FHSU students observe China's changing culture; administrators work on future Chinese/American student exchanges

HAYS. KS -- Students, faculty and administrators from Fort Hays State University returned on Memorial Day from a two-week visit to mainland China, where they visited a sister university, studied changes in Chinese culture and developed plans for student exchanges between the two universities.

Nick Krehbiel, a senior history major from Pratt, said he joined the FHSU delegation because it was the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. "I got the chance to check some things off my life's to-do list," he said. The group visited such sites as the Great Wall, the capital city of Beijing, Tiananmen Square, the ancient city of Xi'an and its museum of terra cotta soldiers, the Shaolin Temple where Zen Buddhism was founded, and the bustling metropolis of Shanghai.

Fort Hays State University has had a partnership for more than a year with Sias University of Business and Management, located in the city of Xinzheng in Henan Province, which is the cradle of Chinese civilization and the sister province to the state of Kansas.

Sias University, now in just its third year of existence, is a unique institution. It is the only privately owned, English-language university in China. Its founder, Dr. Shawn Chen, is a native of China and a naturalized U.S. citizen.

He sought out the partnership with Fort Hays State because Sias University needed more English-speaking professors to achieve his goal of preparing his students for jobs with multi-national corporations. Chen hires graduates from American universities to work at Sias University as teaching assistants (TAs) for FHSU faculty members. A newly hired TA first comes to Hays to meet the FHSU professor that he or she will be working with, review the course requirements, go over lectures and assignments, and generally coordinate the teaching of the course. The TA then conducts the course on-site at Sias University, but papers and tests are sent to the FHSU faculty for grading.

"We are the only school in China allowed to fly the American flag," Chen said. "It represents our educational values. It is very important." Chen has established four principles for Sias University:

1. develop excellent English language skills for its students; 2. provide the students with up-to-date information; 3. provide them with a well-rounded education; and 4. create opportunities for them to study abroad. So far, the Sias University students have been able to study in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia, but they have not been able yet to study in the United States.

Chen and three members of the FHSU delegation -- Kent Steward, director of University Relations; Mike Michaelis, assistant to the dean of the Virtual College; and Carol Solko, coordinator of international student services -- visited the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to learn more about the process of obtaining visas for Chinese students to study in America,

They also discussed U.S. Embassy participation in arranging a visit in October for Kansas government officials and other representatives from Fort Hays State University, including the president, Dr. Edward H. Hammond.

Steward, Michaelis, Solko and Dr. Chen also made two other stops in preparation for the October visit. They met with foreign affairs officers of the Henan Provincial Government in the capital city of Zhengzhou, and they met in Beijing with representatives of the Chinese Friendship Committee, a quasi-governmental organization that works with foreign visitors. Both groups were enthusiastic about the October visit and pledged to assist in coordinating arrangements.

Michaelis and Solko spent a great deal of time in meetings at Sias University with TAs, administrators and students who are taking FHSU courses. The partnership is still new, and they worked on "nut and bolt" issues to facilitate the interactive processes between the two universities and to assure the academic integrity of the coursework. They also visited Zhengzhou to test an audio/video Internet conferencing system that Dr. Chen plans to install at Sias University before the fall 2001 semester begins. That system will allow FHSU faculty to interact more directly with their Chinese students.

The trip was organized by Dr. Keith Campbell, professor of sociology, to give FHSU students and faculty the opportunity to experience Chinese culture first-hand. As one of the FHSU faculty who teaches Sias University classes, Campbell became fascinated by China and decided to visit so he could learn more about it. The just-completed visit was his fourth trip to China.

"China is an extremely exciting place to see, partly because of its history and partly because of the change that will be occurring over the next decade," he said. "As a sociologist, the opportunity to study social and cultural change is substantial here in China. It's especially a great opportunity for our students to learn."

Campbell taught an anthropology seminar on changing Chinese culture in the spring semester, and the trip to China was one of the requirements of the course. Seven students made the trip, along with Campbell, his wife, Ruth, the three administrators and four other faculty members.

The FHSU delegation witnessed conditions in the Chinese countryside -- such as harvesting wheat by hand -- that seemed to belong to some earlier century, but they also saw skyscrapers and ultramodern hotels in the large cities.

Signs written in English, cell phones and American products were commonplace, especially in Beijing and Shanghai.

Their experiences confirmed what they had studied in class before the trip: China is a third-world nation of 1.3 billion people that is rapidly adopting the business methods of the Western world.

Pamela Goheen, a junior in elementary education from Hays, decided to take the seminar and visit China because she had heard from Dr. Campbell that Sias University was looking for TAs. "I fell in love with China and the people," she said. "Everyone was so warm and wanted to have a conversation. I'm going back in two years to be a teacher."

Note to Editors/News Directors: Please contact the Office of University Relations for photographs of the trip or for assistance in reaching members of the FHSU delegation for interviews.

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Office of University Relations   |  600 Park Street   |  Hays, KS  67601-4099
(785) 628-4206   |   Fax (785) 628-4152
Kent Steward, Director   |  ksteward@fhsu.edu  |  Kurt Beyers, Assistant Director   |  kbeyers@fhsu.edu