

Shanghai and Suzhou – April 2009

In Images on 2010/04/27 at 09:00

Beijing April 2009

In Images on 2010/03/25 at 09:00

Meg and I took a business trip to China last spring and I am reminded of it now that it is spring again in Boston. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing some photos from our time there. It was magnificent in so many ways and we are both eager to return.

This first set of photos is from our four days in Beijing.  Much of our work there revolved around students, universities, relationship-building, and recruiting. We spent one day sightseeing with our fabulous hosts and colleagues and in that day we went to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

Beijing  – meetings and between meetings. As Meg mentioned in an earlier post, many of our meetings took place around a table of food such as those highlighted in the photo below.

The Great Wall (outside Beijing)

The Forbidden City – Beijing

Mary Churchill and Meg Palladino

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Recruiting International Students: Moving Beyond Revenue

In Happy Mondays on 2010/02/15 at 09:00

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston in the USA.

Welcome to the February 15, 2010 edition of Happy Mondays here at the University of Venus.

What caught my eye (along with my mind and heart) last week was news from the UK, the US, Australia, and Canada on international students as revenue generators.

  • Why do universities recruit international students? Money – the primary consideration is financial. Higher education is big business and the profit margin – the ROI – is the overriding motive. Senior leaders are pretty open about the link between international recruitment efforts and revenue.  The International Association of Universities (IAU) recently announced a new service assisting institutions in internationalization efforts. One of the services they offer is helping institutions develop “marketing approaches to attract more exchange or fee paying international students.
  • In the current economic climate, universities in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia are  “desperate” to recruit full-paying students and for many, international students represent a growing market.
    • According to Stephen Connolly, higher education is Australia’s third-largest export earner at 17 billion employing over 100,000 people. (see Connolly’s article here)
    • Similarly, Nicholas Keung reports that international students created 83,000 jobs for Canadians last year with students contributing $6.5 billion to the local economy. (see Keung’s article here)
  • So, not only has globalization brought a “free trade of minds” to higher education but also a free trade of wallets. Generally, anyone who can pay their way is welcome. The financial winner is the country with the least barriers. In higher education, this has been Australia. However, “winning” has its consequences as witnessed by the rash of attacks against Indian students/taxi-drivers in Australia. (see Ziguras’s excellent post on the GlobalHigherEd blog).
  • As Meg wrote in last Friday’s post: “Students need support in understanding the differences in order to cope with culture shock and to ensure academic success… the differences themselves can create big problems if they are not identified and ways to cope with differences provided.”  I would add to that – Institutions also need support in understanding these differences.
  • If we do not change the mindset of the faculty and staff at the universities recruiting international students, we will not create an environment that facilitates the success of the students. If faculty and staff do not embrace international students as part of their core constituency, the students will not succeed. International students typically move halfway around the globe, leaving their support structures of friends and family thousands of miles away. We become their new home – their new family and friends.
  • If we do not work on changing the mindset of the cities and countries receiving these students, we are creating an environment filled with “big problems” – a xenophobic society filled with hate crimes. As a society, we have an obligation to see international students as more than revenue generators. If we bring them here, we have an obligation to embrace them.
  • While the IAU is willing to help institutions attract “fee paying international students” their focus should also be on helping institutions develop the capacity for ensuring the success of those students.
  • I believe that we are obligated to facilitate the success of all of our students, not just our domestic students.  They are more than merely revenue-generators; they are human beings making decisions that will impact the rest of their lives…and ours!

Mary Churchill


“Cash-strapped universities desperate to recruit foreign students.”  Peggy Curran. Feb. 12, 2010. The Gazette

“Understanding What’s Up Down Under.” Pramit Pal Chaudhuri. Feb. 12, 2010. Foreign Hand Blog on Hindustan Times.’s-up-down-under/

“Visa rules change but the door remains open.” John Morgan. Feb 10, 2010. Times Higher Education.

“International education needs fixing.” Stephen Connolly. The Sydney Morning Herald. Feb. 10, 2010.

