News - From China to Greenville – English Language Program Draws Growing Number of Chinese Students

From China to Greenville – English Language Program Draws Growing Number of Chinese Students

From China to Greenville – English Language Program Draws Growing Number of Chinese Students

With just a little spin, the story of three-dozen Chinese newcomers last month to picturesque Greenville, in south central Illinois, could pass as the premise for a reality T.V. show:

Participants direct from the People's Republic of China brave culture shock to test their survival skills in small-town U.S.A.

The actual account of Greenville's growing Chinese population lacks the drama of reality T.V., but offers instead, a surprising true story of community collaboration and success. It shows how big ideas like global impact can occur in one's backyard, even in quiet communities surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

It all began when administrators at Greenville College (enrollment 1,500) envisioned a broader audience for their liberal arts offerings. Their creative thinking gave way to plans that culminated in last year's launch of an Intensive English Language Program. With the help of Beida Jade Bird International Education, a firm that facilitates overseas education and training, 14 Chinese students took seats in the newly remodeled former Bond County Health Department building. Program director David Yan and Professor of English Sandra Schmidt managed dozens of details to ease the students' transition and ensure successful learning. A team of experienced instructors, student instructors, and volunteers helped.

"I love the people here, who are amiable and easy to approach," wrote one student, Fei Li, shortly after her arrival. "And I love the free feeling of the campus without boundaries. When I walk from building to building, I see the smiling faces of people and their kindly greetings."

Fei Li roomed with a non-Chinese student. She mingled daily with other non-Chinese students in the dining commons, residence halls, and throughout campus. She seized opportunities to practice her English language skills and embrace new experiences. "I'm starting a great journey," she wrote with optimism. "I believe my dream will blossom out at this campus someday."    

Her joy over a school without walls reflects a common desire in China. "Its people desperately long for a taste of American autonomy," wrote William Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education, in a recent article for CNN. "To the Chinese people, American universities, for all their shortcomings and blemishes, are still beacons of freedom, individualism and self-improvement."

China's education system produces students that excel in science, technology, engineering and math. Its heavy reliance on rote memorization, however, minimizes studies in areas that require a different approach. In Forbes Magazine, Shaun Rein, author of The End of Cheap China, explained that Chinese parents are acutely aware of the system's failure to address topics of morality, for example, or extracurricular activities. They know that "prepping students to get high test scores does not translate into teaching them to think critically."

Growing dissatisfaction has moved Chinese parents to look outside of China for college options. According to Bennett, in the 2006-07 school year about 10,000 undergraduate Chinese students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. Five years later, that number mushroomed to almost 57,000.

Enter Greenville College with deep roots in a Christian heritage and century-long belief that education in the arts and sciences is truly liberating. At the quaint college situated in the heartland of Illinois, freedom and learning have always gone hand in hand.

Greenville College's Chinese student population has more than doubled in just one year. This fall, 24 additional students have enrolled. The college has assigned more classrooms to its Intensive English Language Program and added instructors and administrative support. Non-Chinese students also assist with instruction. Three of this year's four student instructors are working toward certification as Teachers of English as a Second Language (TESL); the fourth has already earned that certification.

The true test of program success is student success. The Intensive English Language Program follows a 1+4 format that allows Chinese students to pursue one year of dedicated language study in preparation for a traditional 4-year college program. Five returning students completed their language studies last term and are now enrolled in college credit courses as freshmen. At the start of next semester, that number will rise to 11.

"We have reached out to fulfill a need for Chinese students," said Sandra Schmidt. "Our goal is that with our help they will develop their English language skills to such a point that they will be able to study successfully in any university or college in the U.S."

The students spend six or more hours a day, every day of the week, studying with that end in mind. They work on listening skills, speaking, reading, writing, pronunciation, and cultural sensitivity. They learn how to take notes during lectures, give speeches, and write research papers. Community volunteers help by opening their homes to the students during vacation breaks and hosting them for meals. Schmidt expressed a need, however, for more volunteers to help in conversational English classes. Clearly, the balance of a growing program in a small community with limited people resources is a challenge.   

Students who complete their Intensive English Language studies at Greenville College are not obligated to pursue undergraduate work there, yet those who finish have chosen to stay. By all appearances, the "little" college with its unwavering demonstration of community and strong identity in the liberal arts offers a nurturing environment with surprisingly broad appeal - broad enough to inspire the growing number of Chinese students in its midst.

The Intensive English Language Program could use additional volunteers this year, especially in the conversational English classes. Interested persons may call David Yan, program director, at (618) 664-6861, or send him at email at [email protected]

This story was published on September 05, 2012