Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Chinese and American Thought: Bilingual Perspectives

Student blogger Cady Deck, Certificate ’19, shares her experience taking an English and Chinese co-taught class offered this semester.

 Class field trip to Maoshan, a Daoist mountain near Nanjing

This semester I am taking Chinese and American Thought: Bilingual Perspectives, which is a new course that is co-taught in English and Chinese. It examines Chinese and Western thought, focusing specifically on religion, philosophy, and law. It is a fairly broad course with a lot of potential for discussion. We have taken several short field trips to places in or near Nanjing, which are related to topics we talk about in class. We also went on a week-long research trip to Shangri-La in Yunnan province over fall break. Aside from the field trip, one of the major benefits of this class is that half of the students in the class are Chinese and the other half are international students. Additionally, it is co-taught by an American professor and a Chinese professor. Both professors have extensive experience in both China and the US, which adds to the truly cross-cultural and bilingual experience of the class.

Every class at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center encourages students to analyze issues from both the US and Chinese perspectives. This class has deepened my understanding of many topics from the Chinese perspective, adding historical, cultural, and political context to issues that are often discussed in the US from a purely Western perspective. The class has been an excellent opportunity for international and Chinese students to discuss topics together in an academic setting. My other classes consist of either mostly international students or mostly Chinese students, but this class was designed for an even number of Chinese and international students, which can lead to more balanced discussions.

It is also by far my most interactive class. Every class, the professors set aside time for students to discuss topics with each other in smaller groups. International and Chinese students usually sit next to each other, which makes conversations much more valuable. Often, the professors will intentionally ask questions designed to draw out similarities and differences between international and Chinese perspectives. One example of this is when students were asked to write a list of characteristics that define a leader and then discuss the differences between the lists, identifying common similarities and differences between Chinese and international students’ opinions.

Another way this class maximizes interactions between Chinese and international students is by pairing an international student with a Chinese student for every paper and project. Some readings are in English, while others are in Chinese—taking advantage of the fact that everyone in the class speaks each other’s languages. Topics have included the political philosophies of Marx and Mao and the philosophies of Kant and Confucius. Since these readings are quite complex and difficult to understand, even in one’s own native language, we do many of the readings with our partners, or at least meet outside of class to ask and answer questions related to the readings. After writing our papers, we also write a response to our partners’ papers and analyze their opinions. We change partners after every project, which encourages us to interact closely with many of our classmates over the course of the semester.

Teamwork has been an extremely challenging but rewarding part of this class. In addition to the many papers and projects that involve partner work, we will put on a bilingual play at the end of the semester that examines the difficulties of cross-cultural dialogue. We are currently working together to prepare for the play, which includes directing, managing, and coaching each other on our respective roles. It is the final project of the semester and exemplifies the truly cross-cultural experience that the Hopkins-Nanjing Center offers.

Written by Cady Deck, Certificate ‘19