My Global Classroom

Zhuhai College US History and Culture 2017.jpgD

Teaching in today’s global classroom should mean that cultural diversity is an important part of the overall function of education. By diversity I mean that the United States is a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society, or what others describe as cultural or racial pluralism. This is largely due to the wide sea of humanity that has been migrating across the earth, especially since the end of World War II. Human migration in the twentieth century has increased not only with the devastation brought by wars, but also with the affordability of commercial flights and other forms of modern transportation.

For the past decade, the two largest groups of international students studying in the United States are from China and India. Most of these students will return to their motherlands and join the expanding middle-class. Moreover they will become a part of the leadership that will develop these nations in the twenty-first century. Today, China’s population, the largest in the world, is 1.4 billion people. India has the world’s second largest population consisting of 1.3 billion people. A large part of what happens in China and India will shape the twenty-first century because together they constitute over one third of humanity and their gross domestic product (GDP) rises each year.

As educators, the rise of China and India means that we should understand more about these parts of the world. For example, professors have to become more culturally conscious about how we construct our syllabi and our assignments. We cannot simply reduce American sociology and history down to a number clichés with respect to Blacks, Native Americans and Whites. Rather we have to include topics like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the impact of the British East India Trading Company, in addition to critically reassessing how we teach immigration. We have to expand the American immigration narrative beyond the European Ellis Island story.

We must also remember that New York’s Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States from France as a symbol to memorialize the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America. Visitors are reminded of the statue’s anti-slavery origins by the broken chains at its feet. Therefore, we must break our chains placed on our minds by liberating how we think and how we teach today. We must find new and dynamic ways to teach courses, across the disciplines, relevant to all of our student’s needs and the pressing demands and mounting crises of the twenty-first century.

Throughout my teaching career, I have developed a number of methods and assignments to facilitate the intellectual development of racially and ethnically diverse student bodies. My thirteen years of teaching in China has only enriched my understanding of how important it is to effectively teach a classroom of students who do not share my history, culture or heritage. Teaching and living abroad has many challenges and many benefits, intellectually and spiritually. Above all, it has helped me to grow and to develop into a better scholar and human being.

Differences that matter

By Christopher Williams

Each time that I visit the States, people ask me: “What is it like being a Black man in China compared to the USA?” My response is that it is very different for many reasons. I stress that if the social conditions were similar to the USA; there would be no reason for me to reside in China for over a decade. For example, if I had to endure the arbitrary and capricious harassment by the Chinese police for simply leaving my home and walking down the street, I would have left many years ago.

About four weeks after returning to China from the USA, the answer to this persistent question revealed itself to me. The truth appeared naturally, as bright as the morning sun piercing through the curtains. As I laid there before rising to begin another day, I admitted to myself that there is a huge difference waking up in a society where you do not feel that you have a gun pointed at your head or a knife aimed at your nuts, literally or figuratively. These are the fundamental differences between China and the USA that matter to me. These differences are as wide and as deep as the Pacific Ocean.

Consequently, when I walk along China’s streets, I do not feel that people are threatened or apprehensive by my presence. This does not mean that people do not stare at me because I am foreigner. On the contrary, people stare at me often, especially in places where locals do not expect to see any foreigners, African, European or otherwise. I am use to it now. Yet behind these stares and glances, I do not detect malice, hatred or contempt for my humanity. The vibrant colors of my skin, the helix coils of my hair, make me a foreigner, an outsider. Eventually when our eyes do meet, my difference does not disqualify me from being a human being.

A routine trip to a local market illustrates how natural mutual respect can be. I recall going to buy some vegetables a few days after getting my hair braided. The woman who I usually buy my produce from complimented me on new hair style, describing it as handsome. She asked me how long it took to complete. Inquiring further, she asked me if I braided it myself, and if not, where did get it done. I told her that it took about an hour and a half. She was not alone in her compliments or curiosity.

My experience does not mean that China is a utopia or that Chinese people do not express prejudice or bigoted attitudes towards Africans or other foreigners. Rather my encounters have taught me that being African does not appear to register in the Chinese psyche or its social consciousness, in the same way it may in European or Anglo American mind. These are the differences that matter, differences that have reshaped my life.

Throughout my China sojourn, I have never felt that I have a target on my back. Whether standing on the Great Wall or elsewhere across this sprawling land, my manhood is not under constant physical and spiritual attack. Chinese people usually see me as another African and I can live comfortably and in peace with that reality. To reside in the castle of one’s own skin means that eventually you can find freedom.

Highlights of Vietnam and Laos

shaolin temple

By Christopher Williams

About 10 years ago, when I was about to embark upon my first trip to Vietnam, a colleague shared with me that there was so much to see and do in Vietnam that even a month would not be sufficient time. Well, I gained some more insight into her assessment during my recent sojourn.

During the recent Lunar year celebrations, I traveled to Vietnam and Laos. My sixteen day journey began with a non-stop flight from Guangzhou to Hanoi. After three days in Hanoi, I made my way to Sapa, Dien Bien Phu, Luangprabang, Pakse, Champasak, and Da Nang. I returned to China flying back from Ho Chi Minh City. Each of these places that I visited possessed its own history with many stories to understand.

In China, the Lunar New Year is called the Spring Festival. However, the Vietnamese call their Lunar New Year festivities Tet. Although both the Spring Festival and Tet follow the lunar calendar, both of these annual commemorations take on the particular national characteristics of the two respective countries. In accordance with the lunar calendar, these holidays do not have a fixed date and change each year. Generally, the lunar New Year falls between late January and mid February. Both the Spring Festival and Tet are the most important dates on the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars.

Each day, my trip was an adventure, an exploration into unfamiliar worlds and cultures. Moreover, what I continued to learn in each place that I visited was what historian John Henrik Clarke often described as some of the missing pages of world history. Clarke would usually make this statement in the context of African history. However, I have learned that the missing pages of world history can also be applied to Asia.

Clarke’ observations were especially true when I visited Wat Phou, a Khmer temple in Southern Laos and My Son, the Cham temple ruins in Da Nang. These and many other the monuments and artifacts, especially those that I viewed at the Da Nang’s Cham Museum, provided me with a great amount of intellectual stimulation, greatly enriching my overall experience. Without a doubt, encountering these missing pages of world history tickled my imagination, leaving me with many unanswered questions, more books to read and even more places to visit.

The photographs presented here are just a small part of what I experienced.