I just returned from two amazing weeks in Korea and China. The connections between NU and Asia are about to get stronger, and I hope my enthusiasm will be contagious!
In Korea, we visited our partner institutions in Seoul. The director from Gachon University, one of our sister universities, planned a dinner for NU alumni and was shocked when 22 students signed up with just a few days’ notice. Our students hugged and high-fived and said, “I can’t believe we haven’t hung out again since we came back.” And then the questions and stories started, over the steaming, bubbling Korean hotpot soup: “Tell me how is Suzan. Did you know Paul and Keumna are still dating? Did you know we met Sharon and Ashley in Seoul, too? How is Kristin? She had her baby?! Oh, I want to go back to my life at NU!” Everyone shared advice to the new students coming to NU: “Practice your listening! Make friends! Don’t be shy!” Everyone agreed, “You’re so lucky, I want to be going, too.” My heart was exploding seeing the community experience that NU gives to students.
The next day, we met with the advisor at another sister university, Ewha, and told her about our dinner. “They must love you! I can’t even get two students to come if I give them a month’s notice.”
Students, be proud you attend a small university! We can form relationships with each other and between students and faculty in ways that are difficult at a large university.
We next went to China to initiate contact with a number of potential partners. After a few dusty days in Beijing, we spent three hours on a train and stepped out into Shandong province and the city of Changle (Shang-Luh). The crowds, bustle, and smog forgotten, I finally got to experience small town China. At last, a town with less than a million people! Changle has just 800,000…but trust me: it feels like a small town!
Li Lowry, International Student Services Coordinator, and I were visiting to identify Teach Abroad opportunities for NU grads. When we arrived at the school, we got to join the welcome lunch for their two new foreign English teachers. One other teacher met us for a moment to give her regrets for not coming: “I’d really love to come, but my neighbor is going to cut my hair, and after that, the grandmas in my neighborhood are cooking a special fish for me.” I know this was a professional misstep on her part, but I also understood. It immediately took me back to teaching in a small town in Japan and so many kind families who opened their homes so their kids could practice English with the foreigner in town, to show off their apple crop, to test if I could eat the local delicacy, or even to teach me how to properly arrange flowers. Teaching in Japan through the JET Programme was a formative experience in affirming my career path and sending me to grad school. I am so excited that we will now have direct partnerships with elementary and high schools in China for NU students to have a similar opportunity.
In China, I learned to be proud that NU is genuinely, distinctly Christian. Being Christian makes a tangible impact on our interactions with each other, and I know our work is a part of a bigger plan. Learning starts here, but consider how you will grow when you put yourself in cross-cultural situations locally, nationally, or internationally.
Dr. Autumn Witt is the Director of the Center for English Language Education