Titan voice Guanghua “Ivy” Wang: You can’t go abroad without coming home a changed person

By Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

What a day! I tried in vain to press the stop button on light poles when crossing streets. I wanted to praise the eye-catching manicured fingernails of a store clerk in the same spirit of the worker at Staples Center who had greeted me with “Your shirt is so cute!” — which was so natural and comfortable — but the face that belonged to those beautiful hands stared at me puzzled, so I swallowed my words and sat quietly like the other customers.

The most embarrassing moment came when I asked for chopsticks at a local restaurant. The chopsticks were right in front of me, but I hadn’t noticed them. What’s worse, I was shut out in the hustle and bustle of the Line 2 subway, due to my slow reaction. That was my first day back in China — a fool in others’ eyes, after coming back from America.

  • Guanghua “Ivy” Wang pauses for a photo during her Thanksgiving week visit to Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the author.

    Guanghua “Ivy” Wang pauses for a photo during her Thanksgiving week visit to Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the author.

  • Paul Brown served as an English-language conversation partner for Guanghua “Ivy” Wang during her studies at Cal State Fullerton. They met weekly, and on this occasion, he presented her with a unity picture designed by his daughter. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

    Paul Brown served as an English-language conversation partner for Guanghua “Ivy” Wang during her studies at Cal State Fullerton. They met weekly, and on this occasion, he presented her with a unity picture designed by his daughter. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

  • Guanghua “Ivy” Wang (far left) and other visiting scholars from China listen as Shabbir Mansuri discusses the “Our World’s Story” history book. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

    Guanghua “Ivy” Wang (far left) and other visiting scholars from China listen as Shabbir Mansuri discusses the “Our World’s Story” history book. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

  • During a visit to the home of Eugene Fujimoto, CSUF associate professor of educational leadership, visiting scholars Wenlu Xie, Jing “Nancy” Zhang and Guanghua “Ivy” Wang get a chance to meet Fujimoto’s two boys. Fujimoto served as Wang’s faculty mentor, as well as conversation partner for Xie and Zhang during their six months attending Cal State Fullerton. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

    During a visit to the home of Eugene Fujimoto, CSUF associate professor of educational leadership, visiting scholars Wenlu Xie, Jing “Nancy” Zhang and Guanghua “Ivy” Wang get a chance to meet Fujimoto’s two boys. Fujimoto served as Wang’s faculty mentor, as well as conversation partner for Xie and Zhang during their six months attending Cal State Fullerton. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

  • Guanghua “Ivy” Wang (right) is presented in January with her certificate of completion by Ding-Jo Currie and John Hoffman of the CSUF College of Education. Wang was recognized for her skill in presenting a teaching demonstration. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

    Guanghua “Ivy” Wang (right) is presented in January with her certificate of completion by Ding-Jo Currie and John Hoffman of the CSUF College of Education. Wang was recognized for her skill in presenting a teaching demonstration. Photo courtesy of Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

  • The visiting Chinese scholars pause for a photo during their walking tour of Newport Beach to see the holiday lights on display during the holidays. Guiding them is Ding-Jo Currie (center with scarf) of the Educational Leadership Department at Cal State Fullerton. Guanghua “Ivy” Wang is standing above her on the right. Photo courtesy Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

    The visiting Chinese scholars pause for a photo during their walking tour of Newport Beach to see the holiday lights on display during the holidays. Guiding them is Ding-Jo Currie (center with scarf) of the Educational Leadership Department at Cal State Fullerton. Guanghua “Ivy” Wang is standing above her on the right. Photo courtesy Guanghua “Ivy” Wang

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I recently spent six months at Cal State University, Fullerton in a program that is a partnership with Shanghai Normal University. I was one of 13 participants — all visiting scholars who hold advanced degrees in a range of disciplines and work as teachers. We enrolled in a program to study American teaching strategies and to gain exposure to diverse cultures and values. The program is directed by Ding-Jo Currie, who teaches in the CSUF College of Education’s Educational Leadership Department.

We attended compulsory courses, such as “Cross-Cultural Communications,” “Active Teaching Strategies,” “How to Write and Publish” and “Introduction of Curriculum,” as well as abundant electives of all fields from which to choose. What a happy thing to be students again! Moreover, the program offered us precious chances to visit several schools ranging from elementary school to community college, which gave us a full-scale vision of the educational system in America.

Fortunately, it was not, as the saying goes: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We enjoyed the Halloween family parade in Orange County; a gathering for Thanksgiving at the beautiful house of Chi-Chung Keung, a university administrator; a walking tour to see the holiday lights of Newport Beach during the Christmas season; and the fantastic annual Rose Parade in Pasadena. All that we experienced enriched our understanding of American culture, beliefs and history.

Thanks to this out-of-box experience, I was refreshed, both physically and psychologically. My awkward behavior during those first days back in China may be attributed to jet lag or short-term memory loss, but changes in my mind will last a lifetime.

“To change improper phenomena in education, I chose to be a teacher!” said Eugene Fujimoto, associate professor of educational leadership and my mentor in CSUF, on a beautiful afternoon when sunshine slid inch by inch into his cozy office full of books and family photos scattered around. His words impressed me a lot. As someone who has been teaching for six years with fading passion, I can trace my dissatisfaction to issues with the current education system and with textbooks. I understand that school leaders are concerned with solutions, rather than complaints. That afternoon in his office, I realized every educator should shoulder responsibilities to make a difference.

Being a better person with a service spirit is what I learned from friends in Southern California. Shabbir Mansuri, Ding-Jo Currie and Paul Brown will be listed as the top three among these lovely people. Spotting misunderstandings and parochialism in his daughter’s history textbook, Shabbir Mansuri, once a successful businessman, poured his energy and money into organizing experts to edit a new history book for children in America. Now “Our World’s Story” is universally used in primary schools. It covers more countries with more objectivity and authentic description.

In Ding-Jo Currie’s backyard each month, we enjoyed not only delicious food, but also thought-provoking speeches. It was in her beautiful and homey yard that we listened to splendid conversations among religions of Christianity, Islam and Baha’i. One woman shared her fundraising experience for little girls’ education in Africa.

For Paul Brown, a retired engineer, it was the third year he had volunteered to be a conversation partner to help scholars improve our spoken English. “I just want to tell you how much I enjoyed having you as my conversation partner. I wish you a safe trip home and a joyous reunion with your families,” he wrote to me days before. Inspired by these individuals, I am thinking about working with autistic children later.

“New York is three hours ahead of California, but it does not make California slow … Life is about waiting for the right moment to act. So, relax.” I appreciate very much these phrases I read in an article. However, single ladies like me in China are facing huge pressure from the whole society. We are surrounded by judgments like: “You should have … in your thirties.” Life goes on with more possibilities, as it should be, in America, and I regain the confidence that “you are not early. You are not late. You are very much on time, and in your time zone destiny set up for you.”

The benefits of studying abroad have been ingrained in my mind very early: meet different people, experience exotic culture, enjoy the local landscape and enrich your professional resume, etc. Now, I can say I came, I saw and I grew.

Guanghua “Ivy” Wang teaches education at Shanghai Normal University’s Tianhua College. She returned to her homeland in China in January after studying for six months at Cal State Fullerton.

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