Internet-based exchange project connects GGC, Chinese students

Two Georgia Gwinnett College faculty members have developed an innovative way to connect their students with Chinese college students in a long-distance, face-to-face language and cultural exchange experience via the Internet. 
 
Dr. Rong Liu and Dr. Hsi-Ling Huang broke boundaries and went beyond traditional teaching methods to expand student learning of the Chinese language and culture. 
 
“Looking back on when I first began learning English, I wish I had the opportunity to interact with real people who spoke the language,” said Liu, assistant professor of English for academic purposes. Now a Suwanee resident, Liu is originally from Hubei, China. “I reached out to my contact in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, who is teaching English at a university, and he was interested in collaborating on the Language Exchange Pal Project.” 
 
The project, which complements classroom leaning, cultural immersion and multimedia, focuses on helping students achieve communicative and cultural competence in Chinese. Through their participation, GGC students enrolled in Chinese language courses have been able to cultivate language skills, apply class material and learn new language skills by being introduced to expanded vocabulary, grammar and colloquial Chinese. It also allows students to take control of their own learning because they must be proactive in finding topics, asking questions and seeking their partner’s guidance and collaboration.
 
Using Skype and the similar software QQ as tools to see facial expressions and gestures while practicing listening, speaking and intercultural communication skills, GGC students get to know their Chinese counterparts and are able to discuss topics such as local politics, the economy, social media and religion. This provides a broader cultural understanding and possibly triggers ideas for a myriad of career paths.
 
Maggie Watkins, one of Liu’s students, considers the project essential to getting the most out of her foreign language experience.
 
“The project is amazing and has given me much more of an international perspective,” said Watkins, a biology major. “My e-pal told me about the Chinese mid-autumn festival, a holiday where everyone gathers to admire the moon and express feelings of homesickness while enjoying delicious moon cakes.”  
 
Not only has Watkins gained new friends, she urges fellow students to learn a form of Chinese since it’s one of the top three most spoken languages in the world. She believes it to be of great benefit to those majoring in business, political science, health or medicine.
 
Huang, assistant professor of English, began her cultural exchange experience as an experiment to internationalize her English 1101 class. 
 
“I reached out to Dr. Yingliang Liu, a former GGC faculty member, who had returned to China,” said Huang, who is originally from Taipei, Taiwan. “We decided to pair up our students as e-pals and have them write a comparison and contrast essay on their respective cultures. The experience has been such a success that I plan to reach out to my contacts in Taiwan to develop a similar project in the future.”
 
“In addition to the unique experience of talking with co-eds from across the globe, I’ve been able to include interviews with them as part of my research for papers,” said Stephen Kraus, a mathematics major and one of Huang’s students. “It’s fascinating to learn that our Chinese counterparts share a lot of the same feelings and struggles despite our different environments.”
 
Another one of Huang’s students, Kaipreesha Smith, a criminal justice major, noted the project’s human connection. 
 
“It’s great to know that I will always have a friend overseas,” she said.
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