Duo guide first wave of Chinese students to UNL

Oct 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Aug. 26, Employee News

With nearly 100 new Partnership Degree Program students from China enrolling this fall, UNL is seeing the first wave of students who started two years ago at Chinese universities with the goal of completing their degrees in Lincoln.

English instructors Mariah Schuemann and Regina (Gigi) Weitzel, hired by UNL to teach and coordinate PDP activities in China, spent the week of Aug. 16 in Lincoln. The two met with faculty, administrators and others and then welcomed their students to campus for International Student Orientation on Aug. 20.

Weitzel is beginning her third year at Zhejiang University City College, which is primarily an engineering and computer science college in Hangzhou. Schuemann is beginning her second year at Xi’an Jiaotong University City College in Xi’an. While their formal titles are “English instructor,” both note their jobs encompass much more than teaching English.

“UNL is somewhat unique because we have stable, long-term employees in China whose jobs are to help the undergraduates prepare to succeed,” Weitzel said. Many universities who recruit Chinese students to study in the U.S. use paid recruiters, Weitzel said.

Added Schuemann: “We are a resource for the students; they get to know us and are comfortable coming to use for help with personal or academic issues. We are the familiar face of UNL in China.”

Schuemann has been in China five years. The first two years were in a joint Peace Corps-master’s degree program where she taught college English. Her master’s work involved developing a curriculum for Chinese students that would introduce them to American universities and compare and contrast the two educational systems.

That work has proven helpful as Schuemann has refined the program in Xi’an.

Weitzel has extensive experience teaching overseas; she joined UNL after working in Korea.

UNL’s PDP allows students who successfully complete a UNL-approved curriculum in China to come to Lincoln to complete their degrees. Most of the students major in engineering or business.

The women focus on helping their students hone four skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing English –– plus developing cultural knowledge. Both agree it’s hardest to get through to fourth semester students, who have been admitted to UNL and think they can coast in their English classes.

Weitzel’s fourth semester curriculum now includes more components on American culture, problem solving and American university life.

“They are learning English in a sneaky way because the lessons are in English,” she said.

Both said they also spend a lot of time on activities that force the students to talk in class and allow them to learn from each other.

Traditional Chinese pedagogy involves rote memorization and teaching to the test, Weitzel said. Students tend to do well on multiple-choice tests, but are less skilled at critical thinking and they find short answer, short essay or long essay to be difficult, even in Chinese.

“Our students are good hoop-jumpers,” Weitzel said. “They want to find ways to most easily navigate what they see as gates that adults have set up.”

Both said their students do well in courses applicable to their majors, but are less interested in electives or ACE requirements.

“They don’t see how those types of courses are relevant to their goals, so we try to explain that in our culture, these things are important for ‘educated’ people,” Weitzel said.

The week in Nebraska has been useful, the pair said, because they are putting faces to e-mail addresses, and learning about programs that can be useful for their students, such as UNL’s new studio classes for English-language learners.

“We are experts about our programs in China, but we are not experts in what’s happening at UNL. We are here to get familiar with UNL so we can tell our students what to expect and what’s available. We are the face of UNL in China. If we are not knowledgeable or don’t have the proper information, it’s a bad situation,” Schuemann said.

For Xi “Steve” He, a new student from Xi’an, the PDP program has been beneficial. He was also quick to praise Schuemann, his teacher.

“She is a good teacher and pays attention to our English,” He said. “She made our attitude toward English be better.”

As UNL ramps up its program, the glitches are becoming more apparent, and both Schuemann and Weitzel hope their presence helps smooth the bumps.

“For instance, most of our students arrived 10 days ago, but the orientation wasn’t until (Aug. 20) so they were kind of lost,” Weitzel said. Bridging that time gap would be helpful, she said.
“The program is really starting to gel,” Weitzel said, “And people are beginning to see that it’s real and it’s really happening. So now we are really working to work out the problems.”

One thing both agreed would be helpful would be for more UNL students to participate in study-abroad programs in Zhejiang and Xi’an, because Chinese students love to meet UNL students, who tend to reciprocate when their new friends come to Lincoln.

“American students are so shy in China and Chinese students are so outgoing, then they come here, and it’s the opposite,” Schuemann said.

- Kim Hachiya, University Communications

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