As they stepped off the bus Tuesday outside MTSU’s Kennon Hall of Fame, many members among the delegation of 30-plus visitors from Hangzhou, China, had their smart phones in hand to capture a slice of American culture.
They were met by plenty of smiles, handshakes and music as band members and cheerleaders from Siegel High School, the Discovery School at Reeves Rogers, Central Magnet School and MTSU performed along a balloon-lined entrance to the Kennon Sports Hall of Fame building.
Once inside, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee officially welcomed the delegation of Chinese elementary and middle school children and educators to campus. They are visiting to develop student exchanges and cultural ties with Tennessee schools.
With translation assistance from Dr. Guanping Zheng, director of the MTSU Confucius Institute, McPhee noted that the visit “is the continuation of a partnership that began several years ago” when a former president of Hangzhou Normal University visited schools in Murfreesboro and East Tennessee to discuss collaboration between rural and urban schools in China and the United States.
The goal was to “exchange best practices in teaching and learning, to look at the resources and leverage the expertise of both the United States, particularly Tennessee, and China, and it has resulted in a wonderful partnership between Dongcheng Education Group, MTSU’s Confucius Institute and the schools in this area,” McPhee added.
The Chinese students will be paired throughout the four-day visit with Rutherford students who visited Hangzhou in July 2012. That visit was facilitated by the Confucius Institute, which works to develop cultural and educational ties between China and the United States.
Principal Liu Jinbin of the Dongcheng Education Group of Hangzhou Normal University expressed appreciation for the hospitality shown thus far. On Tuesday, that included some light-hearted ice-breaking activities such as teaching the Chinese students the Cupid Shuffle and a game of musical chairs.
“I see many familiar faces of those of you who visited China last year,” Liu said. “Our visit is to further our collaboration and partnership with Middle Tennessee State University and the school systems in Middle Tennessee. It will help us get a better understanding of the schools and education system.
“It’s my first time visiting the U.S., but I already feel like I have a lot of friends.”
Sally Smith, a seventh-grader at Central Magnet School, joined Central eighth-grader Eshan Patel in sharing historical and cultural facts about the local community with the Chinese delegation as well as sharing the group’s itinerary for the week.
Chinese students will visit the homes of local children, tour historic and cultural sites in Nashville and Murfreesboro and participate in educational workshops. Stops include the State Capitol Building, the Grand Ole Opry, the Stones River National Battlefield and Cannonsburgh Village.
“It will truly be hard to live up to our visits to your homes,” Patel said.
Elizabeth McPhee, MTSU’s first lady and a retired teacher from the Discovery School at Reeves Rogers, was part of a committee of teachers, parents and administrators that organized the cultural exchange effort.
“The No. 1 thing we’re trying to accomplish is a merging of the cultures, getting our kids to learn from the Chinese and getting the Chinese to learn from us,” said Mrs. McPhee.
“It’s not just textbooks. Our students have had the opportunity to go to China, and not just go as a tourist, but to go and actually be in the homes of the families, and now we’re doing the same thing (for the Chinese delegation). They’re going to come and be in our homes, they’re going to go to some of our schools … and they’re going to see some of our best practices.”
Area and Chinese educators will participate in roundtable discussions about educational and leadership styles used in their respective schools and systems.
Later this week, officials from Murfreesboro City Schools, Rutherford County Schools, MTSU and the Dongcheng Education Group of Hangzhou Normal University hope to sign agreements to formalize future cooperation, including:
- promoting institutional exchanges by inviting faculty and staff to participate in teaching and research activities and in professional development;
- developing exchange programs, such as summer camps, in both China and Rutherford County; and
- organizing symposia, conferences, short courses or programs, and meetings on educational issues or other topics of mutual interest.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)