Summer Institute Benefits Chinese Students and the Department of Communication

Faculty, staff, and students celebrate at the Summer Institute closing ceremony.
Students from Shanghai Normal University say goodbye to Mizzou.
Kristi Galloway
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science

Twenty-two students and one faculty member from Shanghai Normal University in Shanghai, China, spent two weeks at the University of Missouri through the Department of Communication’s Summer Institute in July. This is the second year the program has been offered; it is sponsored by the Department of Communication, the International Center, the Confucius Institute, and the Asian Affairs Center.

The curriculum focused on introductory organizational and intercultural communication. Students attended five hours of classroom time each day, worked on presentations, and went on outings. Rebecca Meisenbach, associate professor of organizational communication and the director of this year’s institute, taught the students along with two graduate assistants, Michael Halliwell and Danielle Poynter. The outings and activities were carefully selected to showcase the types of organizational communication students learned about in class.

For example, the students went to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis so they could see scientific management communication in action. They also visited the Columbia Farmers Market so they could experience a non-profit collaborative organization. Wenting Dai, a student from Shanghai Normal says, “Everyone was very nice, and I enjoyed the different environments. The teachers were very good, always willing to answer questions to help me understand what we were seeing and learning.”

Meisenbach, Halliwell, and Poynter learned just as much, if not more than the students. “Teaching students from another culture helped me grow as an instructor and challenged me to think outside the box in the classroom and express my ideas more clearly,” says Poynter. “I was extremely impressed by the students’ intelligence, attentiveness in the classroom, and their willingness to think about and discuss new ideas.” 

The students spoke and understood English, but the language barrier and cultural differences did present occasional challenges. Halliwell says, “I enjoyed the challenge of adapting complex material to a group of students who speak English as a second language.  I never realized how much slang and idioms Americans tend to use when we teach and interact.  Thinking of different ways to explain new ideas to the students helped me grow as a teacher, which will improve my ability to connect with other students in the future.”

It takes energy, passion, and creativity to cram an intensive course into two weeks. The students and faculty brought both. “It was a very nice experience,” says Dandan Zhu, another student from Shanghai Normal. “The professors were considerate and professional; I always knew they cared for us. It was a short time, but the academics were very good.”

The cross-cultural learning experience was beneficial for everyone involved. The field of communication is swiftly growing in China, so programs like the Summer Institute will continue to be in high demand. Meisenbach says, “I’m hopeful that we shared ways of organizing that they might not have been exposed to otherwise. We may see these theories play out in the organizational principles and communication practices that the students implement in their future careers across the globe, and that is really exciting.”

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