It is not often that we college professors are asked to step into the shoes of students in order to see the world from their point of view, but that is just what the Wofford College Milliken Faculty Seminar Abroad does. Each year one fifth of the faculty is invited to travel abroad to a destination where our students study for the express purpose of seeing what their experience is like!
The program began in January 2009 when 13 faculty members visited Buenos Aires, Argentina, and continued in January 2010 when 18 faculty and two administrators traveled to Shanghai, China to visit Fudan University where Wofford College students study under the auspices of International Education for Students (IES).
Faculty participants prepared for the trip by studying China and its culture. Most of us did not tackle the Chinese language before we left, so our first three days of survival Chinese when we arrived thrust us back into the student role with a bang! One of the language teachers in the group remarked that, “As a language teacher, it has been refreshing to revisit the shoes of someone who has no familiarity with the host language. I have really enjoyed the reality check!”
Language study was followed by eight lectures by Chinese scholars on the theme of “Where Tradition Meets Modernity.” These lectures covered topics such as ethnic minorities in China, the one child policy, urbanization, gender issues and environmental challenges. Since many of our students who choose to study in Shanghai are interested in the world of business, several of our field trips were to sites associated with business – the American Chamber of Commerce, the Asian Office of the South Carolina Department of Commerce, the world’s largest sock factory, a silk factory, a water treatment plant, the world’s largest commodities market, and an underwear factory.
Of course, we did our best to immerse ourselves in the Chinese culture as well – we attended the Peking Opera, an acrobat show and a Daoqing storytelling event as well as museums, temples and gardens (even though it was the bleak midwinter!).
We did our best to get to know the Chinese people whom we found charming. Our IES hosts were most accommodating; in fact, we wished that we could bring our survival Chinese teacher back home with us. We were absolutely convinced that we could learn to REALLY speak Chinese if only she were allowed to continue to be our teacher. We particularly enjoyed meeting many Chinese students who were engaged to be our guides and show us around Shanghai so that they could practice their English and we could ease ourselves into navigating the big city. And we visited a wonderful retirement community at which we joined in singing with their choir and dancing in their “starlit” ballroom at 10 am. Lunch with a local family was another aspect of getting to know the people and their daily lives.
I am convinced that the aims of the seminar abroad were met emphatically: We definitely felt that un-ease a student feels when he or she arrives in a new culture and doesn’t quite know how to do anything right; we got acquainted with the very teachers who would teach our students in the program; we negotiated the ways of the big city and could see for ourselves what our students might experience there. We actually felt our attitudes toward China changing as we learned more about the nation, its history and its public policies. And, we learned that flexibility and a sense of humor are in order when immersing oneself in a foreign study experience. I, personally, feel confident that I could communicate to a student thinking about studying in Shanghai what it would be like and how he or she might prepare to take that step toward an experience abroad. I also feel myself to be a ready and willing advocate for study abroad – something we value highly for our students.
For nearly 15 years, Wofford College has been recognized nationally as one of the top ten colleges sending students abroad to study for credit. Within five years, nearly all of our faculty will have had that experience themselves. As veterans of study abroad, they will be able to support the college’s commitment to global learning vigorously based on a good solid study abroad experience of their own.
Next year’s Milliken Faculty Seminar Abroad will take place in Granada, Spain and Rabat, Morocco. The benefactor of this program is Roger Milliken, chairman of the international textile firm of Milliken & Co., based in Spartanburg; Mr. Milliken is a longtime member of the Wofford College Board of Trustees. We are grateful to Mr. Milliken for this wonderful opportunity which enables us to move dramatically toward internationalizing our campus and being more effective in introducing our students to the notion that their world is and will be a global world rich with difference, diversity and opportunity!
Submitted by Linda Powers, Instruction in Communications, Wofford College