Linda Kerr Teaches at the China Foreign Affairs University for Spring Term

Linda Kerr relates her experience at the China Foreign Affairs University.

06 July 2015

CFAU Graduation

Last year I applied to teach in Beijing through the International Partnership Programme and was chosen to go to the CFAU to teach for spring session. It was a fantastic experience and I believe it has made me a better teacher. I had 26 students all of whom had been at CFAU for the year and had sufficiently high enough scores to be accepted to attend UofA the following September.

My task was to teach them Canadian history. I brought as many history books as I could and then gave them access to a set of lecture notes made specifically for this purpose - they shared them on Weibo. I also took materials on a memory stick for use in class and of course gave them access to my Youtube series History Hut. While they like to play games on their phones there is no access to facebook, google, youtube etc in China and not all of the students had internet access.

They were very interested in early Canadian history and First Nations people fascinated them. As we moved towards the modern era we focused on First Nations and on Immigration. I was fortunate enough to have my husband send over the Truth and Reconciliation Report the day it became public and we examined the main sections and discussed it in terms of what we had just covered in class. They were of course interested in immigration and so we discussed a few articles on immigration in general and Chinese immigration in particular.

One of the great things about this program is that you are on the same campus as the students and that means you can meet up with them after class and answer questions about materials or hold unofficial seminars if you want. They are all really keen about taking the course and learning about Canada and what it will be like for them here. It gives a great opportunity to talk about Edmonton and our campus and all of the things that they can get involved in.

The beauty of the program is that you get to see them again when they come in September and you can have as little or as much contact with them as you want after that. This spring I had one of the students who had been at UofA since the previous September come to class and talk to them about life at Lister. She told them about the social life, the troubles they all seemed to have with certain classes and gave them information about what they should bring with them.

I would like to think that being able to meet with them on this side of the world after spending a few months with them in their country helps them to settle in a bit. It is also wonderful for me to see them here and to be able to help with a few things that no one thought to tell them about. I even met up with some of them in China this spring and we had lunch and a good chat about how they had adapted to life in Canada. By the way they all love it here .

The first year I went to China I was able to visit Xian and see the Terra Cottta warriors and I went to Hangzhou, which was a dream for me since it is central to Tang history and I was able to see a lot of the things that I teach about in World History. Every weekend I travelled and in the final week I visited Tibet for 6 days. I never thought I would see any of those places. This year I spent time in Shanghai and Nanjing. In history 290 we had talked about the rape of Nanjing and so I made sure to spend time there and had an amazing experience at the museum commemorating that horrific experience. It was a dream come true for anyone teaching methodology since the history was shown in sculpture, in video, in first hand accounts by both sides as well as exhumed grave sites. The museum also covered the history of the Comfort Women as well with survivor testimony. All in all it was a remarkable public site.

In the last week before the graduation ceremony I flew to Ho Chi Minh City and hired a guide who focused specifically on history. It was an eye opening experience in terms of museums and historic buildings but of course I also visited the Cu Chi tunnels and spent a few days on the Mekong. I ended this trip in Hanoi and did the rounds there having a peek at Uncle Ho then returned to Beijing for the graduation ceremonies.

The graduation was a splendid affair where we all had to walk the red carpet and sign our names on a big wall before starting the actual formalities. Many of the students sang, read poems, played guitar, sax or did some hip hop numbers. They were so excited that evening and can't wait to get here.

Me? I am grateful for having had these extraordinary opportunities and hope that anyone else who participates in these programs has a wonderful time.

Linda Kerr