Professional News

UK Faculty and Staff Gain Invaluable Experience Teaching in China

photo of Peter Kekenes-Huskey teaching at a Chinese university
Peter Kekenes-Huskey, assistant professor of chemistry, participated in the UK Faculty Teach in China Program in 2017.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 15, 2019) — When looking at Education Abroad programs within the higher education setting, there is often a misconception that these opportunities are only available to students. However, University of Kentucky provides international programs for faculty and staff that offer rewarding teaching and research experiences in exciting and challenging environments abroad. The International Center’s Confucius Institute (UKCI) and Office of China Initiatives (OCI) have partnered to provide an opportunity this spring: the UK Faculty Teach in China Program. The program, available to UK faculty, facilitates multifaceted overseas opportunities for individuals in diverse roles across campus.

The UK Faculty Teach in China Program offers teaching experiences for faculty at UK partner institutions in China, with the program expanding to include four locations in the summer of 2018: Jilin University (JLU), China University of Mining and Technology (CUMT), Qingdao University of Technology (QUT) and Beijing Institute of Technology Zhuhai (BITZH).

Participants teach for a two- to four-week period during the summer at one of the university locations while UKCI and OCI fund the round-trip international airfare, accommodations and a teaching stipend. In summer 2018, UK faculty and staff from 16 different departments, offices and centers participated in the program.

Participants learn more about their field of research/instruction and different learning styles, explore diverse teaching methods, and gain insight into Chinese language and culture. In this immersive program, participants also explore contemporary life and Chinese history.

While stimulating Chinese college students’ academic interests within a global education environment is one goal of the program, it also aims to help the participating UK faculty and staff strengthen their teaching and communication skills for use abroad and at home. 

“During the orientation (offered by the UKCI) we were told we would come out of the program much better teachers, and I would have to agree with that statement,” said Yoonbai Kim, professor of economics in the Gatton College of Business and Economics. “The program definitely makes you examine your methodology and content in relation to your audience. I think it was a great help for me as an educator.”

“It was my second time in China, but this time at JLU I felt I had the chance to explore even more due to the close proximity of the cities,” said Lennon Michalski, adjunct faculty member in the UK College of Fine Arts who taught a course on the history of photography at JLU.

When he wasn’t teaching, Michalski said he “hopped on a plane and was able to see Xi’an and Beijing, and between the ease of access and affordable pricing, it was easy to see a large part of China.”

Andrew Wood, associate professor in the UK Department of Geography who taught a course on urban geography at the BIT Zhuhai, described his experience of teaching and living in China as “fascinating.”

“I’ve spent over half my life in foreign countries, but it was a quite different experience than I’d been used to before,” Wood said. “It is a culture that has a tremendous history to it, but it’s obviously a very different history and a very different culture than those I’m familiar with.”

In addition to engagement with Chinese culture through their geographical explorations of China, UK faculty also spoke to their cultural experiences in the classroom.

“Teaching the students was quite a different experience,” said Susan Odom, associate professor of chemistry, who taught at JLU. “It was a challenge at first to get them speaking, but by the end of my time there they were much more conversational.” As part of her course, Odom connected each of her JLU students to one of 35 scientists located around the world. The students then asked their respective scientist about his or her life and research experiences.

“The exercise gave (the JLU students) both practice writing and speaking in English, while also learning more about the sciences pertinent to their field of study,” Odom said.

For some professors, the exchange with students from abroad created stronger bonds that last well beyond the confines of the program.

“The students were really interested in opportunities in the U.S. as well,” Odom commented. “I even had one who ended up coming back to visit at the end of June. She stayed at my house and volunteered in my research lab. She got to learn techniques that she hadn’t seen before and she’s planning to come back again on her winter break.”

While many members of the program expected to come away with a new appreciation for Chinese culture and personal growth as educators, some also built connections that were closer to home.

“It was a great pleasure to get to meet so many professors from the University of Kentucky as well,” said Brian Frye, the Spears-Gilbert Associate Professor of Law on his time at JLU. “It’s a really great cross-section of faculty, staff and adjuncts who participate in the program, and it’s great to meet so many people that you would never otherwise have the chance to meet. The colleges at UK can get hermetic at times and feel closed off from the rest of the university, so having the opportunity to get to know people from the other schools is a bonus experience on top of the experience of teaching abroad.”

Finally, on a larger scale, the program impacts the university on a whole, with different members of the campus community feeling its effects in a multitude of ways. 

“I think it’s important for Kentucky’s flagship research university to be a doorway to the world, and the research, teaching and student exchanges that we forge with others are important to the work that we do,” said UK’s Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Crumrine, who participated in a teaching exchange program with JLU. “We live in a diverse and multicultural society, and global exposure — be it through the Confucius Institute, the Office of China Initiatives, and the International Center at large — is an important contribution to both campus and the community.”

The Faculty Teach in China program is accepting applications for 2019 now. Faculty members can apply by fulfilling an application online here. Applicants can send questions to Yinghong Huang at HuangYinghong@uky.edu.

A gateway for Chinese language, culture and art to the people of Kentucky, UKCI provides leadership, support and coordination for Chinese language and programs in K-12 schools as well as on UK's campus; assists and facilitates establishing and maintaining faculty and student exchanges between UK colleges and Chinese universities; conducts Chinese language and cultural exchange; and promotes education about China on campus, across the Bluegrass region, and throughout the Commonwealth. To keep up with UK Confucius Institute and future events, join the institute's listserv and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (@UKConfucius).

Aligning closely with the 2015-2020 UK Strategic Plan, the OCI provides leadership in identifying, developing, facilitating and maintaining UK partnerships with Chinese institutions. OCI works with UK colleges and offices to engage UK students, faculty and the Commonwealth in collaborations with China. Along with its efforts to advance UK’s research and scholarship about China, OCI also provides customized support to Chinese students and scholars throughout their time at UK and beyond, to ensure their academic success, social/cultural integration and belonging. OCI collaborates with Chinese partner universities on coordinating activities such as graduation and alumni events, as well as pre-departure orientations for new Chinese international students. This office seeks to strengthen UK’s brand name recognition in China, and to link UK Confucius Institute related opportunities to broader UK international strategies and initiatives.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue