Husband-and-wife history team take sabbatical in China

Posted on March 8, 2012

Erskine’s McDonald-Boswell Professor of History Dr. David Grier and Professor of History Dr. Sandra Chaney are spending their sabbatical in China.david-and-sandy-picture-ed

Husband and wife are splitting a full-time teaching position at Sias International University, a private American-style institution in Xinzheng, Henan Province, founded in 1998 and now boasting an enrollment of more than 22,000 students.

“Last fall term David and I taught a survey of British history and this spring we will offer an overview of United States history,” Chaney said.

“We lecture in English because the students we teach— juniors—are majoring in fields requiring extensive use of English, such as English education, English translation, and business English.”

Grier teaches four classes, about 200 students, and Chaney teaches two classes, about 120.

This arrangement allows Chaney to have mornings to teach their daughter, third-grader Anna Mei, since there is no international primary school in Xinzheng.

So far, the family is doing well.

“Foreign faculty live in dormitories with apartment-style accommodations, minus a kitchen,” Chaney said. “We also receive three excellent meals a day, with both Chinese and American food, in a cafeteria for foreign faculty. The university provides regular bus trips to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, for shopping and other activities.”

The university offers free instruction in Chinese, and they’ve taken advantage of that as well, “though our speaking abilities remain rudimentary,” Chaney admits.

From left, alumna Beth Carlisle, Anna Mei, alumni Grace Cannon and Adam Wilson, and friend Kathryn Simpson

Some 130 foreign faculty members teach at Sias, Chaney said. “Most of us come from the United States, but there are also Canadians, Germans, Japanese, and Filipinos. Erskine has a healthy contingent of five faculty this year.”

Among the five are recent alumni Grace Cannon ’11, who majored in education, Beth Carlisle ’11, a business major, and Adam Wilson ’09, a Spanish major.

Cannon and Wilson are teaching oral English to first-year students at Sias. Chaney said their work helps provide Chinese students with effective instruction in English language and culture.

Carlisle works as a cooperating teacher for business courses taught through Fort Hays University, an institution that allows Chinese students to earn an American university degree while remaining on the Sias campus.

Chaney noted that foreign faculty, including Erskine alumni, take advantage of volunteer opportunities on campus.

“Grace and Beth, for example, sing in the English choir with Chinese students and gave a wonderful performance at our Christmas party,” she said. “There are opportunities to raise funds and visit area orphanages.”

Chaney herself is working with English translation majors “to translate environmental articles from Chinese into English so they can be posted on China Green News for an English-speaking audience.”

Expressing her own joy in teaching, Chaney said of the foreign faculty, “All of us meet frequently with our Chinese students, who are curious and gracious beyond measure.”

A terracotta soldier with his horse.

Travel is a rewarding part of the sabbatical experience for Chaney, Grier and Anna Mei.

The academic year at Sias  starts in late August and ends in late June, with the fall semester ending in early January. Then there is a six-week winter break when, Chaney says, “the town of Xinzheng pretty much shuts down.” Spring term begins in mid-February and there is another short break in early May.

“Many faculty travel during the six-week winter break,” Chaney said. “We were fortunate to take a two-week visit to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, Hanoi, and Bangkok.”

They have also explored several ancient Chinese capitals, including Xían, famous for its terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.

Another excursion is in the works.”We plan to take a short trip this spring to Luoyang, another ancient capital and the site of the Longman Caves with their many Buddhist carvings,” Chaney said.

Most recently, they visited Huiting, a rural village in Henan Province, where  a Chinese family hosted them for a Chinese New Year dinner.

A slice of Chinese rural life: Chaney and Grier, with Anna Mei, enjoyed a Chinese New Year dinner with a family in Huiting, a village in Henan Province.

While enjoying their time at Sias, Chaney and Grier are looking for ways to strengthen Erskine’s China connection.

“In addition to teaching courses, David and I are working on a proposal to present to Sias administrators this spring that would provide opportunities for faculty exchanges, study abroad for Erskine College students, and a dual-degree program for Sias students,” Chaney said.

“We know of several Erskine College students interested in teaching oral English at Sias next year and would encourage them to contact us for more information about the application process going on now,” Chaney said.

Current students planning for Erskine’s next Winter Term might want to consider what Chaney and Grier are planning.

“David and I are looking forward to returning to China during the Winter Term 2013,” Chaney said. “After a week of instruction in China’s geography, history, language and culture, we’ll travel to Beijing and Xi’an in the north before venturing south to Guilin and east to Shanghai and the surrounding area.”