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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Familiar reflection

Standing at the computer console in my 8th floor classroom, I had arrived my usual 30 minutes before class was to start. It's a good thing, since this time I had a wonderful distraction

A familiar face from my International Marketing class popped into my classroom unexpectedly.

"Joyce!," I blurted out, with a decidedly stunned voice. I just couldn't believe that one of my students from Dec had found me on Saturday afternoon and wanted to talk with me. Grinning from ear to ear—she has a delightful, contagious smile—she asked me if I would review her resume since she was trying to get a head start for the summer internships opportunities.

A bilingual International Trade major who has a tremendous work ethic, focus and ability for prodigious work output, I remembered her with fondness. My only response could be: "Of course!" We stood as I reviewed her two page resume together. Here and there I made suggestions; she listened carefully to my words. As we progressed line item by line item I thought to myself, for a Junior she has already accumulated a noteworthy list of accomplishments and experience. She had a definite direction. Were I in the market, I would certainly scoop her up.

As the time for class neared, she asked if I would be available later to answer other questions she had. I told her about my 5:00 – 6:00 dinner break between my two three hour classes and that I stay in the classroom, so stop by.

She arrived right at 5:05 and we sat down in the wooden school desks—my Western leg length presents some challenges sitting in these contraptions. Equipped with a list of companies she had compiled, we proceeded to review each one of the American companies with offices in Shanghai over the next 45 minutes. She had done her homework. Joyce could talk about each one, why she was interested in specific ones, why others she was unsure. Then she proceeded to detail the different ways she would adjust her resume to apply for specific openings. Clearly, she knew which direction to go, but was seeking validation on some decisions she had reached. I was happy to ask the questions needed for her to determine this for herself.

As we discussed this list I heard her determination. Focus. She was totally committed to land an internship this summer and then a job next year upon graduation. She had purpose and drive.

Leaning back into the hard wooden seat I gazed into her sparkling, effervescent youthful eyes. It's then it hit me.

I was looking into a mirror. She reminded me of me at her age. With this realization I gained yet another revelation from teaching here in China. Asian and Western: we have more similarities than differences.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Polarity

Tuesday nite I gave my first test. Arriving a half hour before my 6:30 p.m. class I witnessed an interesting phenomenon: the back one-third of the classroom was already populated with boisterous students. Hum...changes in behaviors are always early warning signals I've found.

While I speak no Chinese, it wasn't hard for me to detect a palpable atmosphere descend upon the classroom of 122 souls. I saw photocopied notes of my PowerPoint presentations making the rounds. What struck me funny were the faces I'd not seen since the first day of class weren't studying them with desperation. These pieces of paper, rather, looked as if they would be used as tools.

Clearly, they thought I had no clue; clearly they were wrong.

Culturally speaking, seeking assistance during tests is a generally accepted practice here. However, I was resolved to enforce a paradigm shift. My rationale was my whole reason for being here: introduce American teaching differences to prepare many of these students who will go to Western cultures to study. This lesson began immediately.

I stepped to the back of the room and informed everyone that all notes were being passed in to me and that they could collect the material after the test. Looks of disbelief followed my every movement as I explored areas under the desk cavities and added misplaced material to my growing pile. As I did this I noticed several students' faces in what I can only describe as glee at my activities.

After I distributed the tests I took my perch behind the last row of male students, the ones who had fought so hard for this status. Clearly, they hadn't anticipated this; their faces betrayed disappointment. Within 15 minutes I took two cell phones...the digital version of writing on the desk before class.

As the test taking wore on I confiscated a test with a crib sheet and asked a student to move, since he had wandering eye syndrome. The different responses between the two boys were nothing short of polarity.

The one boy whose exam I scooped up with a crib sheet was clearly repentant. Just a half hour into the exam I wondered if he would stay. He did. And, his body language told an insightful story.

He took some small pieces of paper from a notebook and began to write his answers to the essay questions he recalled. Fascinating. I let him proceed to see where this would go. After he filled the papers he sat still and I could see him contemplate his transgression. He knew it was wrong and his body language went from total disgust with himself to a prayer-like state. I knew he was definitely worthy of grace and further consideration. As I watched this play out I turned my eyes to the other student.

After watching five occasions of wandering eye syndrome with the girl sitting next to him who clearly had studied, I stopped by this boy's desk and asked him to move...three times. After the third request I transported his exam to the desk I had indicated and moved to the other end of the room to let him sort it out. Ten minutes later he stood beside the desk, so I returned to ask him to sit and finish taking the exam there. Apparently he preferred to stand and did so for the next hour. Then, he left.

As students completed their exams and exited the room I watched the penitent crib sheet student. He remained. With only one other student in the classroom I took a seat next to him and asked a simple question: "Why?" Profuse apologies bubbled forth. I had judged him, based solely on his response to the situation, as a good student. His answer confirmed it.

He had been studying for the GRE next month since he was making application for graduate school at none other than Seattle's University of Washington. He confessed that he had known the answers, but just didn't want to take the chance of not doing well. I checked my watch; it was 9:00 p.m. I retrieved his paper and told him he had until 9:30 to complete as much of it as he could. He raced through the exam and turned it back to me at 9:25.

