Institute creates mandatory debriefing program in effort to avoid cultural, relational issues overseas
The plane landed at the Beijing International Airport on a hot summer day last fall. Then-history senior and current UTD alum Mathieu Debic set his first sights upon Three Gorges University. Having done very well at his introductory Chinese classes at UTD, he was excited to have won the Confucius Institute scholarship to study in China for a semester.
The institute offers scholarships to any student who wants to learn Chinese in China and often have more scholarships each year than applications from UTD students. Officially the institute has changed its partner university in China and is no longer affiliated with Three Gorges University after hearing of issues at the school, and is instead now affiliated with a much bigger and well-established South East University in Nanjing.
Debic said he was surprised at the way the foreign affairs staff treated the students at the university. For example, couples could not go into each other’s dorms, but befriending the guards could help students circumvent rules.
“The guards could be bought off with a pack of cigarettes or a McDonald’s cheeseburger to get back into the dorm after curfew hours,” he said.
Ming Dong Gu, the director of the Confucius Institute, said while a majority of students who study in China do not commonly report similar issues, the institute will now make debriefing mandatory when a student returns. No issues have been reported at South East University.
“Students can choose between a number of universities in China that are affiliated with the Hanban organization,” Gu said.
A year before Debic studied in China, Eric Obodo, another recipient of the scholarship, spent a semester at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade. He said the semester abroad helped him increase his fluency in Mandarin. He is now in China again, working as a private English tutor. All his expenses paid for by the host family.
Both experienced varying levels of culture shock, as social norms are much different in China than they are in the U.S.
Snacking before a meal would be considered quite rude, while smacking your lips while drinking soup was considered as a sign that the person was enjoying the soup, Obodo said. Attendance, unlike at many American universities, was mandatory and absences were frowned upon, Debic said.
The debriefing program and a different partnership should help students avoid the situation Debic found himself in, while also preparing them for the cultural differences.