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Teachers in American study-abroad programs usually receive little, if any, training before the trip, since “teaching is teaching.” The cultural differences between Chinese and American university classrooms, however, affect the students’ ability to learn and the teacher’s ability to teach in profound ways. Foreign teachers in China require at least a basic understanding of the educational, moral, and political dimensions of their classrooms if they wish to maximize the learning potential of their Chinese students. During the nineteen weeks that I taught at Tsinghua University in Beijing, I encountered students who were unfamiliar with studying literature, class monitors who reported what I was teaching, and students who truly did not understand why plagiarism was a problem. At the same time, the best teaching experiences were when my students caught me off guard with their cultural perspectives on works such as Hamlet, Oedipus, and The Outcasts of Poker Flats. I had another kind of eye-opening experience—this time political—when I taught An Enemy of the People on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. In addition to the classroom situation, faculty teaching abroad should be prepared for the politics of their university department, including management styles that can hamper efforts to acclimatize to the new setting. The Chinese concept of saving face controlled most situations, leading to misunderstandings about schedules, book orders, copyright issues, and accommodations. Even email messages followed a set of rules that no one had taught me. Teaching in China was an amazing and worthwhile experience, but I would have had an easier time of it if I had known at least part of what to expect. While flexibility helps with most study abroad scenarios (and did in my case), faculty should be better prepared for the challenges that they will face.


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  • Subject
    • English

  • Event date
    • 11 November 2016

  • Date submitted

    18 July 2022

  • Keywords
  • Additional information
    • Author Biography:

      Laura J. Getty, Professor of English, has taught on the Dahlonega campus of UNG for seventeen years. She teaches courses in world literature, British literature, mythology, Chaucer, literary research and writing, and composition. She earned her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at The Pennsylvania State University, where she taught courses in the departments of Comparative Literature, German, and English. Her work has appeared in The Chaucer Review, Philological Quarterly, Mosaic, Teaching in Higher Education, The Explicator, Romance Notes, Dialogue: A Journal for Writing Specialists, About Campus, and Reaching Through Teaching. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the Compact Anthology of World Literature, an open-access online text, published by the University Press of North Georgia, which covers the ancient world through the Renaissance (and ironically, with that title, clocks in at three volumes totaling over two thousand pages). Her conferences include presentations at the International Congress of the New Chaucer Society, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, and the Annual Conference of the College English Association, among others. For the spring semester of 2009, she taught at Tsinghua University in Beijing as the first faculty exchange professor from NGCSU, for a total of nineteen weeks in China. She has been a faculty advisor for Sigma Tau Delta (the International English Honors Society) since 2001. She has served as the Department Head of English, the English Coordinator, and the Assessment Coordinator for English. Outside of the department, her assessment work includes chairing the university-wide General Education Committee for five years, serving on the BOR Core Curriculum Committee, attending various assessment conferences and workshops, and both presenting and publishing on the subject. As for other service, she is trying to forget how many committees she has served on over the years.