Eastern horizons: Dal on the road in China (part two)

This week's updates from the Dal delegation

- March 22, 2013

The Dal delegation at Nanjing University (L to R): Keith Taylor, Chenxi Xu, Asa Kachan, Alain Boutet.
The Dal delegation at Nanjing University (L to R): Keith Taylor, Chenxi Xu, Asa Kachan, Alain Boutet.

Dalhousie’s relationship with China stretches back decades, and has grown significantly in recent years. Dal has more than a dozen active institutional co-operation agreements with universities in China. Close to 1,000 Chinese students attend Dalhousie, programs like the Department of Economics’ 2+2 agreement are strengthening academic connections, and research collaborations in fields such as oceans and engineering are expanding.

Currently, a delegation from Dalhousie is in China, working to strengthen this relationship, visting seven cities and ten institutions. Its members are writing about their experiences meeting students, researchers and university leaders.

Read also: Eastern horizons: Dal on the road in China (Part One)

Below are this week's updates from the delegation. You can follow along daily at the Eastern Horizons blog or on Today@Dal.


Day seven: Reflections over a bowl of noodle soup

Submitted by Asa Kachan

March 15, Jinan (Shandong Province)

We enjoyed a celebratory lunch today in Jinan, with the Secretary General of Shandong University of Finance and Economics, a meal that included duck, jellyfish, flounder, dumplings, and an array of Shandong specialties. As the event drew to a close, we finished with a bowl of noodle soup. The significance of the soup, we were told, was that the long noodles represented the promise of a continuing successful relationship between Dalhousie and Shandong long into the future.

International relations are often talked about as being between countries or institutions, but in truth, it really comes down to the people. As I looked around the table at lunch today, and also reflected on all those involved who weren’t here today, I have no doubt that this international relationship will continue to work.

There is Shannon, the program co-ordinator in Dalhousie’s Department of Economics who helps students with everything from finding a grocery store to selecting a class; there is Sam Scully, Dalhousie’s former provost, who championed the original agreement on our visit in 2006; there is SDUFE’s Vice-President Nie Peiyao, who was a strong supporter from the beginning and whose daughter has now made her home in Halifax; there is Keith Taylor, Associate Vice-President Academic, who has cheered the success of every student, many of whom he has come to know personally.

And there are two for whom this program has been a personal passion.

The seed for this program was planted in 2005 by Professor Yang Huiqin, then Shandong University of Finance’s Director of International Programs. She reached out to Dalhousie’s Department of Economics with the suggestion of a collaborative program. Huiqin had herself completed a master’s in Canada. She knew the value of a Canadian education, and saw potential for a relationship with Dalhousie.

When I first met Huiqin in 2006, I was struck by her warmth, her impeccable mastery of the English language, her interest in each of us as individuals and her deep commitment to creating this successful program with Dalhousie. Over the years, we have had many opportunities to meet Huiqin, both in China and Canada, and her care has never wavered. A few years ago, she even became a Dalhousie parent when her daughter, now working on a PhD, enrolled at Dalhousie. This program is a credit to Huiqin’s vision.

Barry Lesser, Dalhousie Economics Professor, began his journey toward this agreement with a genuine concern for the long-term well-being of his academic department. How could Economics attract enough students to offer the breadth of classes it wanted to? How could it remain vibrant, knowing that the Atlantic region was facing demographic decline? Could an agreement with SDUFE be an important key?

In 2006, when I travelled with Barry on our first trip together to Jinan, I listened to him discuss the intersection of the Chinese and the Canadian undergraduate economics curricula and, just as passionately, express the need to build in community support and continuing English workshops to ensure student success. Barry knew that an exceptional academic experience and student experience were both key to the program’s success.

Barry was dogged in his efforts to pull together all aspects of this program. He cared about every student, and we saw him regularly in the Registrar’s Office to discuss an application or an assessment of a transcript. Over the years, he has spent time in Jinan as a visiting lecturer, and while at home in Halifax, has opened his home to the 2+2 students. It’s no surprise that Barry was named an Honorary Professor of Shandong University of Finance and Economics earlier this year.

The vision and personal effort of Huiqin and Barry have set us on this most successful path. It makes me think there must have been some noodle soup shared at their first meeting, years ago.


Day nine: Sending your child off to university, international style

Submitted by Asa Kachan

March 17, Nanjing.

It probably has something to do with the fact that my oldest child is now in high school, coupled with the work I do as a university registrar, but I find my friends and I often discuss the transition of young people into university. How can we prepare our children well intellectually and emotionally? How can we be ready as parents to let go?