We walked out together and rode the elevator down from the 8th floor. I told him I understood his issue and I believed he understood mine. He said, "Yes!" Patting him on the back and looking directly into his eyes I said, "See you tomorrow night." Smiling he said yes. Last night we talked and he contributed well in class discussions. I haven't seen the other student since test night.

Polarity. It's all a matter of attitude.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The School Cafeteria

Thanks to my 4th floor neighbor in December, Katie, I was introduced to the art of food foraging by myself at the West Campus cafeteria; since then I've perfected this skill. Like most universities, the fare is...well, university food. But, being illiterate here, I'm thankful I can find palatable food without having to rely on anyone to read a menu to me.

One thing I learned the hard way was the time one can eat lunch. Service begins promptly at 11:00 a.m. and it's locked up tighter than a drum at 12:30. It only took one day for me to arrive late (1:00 to learn this). It's easy to tell time on West Campus. You see a stream of students headed towards the cafeteria promptly at 11:00. And, now I can tell which of the two floors they will visit to find food.

Those who BYOB+C (I've coined this phrase to mean Bring Your Own Bowl and Chopsticks) will stay on the first floor. You must have a command of the Chinese language, and a school issued stored value card to purchase food. I'm out of luck on both.

Most people who aren't in the BYOB+C category will ascend the concrete stairs in the cavernous, echoing building to the second floor. It's here you see a traditional—with Chinese adjustments—to the notion of a cafeteria. I find lunch here most days. I also find a fascinating look into campus life and culture as whole.

For starters, the boys here are AVID basketball fans. One day it was literally deafening to hear the voices of several hundred males screaming for the Houston team since about six TVs hang from the first floor and another six from the second floor ceilings. With the first Chinese player on the Houston team, there is justifiably great pride in this fact and subsequently avid fans following the events. And, the number of basketballs bouncing around here is quite overwhelming sometimes.

When I ascend to the illiterate zone, my personal reference to this second floor eating exile, I grab a brown, square tray and begin looking at all the items displayed for my choosing. Every day brings new offerings. But, I can always be assured of rice as my core luncheon dining. Today, I added small bowls of: boiled pumpkin, green and hot peppers (my mouth felt like the Towering Inferno afterward), sautéed bean sprouts, fried lotus, boiled peanuts, and some sort of round, yellow cornbread looking but rice tasting item I've grown fond of. I take my lunch choices to the register and await the numbers to appear before me. Today it was 5.20 RMB. Most days my expense is between 4.50 RMB – 7.60 RMB, depending upon how much I grab. If you're wondering how much this works out to, consider it takes 8 RMB to equal $1.00.

After I pay, I grab a set of black chopsticks from the can on a table and find a table. If I am there earlier in the lunch rush, I find clean tables. Otherwise, you'll find all sorts of food debris left on the table in small piles. Here in China meat items aren't de-boned or de-skinned. So, the normal thing to do in a restaurant is spit this out into a plate; in a cafeteria the 'plate' is the table.

I find this an encouragement to my early timing at the cafeteria.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Parallel universes meet

A former roommate of Shaw's from graduate school, David, was in Wuhan for two days from Shanghai and I had an opportunity to meet him. David joined us—Shaw, Bob and me—on our bus trip to the tailor's shop.

Paired up as seat mates, David and I began to compare notes. It's then we realized we lived in a parallel universe.

Since I knew he was there to meet with two supervisors at Wuhan University for feedback on his doctorate dissertation, I asked him what his doctorate would be in. His answer: management. How wild! That's exactly the program I will begin in May, so I shared this with him.

Intrigued with each other, we had quite a bit to discuss on the bus ride! I asked him what research he fielded for his dissertation. He had focused on technology and had conducted primary, qualitative research at a Chinese technology center. Intrigued, I told him I had come from technology.

His next question cleared up just what type of technology center this was with his question: "Do you know what SoC is? My immediate response: "System on Chip!" His eyes lit up and we both exploded into laugher. I explained the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry is where I had been in marketing for five years, so I was very familiar with chip, package and printed circuit board terminology and market issues. And, my most recent EDA employer had opened a technology training center in China a few years ago. Clearly we could talk each others' lingo on several levels.

So, David pulled his dissertation out and handed it to me, noting that the Executive Summary he had translated into English. Would I read it and provide feedback? Flattered, I said, "of course." I quickly read through the four pages.

His research was examining the management methodology used in the Chinese technology center, what theories he could apply, and then what issues he saw through this research that prevented them from being as successful as they could be. At the end of his Executive Summary I saw a fascinating statement that included several items for improvement, but two leapt off the page at me: growing Chinese entrepreneurship and better connections with foreign companies.

I told him on the entrepreneurship aspect I had seen a book just published through Harvard Business called "Made in China: What American Managers can learn From Trailblazing Chinese Entrepreneurs" written by an American and Chinese authors. It might be of interest to him. We exchanged business cards and promised to stay in touch, especially since my next China teaching trip may be to Shanghai, where he currently lives.

