California State University, Long Beach
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Teacher Education Profs Promote “West Meets East” With Students

Published: October 15, 2010

When 21 Chinese students from Nanjing’s Wulaocun Elementary School traveled to Long Beach to meet 21 students from the Carver Elementary School, their example would have compelled British author and poet Rudyard Kipling to re-write his famous poem about East meeting West through their participation in the “West Meets East” program event sponsored by CSULB’s Teacher Education Department.

Led by Teacher Education Chair Felipe Golez and Teacher Education’s Shuhua An, “West Meets East” sought to advance global awareness and understanding between local and Chinese school children and their teachers through cultural exchange.

“This was a remarkable event that ran on limited resources but a wealth of good will and generosity from members of the university and the public school community,” said Golez, who joined CSULB in 1997. “This was a very successful example of the academic and local educational community working together to facilitate global awareness and offer an incredible learning experience and opportunity for children and their teachers.”

“West Meets East” was a milestone in university outreach, said An, who joined Teacher Education in 2000.

“This kind of experience lifts teachers out of their classrooms and into the world,” explained An. “Events like ‘West Meets East’ help to expand teachers’ views of other cultures and give them a whole new horizon of achievement.”

“West Meets East” began on July 11, when the Chinese students took up residence in CSULB’s International House followed by an origami festival in CSULB’s Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. On July 12, a day-long session on campus brought students together to study their mutual languages, social science and math as well as to do hands-on activities at the Science Learning Center in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, followed by a return to the Japanese Garden. On July 13, the students visited the Aquarium of the Pacific and on July 14, the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. On July 15, an afternoon was spent at Los Alamitos Bay kayaking and playing beach volleyball. Friday the 16th activities included a visit to Long Beach’s Museum of Latin American Art. Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday through the 20th saw the Chinese students visit such Southern California landmarks as Universal Studios, Disneyland and Sea World along with trips to Los Angeles and San Diego.

“I’m impressed and pleased that the Teacher Education department was able to put together this event despite having little to no funding,” said Golez. “Through dedication, collaboration and teamwork on the part of the CSULB team, the participating teachers and parents, we put together a worthwhile and dynamic cultural exchange where Chinese children learned about America and American children learned about China.”

An saw her role in the event as a facilitator. “Even when I was in China attending conferences, I kept in touch with Dr. Golez and teachers via e-mails,” she said. “As a teacher educator, I believe I had the responsibility and obligation to provide support for the event, not just for the students but for the teachers, too. This kind of experience is essential for today’s educators. Four local school teachers and five graduates from the mathematics education graduate program at the College of Education participated in this program. They played different roles as teachers or assistants. This program also attracted six CSULB undergraduate and graduate volunteers from other colleges and seven local high school volunteer students to provide help.”

One of the event’s biggest payoffs, Golez believes, was the students’ mutual exposure to different cultures. “Our goal was to share a cultural learning experience,” he said. “We wanted the Chinese students to experience education in a cultural setting. The Carver parents were especially impressed. After all, how often do American kids that age get a chance to interact with their counterparts from another country?”

Events like “West Meets East” expand teachers’ views of other cultures, An believes. “I have seen students from both cultures benefit from this kind of international instruction,” she said. “I recall how impressed the Chinese teachers were with how our local teachers could reach their kids, especially in math instruction. I was glad the students had the chance to get to know and interact with each other.” Chinese teachers also provided lessons that were exceptional and well integrated with the Chinese language, Chinese art and Chinese traditional games. Anastasia Lee, a participating teacher of the ABC Unified School District and a graduate student of CSULB’s mathematics education program commented on a mathematics lesson by Ms. Wei who earned the highest rank in teaching mathematics in Jiangsu Province, “The lesson was astounding. This lesson was beyond the language barrier.”

West Meets East
Photo courtesy of Felipe Golez

Planning for “West Meets East” began in 2008. “At first, we hoped we could get together in 2009 but that was cancelled in the wake of the H1N1 flu epidemic,” said An. “But once we got everyone together, we saw how important it was that the students have experiences with different cultural groups. Through the interaction provided by events like ‘West Meets East,’ both students and educators learned a lot.”

In addition to An’s efforts, Zhonghe Wu, a part-time faculty member at CSULB and a full-time faculty member at National University, made a significant contribution in coordination and administration of this dynamic event.

Money was an obstacle and one which both sides dealt with using creative solutions. “We had a remarkable event,” said Golez. “For example, a public school parent donated services and materials by silk screening unique graphics on t-shirts for all the children with a program logo that my wife, a graphic designer, donated. Many individuals made contributions to the success of this event. We used public transportation for a close-up look at America. What could be better than mass transit? We used local buses to reach the Long Beach Aquarium and to take us to Huntington Beach for kayaking in the harbor. The kids got a great experience along with summer activities. It brought the campus and the community together.”

Long Beach is an excellent venue for this kind of cultural exchange, said Golez. “The Port of Long Beach embodies a unique place to greet students from the Pacific Rim,” he explained. “Being in this particular port city offers a world-wide connection. Plus, I feel our department’s commitment to international outreach balances a Eurocentric bias that often occurs in educational settings. We could not have done this without dedicated teacher education faculty members like Dr. An.”

An praised Golez for his support and leadership. “Dr. Golez supported the program in every aspect, from attending planning meetings to arranging and participating in the field trip to MOLAA with children together. He was especially resourceful when it came to funding. He worked with many staff and faculty members to find some nice CSULB gifts for all U.S. and Chinese children. Each student gift bag has CSULB pencils, bookmarks, binders and other items,” she said. “We were able to manage with his support. I recommend outreach efforts like these to all faculty members at CSULB. Exchanges like this not only support the community but they support faculty research as well. It is one thing for local teachers to teach math to local students. But it is another to see how the Chinese educational methods work. I feel what we achieved in `West Meets East’ would be just as beneficial for other departments as it was for ours. I would participate in an event like this again. It was a win-win situation.”

The ABC Unified School District’s Lee added, “The project provided the global perspective in education for the Chinese and U.S. teachers and it inspired us to further seek future global education opportunities. The experience enhanced teaching skills in implementing effective teaching strategies. The Chinese students will remember the hospitality and the learning experience that was provided here at Cal State Long Beach.”

Alberto Lazaro, a participating teacher from the Montebello Unified School District and graduate of CSULB’s mathematics education program, expressed his hope as other teachers did, that “I hope I get to be part of this project next year because it is a great way to further my knowledge of lesson design and delivery and also a good opportunity to learn to work with students from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. In addition, it provides the participants with the opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas with other teachers.”