Whitman faculty and staff members travel to China to celebrate exchange program success

Whitman in China
Provost Timothy Kaufman-Osborn presents certificate of appreciation for 30 years of international educational exchange to Northwestern Polytechnical University

The 30th anniversary celebration of the Whitman in China program is still going strong.

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, Welty Health Center Counselor Sharon Kaufman-Osborn and Director of Off-Campus Studies Susan Holme Brick traveled to Yunnan University in Kunming, China, to attend a reunion banquet in honor of the anniversary of the founding of the WIC program.

Other banquet guests included Professor Chas McKhann ’79 and Wencui Zhao, the current leaders of the Whitman Summer Studies in China language program. The group from Whitman visited three partner universities to meet with administrators and faculty and to discuss the future of the program.

“I thoroughly enjoyed meeting my counterparts at the Chinese universities with which we are affiliated,” Timothy Kaufman-Osborn said. “I found the talks highly productive in terms of affirming the value of the principal elements of the Whitman in China program, but also in terms of thinking about how our exchanges might be improved and possibly expanded in scope.”

Over the past 30 years, more than 170 Whitman alumni have had the opportunity to teach English for one year at one of four Chinese partner universities: Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an, Shantou University in Guangdong Province, Sichuan International Studies University in Congqing and Yunnan University in Kunming. In addition, 60 English instructors and some students from these Chinese universities have attended Whitman for one year as part of the exchange.

Whitman in China
Whitman in China 30th Anniversary Celebration Dinner attendees, Yunnan University campus, Kunming June 29, 2013

Prof. David Deal established the WIC program in 1982 after taking a trip to China to study local agricultural practices. He saw the mutual benefits of cultural exchange between China and the United States. WIC is one of the first exchange programs established between a U.S. college and Chinese universities since the implementation of China’s Open Door Policy in the late 1970s.

Kaufman-Osborn considers Deal one of his earliest Whitman mentors, and he was honored to meet so many individuals with fond memories of Deal and to see Deal’s legacy continuing in this program.

“It also became clear to me throughout our travels that [Holme] Brick, the director of our Off-Campus Studies Office, is the true keeper of the flame lit decades ago by David Deal,” he said.

Holme Brick said WIC offers students and faculty from both the United States and China a unique opportunity to get to know each other.

“When Chinese teachers return from Whitman to their campuses, there is a ripple effect when they share their first-hand knowledge of the U.S. with their students. Likewise, Whitties who return to the U.S. from a year of teaching English in China often share a nuanced understanding of the country with family and friends that goes far beyond what people in the U.S. usually know about China from the news,” she said.

Whitman in China
Past and Future China Sherwood Scholars/Native Speaker Teaching Assistants at reunion events (from left to right): Ma Xuefei (Sylvia), Qu Jiangli (Catherine), Zhao Wencui, and Wang Juan

For many participants, WIC is not just a chance to create lasting bonds with people, but it is also an opportunity to build language skills and to break into the international job market.

Several WIC participants went on to pursue careers in China after their year of teaching came to an end. Some of these alumni include Jeremy Balch ’10, who writes and translates for a medical newsletter in Beijing; Patricia Hayward ’06, who works as a development officer for the Asia Society in Hong Kong; and Sean Molloy ’91, the director of Black Lion Global in Beijing.

As Kaufman-Osborn said in his address at the 30th anniversary banquet, WIC continues to provide a bridge across cultures in this shrinking world.

“This sort of understanding is imperative in the world in which we live in today, and I am deeply proud, as all of us should be, of the role that the Whitman in China program has played in cultivating that understanding.”