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A&S Faculty on Teaching at Jilin University, China

Among its many other impacts, COVID-19 has disrupted opportunities for University of Kentucky College of Arts & Sciences faculty to teach abroad.

In previous years, A&S faculty have taught short courses in China through partnerships facilitated by UK's Confucius Institute. For example, Rita Basuray, senior academic coordinator in A&S, has taught courses at Jilin University in Changchun, China, for six summers. Unfortunately, she was interrupted in 2020 by the pandemic.

She said she kept going back to Jilin because of her many positive experiences and her connections with the faculty and students. 

"Early on, it became obvious that it wasn’t just teaching, but exchanging active teaching ideas, fostering relationships over dinner or outings, and much more," Basuray said. "Not only did I develop long-term relations with teachers, but with students as well. When the U.S. was short on PPE, I received many inquiries from JLU teachers or students to ask if I had enough masks or if they should send some, all the way from China."

In summer 2018, Monica Udvardy, A&S associate professor of anthropology, taught Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Udvardy had visited China twice before: In 1979, she had toured China with her grandmother, and in 2010, she was invited by a former UK visiting scholar, Lili Feng, to address a group of anthropologists. In 2018, Udvardy taught at Jilin because of her desire to experience how China had changed since her 1979 visit. She credits another former UK visiting scholar, Ou Song, a professor of diplomacy at JLU, for choosing Jilin. 

Francie Chassen-López, A&S professor of history and gender and women's studies, taught Latin America in the World at JLU. She chose to teach at Jilin because of  her relationships with Song and with Huajing Maske, UK's Confucius Institute director, as reasons she chose to teach at JLU. Chassen-López said her students in Changchun were creative when it came to interactive learning: For example, they presented skits about the Cuban and Mexican revolutions and even constructed a huge model television set for skits where they presented the news.

And the students' eagerness to learn impressed Basuray as well.

"Their enthusiasm is contagious and affects us as well, in a very positive way," Basuray said. "Not only is our teaching practice embraced by students, but by administrators as well. In 2018, JLU gave me its first-ever certificate of honor for promoting active and self-regulated learning through a variety of heuristic and innovative teaching methods."  

Upon her return to UK, Chassen-López said she has encouraged many faculty members to teach in China.She noted the helpfulness of student aides on Jilin's campus, the opportunity for cultural experiences including adventures in local healthcare and Chinese foot massage, and the excellent food as reasons she enjoyed her time in Changchun. Chassen-López is still in contact with her student aide, who has now graduated and works for a Chinese company in Veracruz, Mexico. 

"She said the class helped her to feel more comfortable there," Chassen-López said.

Udvardy said she remains in touch with many of her JLU students. 

"It was fascinating to read my Chinese students’ responses to the term paper assignment, which was to interview a family member about some aspect of their ethnic heritage," she said. "Most interviewed a grandparent, and after reading 46 four-page papers, the pattern of incredibly rapid social, cultural and familial change of Chinese society was apparent ... Although one can read all this in history books, the immediacy and on-the-ground descriptions of these intergenerational accounts made a profound impact on me."

Basuray said even though all three women teach at UK, it was only in Changchun that she became acquainted with Chassen-Lopez and Udvardy.

 "I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to know Monica or Francie, had we not gone to China," Basuray said. "It's a long way to travel to get to know friends."