New beginnings were honoured October 7 as a group of Chinese PhD students, studying under the new UofS – China Doctoral Scholar Partnership program, and their supervisors came together at the Faculty Club to fête the program that has brought them from China to the University of Saskatchewan. For these students, many of whom arrived in Saskatoon just before the beginning of the school year in September, the excitements and challenges of their programs are coupled with a myriad of concerns unique to foreign students.
Chen Zhang, doctoral student with the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, seems undaunted. Like the other thirteen promising PhD students here on scholarships from the China Scholarship Council, she has left her homeland to experience a different culture through study, and to become fluent in English. And, like the others, she is finding that adjusting to life in Canada is about more than knowing the language
“It’s quite a different thinking style (in Canada),” she explains, “That’s why I came here. I mean, you can read from the internet or from a book, but you cannot understand what another’s thinking style is if you’re just in your home town.”
But cross-cultural understanding is just one issue; new students express some unease about the coming winter, and must think about everything from course selection to how to find affordable housing in a foreign system, to making their way in daily exchanges in a language learned from books. Indeed, English is often an even bigger concern than grades, according to Johnson Shoyama professor, Haizhen Mou. Also from China, Prof. Mou has taken on the job of advising new Chinese students in the particulars of Canadian life. “You have to survive in this country first,” she says, “You have daily life and academic life — the challenge is to learn English so that you know how to use it in daily life and, at a deeper level, to understand the culture. You have to know the culture, and then you can master the language.”
Chen Zhang is ready to meet all this head-on. “It’s not only a problem, it’s a challenge,” she says earnestly, “but I think if you’re struggling it means you’re learning something. If I’m not struggling I just feel very comfortable, but it may mean I’m learning less. It’s a process.”
According to Brett Fairbairn, Provost & Vice-President Academic, this readiness to engage across cultures is precisely one of the university’s many goals. “We’re aiming to increase our presence in the fields of graduate studies, to internationalize our university and engage more globally, and to be innovative in how we do things – and all of that is, I think, embodied by the people in this room,” Fairbairn told the assemble students and faculty in his welcome at the start of the evening.
For professor Murray Fulton, from the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy, notes his own understanding of the complexities and nuances of China and its people has become more nuanced as a result of his supervisory work. “They (the students) bring this very different perspective that I as a supervisor have to go some way toward understanding. And they, of course, are having to come part of the way as well. And that’s a difficult process, but if you can do it, it’s really exhilarating because you’ve really discovered something new.”
The UofS – China Doctoral Scholar Partnership welcomes students from six partnering Chinese universities. Each student receives an annual funding package from the Chinese Scholarship Council coupled with a tuition scholarship from the College of Graduate Studies and Research and a $4,000 scholarship from the U of S academic unit, to a maximum of four years.
For more information on this program, please consult our website pages at: http://www.usask.ca/cgsr/prospective_students/requirements/China.php
Photo shows Ms. Chen Zhang, Professor Murray Fulton and Professor Haizhen Mou. Photo credit: Michael Gaultois