Tag Archives: cross-cultural communication

"A Report of the Browns"

Way back in October, when the leaves were still on the trees and it wasn’t -6F outside, my parents came to visit. Their visit coincided with China’s national holiday, so most of the time I was on break and was able to tour around Beijing, Shanghai, and Harbin with them. (Check out my photos of Beijing and Shanghai, my photos of Harbin, and my mom’s photos here).

I only had one class while they were in Harbin visiting – a section of Newspaper Reading for Junior English majors and this section just happens to be 25 girls. I had them write up questions and interview my parents. Here’s some snippets of student reflections after interviewing:

V wrote:
“At the first sight of the special guests, I was amazed by the atmosphere around them. What an elegant lady and what a handsome and tall sir.”

D said:
“The two special guests are Sarah’s parents. They are both very kind Americans. And the most impressive thing was that the father was very, very tall. As soon as he came into the classroom everybody in the room just cried out: “Wow, how tall he his.”

C wrote:

“The special guests impress me very much. I like them very much. They are humorous. Father is well-read, he is reading Sun Zi. Mother likes gardening. She has a big flower garden and a vegetable garden. She also admires Obama. She said she surfs the Internet to see what he is doing everyday. That’s fantastic and interesting.”

S said:
“When I talked to them I found that they were very kind and friendly. I knew that they like China and think China has a long history. And 1.3 million Chinese people impressed them very much because they went to Shanghai fro the Expo and found that there were so many people.”

Some commented on the difference between American families and Chinese families, like D:
“American parents do not expect their children too much. They leave them more personal space and freedom. They would be happy if their children choose what they want.
“American children/kids are the same as Chinese children. For example, little Sarah played with the toys, such as mummy bear, father bear and the baby bear. That is the same game. It is called Guo Jiajia or Play house.”

And J:

“First, they are very friendly. They are very amiable parents, I think. Through this short interview, I find that your family is not like what I saw on the American movie. In the movie, they are very open. Whereas I think your family is traditional and it is not very different from Chinese.”

The students were really so thankful to have you visit their class, mom and dad!
P wrote:

“They are very kindly and warmly to answer any of our questions. They love their daughter very much. Their impression on China is very good, they both said China is very great country with a long history.”

T wrote:
“Their way of answering question is very unique, they didn’t avoid any question. They answered each question clearly and specifically. The stories they recalled about their daughter did in her childhood were very interesting.”

…Thankfully none of the stories were too embarrasing!

And one student, Y, wrote a book:
“As Sarah’s parents coming into the classroom we were shocked. “How tall Mr. Brown is!” Everyone murmured. After a brief introduction, the class began the “asking-answering” activity.
“From the interview – I knew that Sarah’s parents cares about Sarah very much. They will never push Sarah to do anything if she doesn’t want to. Also they showed their no-worry feelings for their daughter working in China because it is very safe here. As to whether they could accept a Chinese son-in-law, they say they would respect Sarah’s choice. (Haha. In a class of 25 girls… it’s not surprising that they’d ask about this!)
“It was very exciting to have foreign guests although sometimes we couldn’t express ourselves clearly and we didn’t know what exactly was appropriate. But we were thankful for having Sarah’s parents in our class. We liked them as much as we like Sarah.”


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This semester, I’ve been teaching an intercultural communication class again, this time to sophomores with English as their 2nd major. I organized another field-trip, to the Jewish museum in Harbin, like I did last semester. 25 students came! Since we took public transportation, we ended up having to take 2 buses, but everyone made it! And they all enjoyed seeing a part of the history of Harbin many did not know even existed.

Over a period of about 100 years, 20,000 Jews lived in Harbin. Most came from Russia after 1917. The last Harbin Jew died in 1985. The museum is housed in on of the two standing synagogues near the river.

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For most of this semester, the other foreign teachers and I have not been able to have large groups of students (large = more than 4) over to our apartments because of H1N1 precautions. We were thankful that we were able to have some students over because we heard from many teachers at other schools not allowing any students to visit them at all this fall!

This week, however, I am having a special class for my students in my Intercultural Communication class. I’ve invited some of my international friends from India, the Philippines, Kenya, and Canada to come and be interviewed by the students this Monday (it just finished as I’m writing this), Wednesday and Thursday. AND, I have the “go ahead” to have it at my apartment! … at least I think I do.)

Earlier today I went to talk to Mr. Wang, our landlord, to ask him if I could have these 8 students and guests over for a class, but I found that Mr. Wang wasn’t there. The door guard told me that Mr. Wang was in the hospital, and would be out in a week. I’m not sure exactly about the reason, but from what I understood, I think he’s had a small stroke. The door guard then went on to say that it would be perfectly fine if I had a class over, as long as they leave by 10! They left at 8, so I think it was okay.

(Since I’m posting this a few months later I thought I should tell you that Mr. Wang is okay and seems completely recovered and that it was really okay to have the students over, in fact I had a lot of students over at the end of December … which I’ll tell you about in another post).

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This semester I’ve been teaching one class to senior English majors called “Intercultural Communication.” We’ve been discussing the ways we can define cultures (for example: individualist or collectivist, internal locus of control or external locus of control) based off of the book Figuring Foreigners Out. We’re also comparing various worldviews such as Animism, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and we have four more to go, Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

Harbin is a unique place in China in that you can find traces of almost all these worldviews. So, as an extension for this class I’ve been organizing field trips to related locations. The first trip was to Harbin’s Jewish History and Culture Museum, housed in an old synagogue. The second was just last Friday; three students and I went to Harbin’s Confucian Temple and Museum. I was sort of surprised to find out that none of them had ever been to a temple, even for a field trip. Actually none of them had gone on a field trip before, except for one student from Gansu Province said her middle school class would have a picnic at the great wall each year, but she didn’t consider that much of a field trip, especially since they went every year.

Though not many students have come on these optional field trips, they’ve been worthwhile since those that come are genuinely interested in learning more. It’s also been fun to get to know these three students better. They act different outside the classroom and (usually) are less afraid to speak English. I also get a chance to practice some Chinese this way, too!

At the Confucian Temple Museum there was a sign said that if you could lift the gate bar over your head you’d pass your exams. Looks like one girl isn’t going to pass… just kidding. She’s really a good student.

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