IAU Internationalization Strategies Advisory Service

“New rules help draw foreign students. Colleges laud move to speed visa process.” Nicholas Keung. Feb 8, 2010. Toronto edition of TheStar.Com–new-rules-help-draw-foreign-students

“Indian students in Australia: how did it come to this?” Christopher Ziguras. August 11, 2009. Global Higher Ed blog.

Balancing your Peas and Q’s

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/02/12 at 09:00

A few years ago, I attended a university-sponsored Thanksgiving dinner for international students to help them learn about American culture and the holiday.  There were over 300 students and several administrators.  I sat at a round table with seven students from China.  It was a buffet.  The students returned to the table with a plate (or two) overloaded with food.  They mixed their turkey and their pumpkin pie.  They all included a piece of each of the five different kinds of cakes on their plates. They stabbed their rolls with forks and ate them like cotton candy, nibbling small bites off of the speared rolls.  As they ate their peas carefully balanced on their knives, they patiently waited for me to lead the conversation.  It was surreal; it was delightful.  I wanted to learn more about China.

Happily, last spring I was given the opportunity to visit China on business with a group of my co-workers, four Americans and one woman from China.  We visited several Universities in Beijing, Shanghai and Soochow, and met with administrators, professors, students and agents.

A wonderful thing I discovered is that China is a great food culture.  Everywhere we went, we were offered at a minimum, green tea.  Most often, we were served feasts.   We ate in several restaurants, both upscale and casual.  We had one meal in a University cafeteria that was prepared by culinary students of the University.  The main difference between Chinese and American style dining is that unlike the West, where everyone has their own plate of food, in China the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares.  We tried chicken feet with hot mustard, spicy tofu and corn juice. I ate more bok choy than I ever thought possible.  The best thing we tried was a caramelized pumpkin dish that you dip in cold water before eating, to harden the sugar around the pumpkin.  We had fruit for dessert.  When we visited the Great Wall, there was a kiosk where we could buy bananas.  Most surprisingly, however, was that during our whole time in China, we were offered no rice.

I felt unprepared in other ways for eating in China.  Although chopsticks weren’t a problem, I had no clue about Chinese table etiquette.   At each meal, we sat at round tables with a lazy Susan in the middle.  All of the dishes were served communally.  The lazy Susan spun left and right, and as it went by, you had to use your chopsticks to snatch a small amount of food  from whatever dish you wanted, put it on your small plate.  Then you use your chopsticks to eat the food.  The chopsticks should never touch your mouth.  You never seem to fill up the small plate.  When you are finished with what you put there, you go back to the lazy Susan for a few more bites.  After the first meal, I asked one of our Chinese colleagues for a quick etiquette lesson, but she just replied, “It’s ok, there are no rules.”  Somehow, I doubted her.

There were clearly strict rules about where to sit, and who could sit next to whom, and in what order we were expected to speak.  Our Chinese hosts always seemed to understand the order, and arranged us as they deemed appropriate.

After my experience in China, I can imagine that Chinese students coming to the US must find our culture chaotic and our food equally surprising.  Although our attitudes about rank and order are more ambiguous than those I observed in China, there are still unspoken rules.

It is very difficult to understand subtle cultural differences. Studying abroad can be very daunting and subtle cultural differences can be tricky to handle.  International students learn about the US through American movies and TV shows, but this information is incomplete and often erroneous.   Business travelers often receive cultural training before they travel overseas, but this type of training is not often provided for international students.  So often, I see international students struggle with making American friends; they make friends with other international students.   Students need support in understanding the differences in order to cope with culture shock and to ensure academic success.  Whether the experience abroad involves countries with obvious cultural differences or subtle ones, the differences themselves can create big problems if they are not identified and ways to cope with differences provided.

As the Native Americans welcomed the pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving, American institutions and students should find ways to meet international students half way in their cultural transitions.  At the top of the Great Wall of China, in addition to bananas, I could also buy a diet Coke or a Che Guevara T-shirt.  I felt right at home.

As Confucius says, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”