I’ve been struck on this trip by the tremendous leap Chinese parents must make in order to send their son or daughter – often their only child – to study in Canada.

We arrived in Nanjing last night, a historic and beautiful city in eastern China that has served as the capital of China at various times in history. Early settlement in this area occurred as far back as 495 BC, and it is graced with a 25-km city wall built during the Ming Dynasty in the 1300s. For our delegation, Nanjing is also significant because it’s the home of Chenxi Xu.

Chenxi, who works for the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie, has been our logistics co-ordinator and translator extraordinaire on this trip. She is an international student success story. She left Nanjing just before her 19th birthday, graduated from Saint Mary’s two years ago with her Bachelor of Commerce, and has remained in Halifax since, building her resume with jobs of increasing responsibility. She is intelligent, articulate and thoughtful, and appears equally at home in China and Canada. She radiates confidence and happiness.

As we explored Nanjing with Chenxi today, we got a sense of how her journey to Canada unfolded. Chenxi attended Grand Canadian Academy in Nanjing, one of a growing number of schools in China that teach a Canadian high school curriculum. The parents who send their children to these schools do so with the hope that it will prepare them well for international opportunities. It’s no simple decision. Often the path must be chosen when their child is just entering their teens. Sometimes choosing an international curriculum means their child will not be prepared to complete the Gaokao (the Chinese university entrance examination), thereby limiting their university options at home in China.  These are decisions that affect the entire family.

Chenxi’s parents encouraged their only child to attend a Grand Canadian Academy, although they knew it meant that she would likely move to a country they had never visited and study in a language they do not speak. In 1999, Dalhousie only had 8 undergraduate Chinese students enrolled. This year, we have 799 undergraduate Chinese students. Behind each of those students is a supportive family. We will be visiting Chenxi’s school on Monday, where Chenxi and I will make a presentation to prospective students and their parents. I even have a few offers of admission (finalized just before I left Halifax) to hand personally to applicants for this coming September.

I enjoy listening to Chenxi talk about her life in Halifax: how she approached her job search after graduating; driving her car in winter; wing night at My Father’s Moustache; her mother’s visit earlier this year; how she spent her last evening before this trip chatting with friends over coffee at Tim Hortons. She is thriving.

It has also been wonderful to see her in Nanjing and to meet her parents. Their pride in Chenxi is profound, and although it’s clear that they miss her, they are absolutely supportive of the life she is building in Canada. The choices they made 10 years ago for their daughter have had a wonderful outcome.


Day 10: Enthusiasm and excitement in Nanjing

Submitted by Keith Taylor

March 18, Nanjing.

Nanjing University is among the top five universities in China and leads the nation in several disciplines. While on a short walking tour this morning, we were struck by greenery of the main campus and the character of its iconic administration buildings.

As an institution, we benefit from the love that Prof. Wang Ying, one of their top scientists, holds for Dalhousie. She spent three years, starting right after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1978, working with oceanographers and earth scientists at Dal and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, and began building the scientific reputation that led to her election in the Chinese Academy of Science.

Today’s discussions with Associate Vice-President Zhang Xu Yu, and Dai Zhehua, Deputy Director of the Office of International Cooperation and Exchanges followed up on a visit that Chris Moore, Dean of Science, made last fall. Dean Moore has proposed student exchange and study abroad arrangements with Nanjing University to supplement our active research connections.

After lunch, we visited Nanjing Foreign Language School – British Columbia Academy (formerly Grand Canadian Academy), which just happens to be the high school where Chenxi studied. There are actually a significant number of graduates of NFLS-BCA currently enrolled at Dal and approximately 10 have already been accepted for next year. We don’t know if all 10 will choose us but I think today’s visit will certainly improve our conversion rate on the offers.

Almost 30 students and a few parents showed up for our presentation. Chenxi had photos of NFLS-BCA grads who are currently at Dal enjoying life on our campus and around Halifax and Asa blended those snaps seamlessly into her PowerPoint deck. Those pictures, plus Chenxi’s testimonial of student life in Halifax, provided us with a credibility that recruiters from our competitors would envy. There was no awkward period of hesitation when we asked if there were any questions; in fact, all of our available time was consumed with the enthusiasm in the room.

I was particularly touched by the reaction of a young lady who received her acceptance package hand delivered by Asa today. She is determined to become a marine biologist and knew that we have an outstanding program. She was thrilled to get her acceptance.

As soon as we wrapped up with the students, we were whisked off to Nanjing’s stunning new train station, reportedly the largest in Asia, for the move to Hangzhou. I think we all agree that Nanjing has been our favourite stop so far.


