Newsletter 2019: Learning to See essay

Posted by AmyCheng

Amy surrounded by her Graduate Painting students at Renmin University of China, Beijing, Spring 2017

Learning to See: A Fulbright Semester Teaching Painting in Beijing

I share below an essay I wrote about my Spring 2017 Fulbright semester teaching at the Renmin University of China’s Graduate Painting Program. This essay has been published by Routledge Press in a book titled Inquiries from Fulbright Lecturers in China: Cross-Cultural Connections in Higher Education.

I had a wonderful time in China, I made friends, I spent time with my Chinese relatives, I traveled widely within the country lecturing at different universities and art schools — I learned A LOT.

If interested you can read my essay below.

I spent the spring of 2017 as a visiting professor in the Graduate Painting Program at Renmin University of China in Beijing. I was born in Taiwan, immigrating to the West with my family at age 4. My parents grew up in China, and we spoke Chinese at home. But despite being ethnically Chinese, I experienced two cultural gaps while teaching in China, the first one in the student-teacher relationship and the second on the subject matter of the course.

My Chinese students’ ability to understand English varied widely, but they all had handy Chinese-to-English translation apps on their cell phones. I depended on my MacBook Air as an essential teaching tool, since my Chinese vocabulary is limited to the domestic and quotidian; I carried it with me everywhere and relied on Google Translate. I would type out entire paragraphs; if the translation came out garbled, they would let me know and I would rephrase and try again. I made myself available once a week for studio visits with students not enrolled in my class; in this way, I was able to meet other art students, both graduate and undergraduate. I also took interested students on field trips to art openings, exhibitions, and studio visits.

To my delight, the Chinese have no difficulty understanding that I — who look just like them — am American. When I travel elsewhere in the world — Egypt, Italy — people sometimes have a hard time grasping this concept.

When we went out together, the students had an endearing way of offering to carry my things — coats, bags. Since Beijing is extremely dry, they were attentive in offering me tea and bottled water. But the incident that completely disarmed me happened at a class party I hosted in my apartment that devolved into the playing of games, games that were like rowdy versions of “Simon Says.”

At semester’s end, the students organized a potluck dinner in the graduate painting studio. When I arrived, one of the students handed me a bag of gifts — an ingenious eyebrow pencil and shaping knife, which she promptly READ MORE