Researching Chinese Higher Education: A CLS Alumni Profile
Austin Volz (Chengdu, China ’13) is living and working in Shanghai, China as a Visiting Scholar at Fudan University.
Austin designed his own research program on liberal arts education in China and received a Harvard University – Chinese Scholarship Council scholarship that opened the door for him to work in the Higher Education Research Institute at Fudan University.
“Without the level of Mandarin I gained through CLS it would be impossible to pursue this project,” Austin said. Austin works with the Center of General Education Research to study the effective use of teaching assistants and to develop a model for monitoring and evaluating the General Education program. He is using ethnographic and human-centered design approaches to explore what constitutes liberal arts in China and how this form of education addresses student needs.
Austin credits his CLS experience with helping him demonstrate his “capacity to conduct interviews and do academic research in Mandarin.” He frequently conducts open-ended interviews and class observations in order to gather information about the student perspective on the college experience. “At Fudan I get to challenge and deepen my understanding of Chinese higher education as well as explore more broadly relevant questions about the purpose of college, the role of majors and disciplines, and the effects of education’s internationalization,” says Austin.
How did your CLS experience prepare you for your current role?
CLS really emphasizes the idea of performing culture, which means being able to excel at actually accomplishing tasks in a foreign context. Given my current affiliation with Fudan and my informal representation as a Harvard graduate such an ability is essential.
What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in international education?
Don’t necessarily think of your career in terms of already existing positions. Sometimes you need creativity. Identify the kind of impact you want to have and how you want to grow, then search for how to make that happen.”
After the conclusion of his project in July, Austin hopes to continue to be involved with the rapidly changing landscape of Chinese higher education. His advice to others interested in pursuing a similar path is “A bit of entrepreneurial thinking goes a long ways, especially in the realm of international education.”
Austin recommends that CLS alumni check out new educational partnerships such as Yale-NUS, Duke Kunshan, or Schwarzmen Scholars that are breaking new ground in higher education in East Asia. “Identify what you can offer such programs and use the CLS network to get in contact.”
What is one of your favorite Chinese sayings?
Bù shí Lú shān zhēn miàn mù, zhĭ yuán shēn zài cĭ shān zhōng. 不识庐山真面目 ，只缘身在此山中。
Roughly translated this saying means, “The reason I cannot recognize the face of Lu Mountain is because I am on the very mountain itself.” It means that sometimes you can’t understand what you are closest to because it is too familiar. That is, we’re not necessarily experts in our own cultures. Not only do my Chinese colleagues help me better understand the U.S., but I can also aid their understanding of China.
How did your CLS experience help you develop a greater appreciation for cross-cultural perspectives in exploring current issues?
As part of our CLS coursework each student pursued a mini research project that involved conducting interviews. Fascinated by the role of social media in China as a source of news, I interviewed Sichuan University students about how they used different sites and applications. My Chinese language partner and I decided to do a little experiment, each of us conducting the same interview to see if responses differed depending on whether she or I asked the question.
We found most interviewees responded more openly to the Chinese interviewer than to me. The lesson I took away from this experience is to really understand China I not only need to know the language, but also succeed in cultivating deep relationships that lead to conversations where I am not seen as an outsider. Since then I’ve become much more intentional about fostering such relationships.
Chinese government scholarship: http://en.csc.edu.cn/Laihua/
Duke Kunshan: http://dku.edu.cn/
Schwarzmen Scholars: http://schwarzmanscholars.org/
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