"It's a small world, after all."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Critical thinking

One of the many things I learned from my first teaching experience here in China was the opportunity to work on critical thinking. Memorization plays a key role in the educational experience here, so when it comes to marketing and public relations it's a necessary skill that needs more development in my students

I was prepared to teach critical thinking Thursday nite, but I didn't have examples I thought the students could relate to. Until Jessie, my TA, gave me the idea. So, we developed and presented it together.

Sitting in my apartment office, Jessie and I looked over the 25 questions the groups gave for consideration of posting on the blog for my former PR students' responses Reviewing them several stood out from the rest and we agreed on the top 5. One that really captured my attention asked a pre/post comparison using 9.11 as the incident. Wow. This grabbed my attention on two levels. First, it showed critical thinking at work, but the question itself needed a bit more work. Second, on Thursday nite I had 9.11 as the example for tracing the four step process that develops public opinion.

Taking the question I explained to Jessie what 9.11 meant in the context of its impact on American culture. I asked her, what would be a good example from Chinese history? Her quick response: SARS. Jessie explained to me, from her experiential learning, how SARS impacted her life, student life and basically the entire country. (I asked Shaw that night for his experience and this question evoked a tremendous response that gave me further insights.)

As we discussed the two countries and events, Jessie made an incredible statement along the lines of the group question on 9.11 wasn't fully developed and needed more integration from the Chinese experience to share with the American bloggers so they knew how to provide more details. Fantastic!

We agreed she would take the question back to the group and would advise them on how to take another approach. They were excited and produced this question; it appears as the group wrote it. Clearly, it could do with editing. However, the important lesson in this was the group's ability to take two different situations—SARS and 9.11—combine them and ask for the American bloggers to share within this context how public relations was affected by the situation.

To deliver this to the class, I pulled screen captures of the three questions Jessie posted on the blog and integrated them at the appropriate place in my presentation on critical thinking in my PowerPoint. Both Jessie and I talked through our thought processes of how we picked the three best questions.

Then, I took the three questions that were good and "almost" made the cut. Jessie and I discussed why we say "almost" and what the issues were. I tried to link these to critical thinking to show them how this supported this portion of our night's lesson. It's tough to know if it connected, but I'm hoping Jessie and I will see a change in the questions we collect on Saturday. I'm hoping our decision process will be difficult because we have many more questions for our bloggers that reflect critical thinking skills at work.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Payday"

On the bus ride to church, Marilyn told me she was working with one of my former International Marketing students from December, Apple. I remember Apple! She was diligent, industrious student who was never afraid to ask questions and put forth challenges on what she learned. In fact, after our last class she asked me for my personal email in hopes that I might be a reference for her when she applied to study in America. Of course!

Since the International Marketing class, Marilyn has worked with Apple and several others on their essays as part of the application process for studying in America. Marilyn thought I would like to know that in Apple's essay she talked about me. In her essay she explains how much my class had impacted what she wanted to do, why she has decided that she wants to go into marketing.

Wow. I was floored. How incredible!

I had hoped that somehow my husband's and my investment of my time here would make a difference. So, Skip, good news. It's payday! We have together made a difference by positively affecting the future of China through one of its students.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Meet Jessie, my TA!

Jessie is a petite young dynamo with a fast mind and good English skills. She will graduate in June with a business major and is fascinated with a subject near and dear to my heart: Marketing! In fact, over the Spring Festival Holiday (5 weeks during the Chinese lunar New Year that ended 3 weeks ago) she convinced her parents that she should go to America to get a graduate degree in marketing.

The parents she had to convince of her desire hold very important jobs in China. Her mother is a surgeon and her father works in the government as the manager of human resources at the hospital. The town where they live and Jessie grew up she terms as a 'small' town (1.3 million, roughly the same as Portland). It's 3 hours' ride by bus from Wuhan, so it's also in Hubei Province.

I'm very honored and pleased to have Jessie as my TA. The evening of my arrival, Thursday, is when the International Education School found her, after asking supervisors and teachers for ideas on someone who would be a good match and help me with this big class. So, the fact that I met her Friday morning is truly 'real-time' (JIT at its best) and totally within context of how quickly things change and happen here.

During our first meeting on Friday she shared with me a fact that got me very excited. Jessie had written a paper—alas in Chinese—about the public relations crisis KFC experienced last year here in China with some sort of disastrous food problem. I thought to myself, how perfect is this!?!

I had been struggling at home to figure out how to get a Chinese-based crisis to show my students an example that they could relate to when I cover that area of the text. I have tried very hard to balance Chinese and American examples so they are 50/50. The textbook I have (and it's the one I use in the US) was written for an American audience, not an international one.

During this first meeting I suggested we get together and she could share this with me; perhaps she would consider creating a Case Study to share with the students. She agreed.

On Monday morning she joined me in my office at my apartment and I said we should discuss how she could help me, and how I could help her. Or as she put it, "it's a win/win". She has some key American idioms down!

We decided how we will help each other and I'm looking forward to sharing more about the outcomes of our ongoing relationship during these three very short weeks we have together.