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What I learned from the Global Immersion program in Chongqing, China

Posted on: Sep 6, 2019

Late June 2019, I participated in a global immersion program at Southwest University in Chongqing, China. It is an academic exchange program through the partnership between Concordia University of Edmonton and Southwest University. I come back with fond memories of the industrious students and the hospitality of my academic hosts at Southwest University.

The opening gala where the university officials, academics and students welcomed us was breathtaking. We were treated like rock stars with cheerleaders waving along the entrance to the grand hall. I had cursorily listened to Kenny G’s rendition of Jasmine flower but at the opening gala, I learned that Mo Li Hua (Jasmine flower) is a beloved Chinese folk song. There were several international Professors from many countries present for one and two week intensive programs. The idea, I believe, is that inviting international academics to China would allow a lot of Chinese students to experience international teaching and learning strategy.

While I am used to walking on campus from one department to another in Canada, this was simply unfeasible in a huge Chinese campus that includes several ponds, dorms, tennis courts, soccer fields and various canteens, hotels and grocery shops. The campus is lush green and has a presence of various kinds of birds. My students even shared odd stories of spotting snakes on campus. I was able to go to various canteens on campus where the food is extremely inexpensive. I also learned from my students about the extremely low student fees and accommodation costs. An international colleague from the U.S. and I agreed that we really need this model of cost effective education in North America, where our students are laden with enormous debt.

The next week, we were invited for a whole day tour of the city including a luxurious cruise on the Jialing River. Our gracious hosts fed us a wide array of southern Chinese dishes. We feasted like kings and queens. They took us to two museums, where I imposed on the student volunteer assigned to me to explain the Mandarin write up at the exhibition on World War 2. It was during the War that Chongqing had become the war capital of China. Having watched movies like ‘The Flowers of War’ and ‘The Children of Huang Shi’, I have always been sensitive to this part of Chinese history. But I also learned that while our attitudes are shaped by history, they are also defined by contemporary realities. So while the Chinese remember the rape of Nanjing and the absence of any official apology from Japan, Japanese products are also popular among youth.

Chongqing food is spicy. I noticed that when my academic host took me out for some hot pot, which was hot even for me, who grew up with spices. I also found it tricky to discern pork from other meat due to the way the dishes were prepared in the canteens. There indeed were times I felt a basic knowledge of Mandarin would have been helpful. Yet, this allowed me to realize what my Chinese students would have been going through by learning a new subject in a foreign language in a span of nine days. This indeed was my greatest discovery in Chongqing, far beyond the high rises that boast China’s impressive economic growth and the large population that forms a formidable economic market. What I discovered were the people, who instead of complaining and blaming, work relentlessly for a better future.

My students were quite well trained in mathematics, didn’t doodle on their devices during lectures, didn’t expect to be spoon-fed with prepared notes, and despite language barriers engaged me with the utmost of respect. It was a privilege to meet them. My references to the ‘Flying Fox of the Snowy Mountain,’ an 80s series based on a Wuxia novel I had grown up watching, were in vain. This was a new generation of youth. But despite a generational difference, we were able to connect. We talked about Chinese history, martial arts movies, work-life balance and being happy with one’s body in a world obsessed with sculpted physiques. Indeed, I found them bereft of the pressures that mar youth influenced by contemporary trends. After the final exam, I took them out for lunch. One of them taught us that the proper way of Bao Quan (fist wrapping) in a martial arts context was to have the left hand clasp the right hand and not the other way around. They stayed with me for a while, shaking my hand one by one at the end. That was the moment they made me feel like a Kung fu master.

In essence, my trip to Chongqing was incredibly productive. It confirmed for me that the slogan ‘diversity is strength’ is not about token representation in organizations but rather learning the best of values from one another. I would recommend such an opportunity to anyone for we have much to learn from one another.


The author of the article Dr. Junaid Bin Jahangir was an instructor for ECON 101 Introduction to Microeconomics at Concordia University of Edmonton. He is an Assistant Professor of Economics at MacEwan University. He has received 11 awards in his teaching career, including 2014 William Hardy Alexander Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, University of Alberta.

For more information of the Immersion Week in China or other international mobility program offered by the Centre of Chinese Studies at Concordia University of Edmonton, please contact extension@concordia.ab.ca or visit us at https://concordia.ab.ca/external-affairs/office-of-extension-and-culture/centre-for-chinese-studies/. One of the Missions of the Centre for Chinese studies is to raise and promote international scholarship opportunities for CUE students and faculty in the area of China or Chinese studies, to facilitate academic and research exchange and collaboration with post-secondary institutions in China among management, education, language, philosophy, art and science faculties, and to bridge local individuals and communities with China and Asia.