Day 11: New ocean opportunities with Zhejiang University

Submitted by Keith Taylor

March 19, Hangzhou to Fuzhou.

Last night, we arrived in Hangzhou by train from Nanjing rather late and it was near midnight when we got settled into a hotel. This morning was spent on the incredible modern main campus of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Like Nanjing University, ZJU is among the handful of top educational institutions in China and radiates the energy of growth and innovation.

Our relationship with ZJU is new. Vice-President Martha Crago visited Zhejiang Province last year as part of a Nova Scotian delegation led by Premier Dexter and their itinerary included a brief visit to ZJU where she learned of their ambitious plans for a new campus which would house their Ocean College.

We had the opportunity today to follow up on Dr. Crago’s visit. We talked at length with Dr. Chen Ying, Dean of the Ocean College and Dr. Fan Jieping, Assistant President and Director of International Relations, about the scope and scale of their development of ocean related studies and research. Dean Chen is overseeing the construction of the campus on the archipelago near the coast of Zhejiang Province where Ocean College will be fully housed by 2015. The level of funding available and the speed of construction are beyond the imagination of someone who grew up in Canadian universities.

It turns out that ZJU is a longtime partner with CAU Kiel, Dalhousie’s main partner institution in Germany. Indeed, while walking through the dining hall after lunch with Dr. Fan, we came upon a professor from Kiel who is visiting ZJU right now. There are a variety of modes of collaboration, including three-way projects, to be explored.

Following lunch, we piled into a van and drove through a fairly heavy rain to the airport and flew to Fuzhou. We get to spend two nights here.


Day 12: Agriculture and CS connections at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University

Submitted by Asa Kachan

March 21, Fuzhou.

Each day of our trip I have been struck by the many connections to Dalhousie – some that we knew about, but others that came as a pleasant surprise.

Today, we spent the day at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University (FAFU). FAFU and the Faculty of Agriculture have had a longstanding successful 2+2 agreement that is now approaching its 10th year. In the first year, only a handful of students came. In recent years that number has grown to over 50. Many of these students have gone on to graduate work and successful careers. The daughter of Zhixiong Luo, the Deputy Secretary of the Oversees Education College at FAFU, is among the students currently studying at Dalhousie.

We had a chance to meet up with Claude Caldwell and Shannon Kilyanek from the Faculty of Agriculture, who are just finishing up 3 weeks of teaching and counselling of students in the 2+2 program. Both have been spending time at FAFU every year since the program began, and they have had a tremendous impact on the program’s success and on FAFU more generally. We heard today about how faculty members from other programs at FAFU often drop by to observe Shannon and Claude when they teach, and the contributions they have made to curriculum development here. In recognition, Shannon was awarded a Friendship Award today for her great service to FAFU over the past 10 years.

Mid-afternoon, we met with the Vice-President Academic of FAFU. A gracious man whose ties to Canada began in the late 1980s when he spent two years in Canada as a post-doctoral fellow, Dr Mingsheng You reflected on all he has observed with respect to Canadian and Chinese academic cooperation and was genuinely interested in everything we could share about Dalhousie. We awarded Dr. You an honorary degree in 2008, something that he reflected on very fondly, and it’s clear he is proud of the great work that has already been done between our institutions. Both Dr. You and our great supporter Vice-President Zonghua Wang were very keen to explore how we can grow the FAFU/Dalhousie relationship further.

Some of that growth in areas beyond agriculture is already underway. As the afternoon drew to a close, we had the opportunity to spend an hour with several faculty members in Computer Science and the first two students heading to Dalhousie this September as part of a new 2+2 agreement between FAFU and the Faculty of Computer Science.

We were so impressed by these students. It was clear that Zhiwei had spent many hours poring over every detail of the Dalhousie website. He’s planning to play rugby on Dalhousie’s club team; he definitely wants a roommate so he can begin to meet as many people as possible; he is exploring the possibility of a certificate of specialization within his degree; and he would like to build work or experiential learning into his Dalhousie degree. He is ready to seize the opportunity coming his way.

Ms. Huang was quieter, but just as enthusiastic. When we arrived at our hotel this evening, she was waiting for us in the lobby to provide me with the last documentation I needed for her admission file. As she shook hands with each of us to say goodbye, it was with a promise of a hello this September in Halifax. Both students are a wonderful reminder of why we work hard to build these agreements.


Follow the team's travels

Read all of the China delegation's updates at the Eastern Horizons blog.


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus