School of Education doctoral students participate in Chinese exchange fellowship
Karen Girton-Snyder hands out University of Delaware stickers to elementary school students in China.
UD students Tim Snyder and Karen Girton-Snyder formed strong relationships with the students in China.
UD students Elizabeth Soslau and Scott Richardson enjoy a meal with some friends they met in China.
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8:28 a.m., Oct. 5, 2009----Four University of Delaware School of Education doctoral students spent three weeks in China this summer as part of the Fellowship for Enhancing Global Understanding cultural exchange.

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“It was a really wonderful thing, being immersed in a culture so different from ours, but knowing we're both working toward similar goals,” said Tim Snyder, an Ed.D student, in describing his experience after observing schools in western China.

Snyder was joined in China by fellow UD students Karen Girton-Snyder, Elizabeth Soslau and Scott Richardson.

They joined students from Michigan State University and the University of Washington for the fellowship. This was the first time doctoral students were allowed to take part in this fellowship. Formerly, it was only available to administrators.

In order to participate, the students needed to raise $12,000 for the trip. Contributors included the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the UD Alumni Association and the School of Education.

The UD students had different objectives in mind. Soslau wanted to study educational reform in China, while Richardson, who has studied in Asian countries before, had the goal of identifying differences between the American and Chinese education systems. Snyder and Girton-Snyder said they wanted to see the role technology played in both elementary classrooms and at the local universities.

The students began the fellowship in Beijing. Girton-Snyder said the biggest barrier, in the beginning, was language.

“When we landed there, we couldn't understand anything, it was like music to our ears,” she said. “But by the time we left, we could actually pick out and understand some of the words.”

After spending four days in Beijing, the group split up. Snyder and Girton-Snyder traveled to Chongquing and Soslau and Richardson went to Shanghai. In both locations, the students stayed at local universities and spent time visiting primary and secondary schools.

“I didn't account for how quickly we could adapt to the environment and be graduate students in China versus graduate students in America,” said Soslau. “That was really surprising to me.” She and Richardson stayed at East China Normal University.

During their two weeks there, Soslau and Richardson worked with a Chinese graduate student, Wei Qiu, on two research projects, both with a focus on how undergraduate students come into their own cultural identity while studying abroad.

Richardson said the experience provided him an appreciation for a University of Delaware education. “I came into a new respect for the University of Delaware itself -- the caliber of the education we receive here is far superior, compared to the other American graduate students we met during our experience,” he said. “We have a lot of resources and professors that just know a lot about research.”

Nearly 900 miles away, Snyder and Girton-Snyder were busy studying how technology is being used in classrooms. Snyder said he found it to be somewhat similar to the way it is used in the U.S., but that technology is used more by Chinese teachers than by students in a classroom setting.

“The Internet, they have many users, but it's not as pervasive as it is here,” described Snyder. “The way they're using technology is kind of like the way we were using technology 10 years ago, where it's more CD-based and broadcast delivery. The Internet hasn't quite taken hold yet in their daily routines.”

While they were there, Girton-Snyder and Snyder also had the opportunity to teach an online course to students at Southwest University in China.

All four doctoral students say this fellowship was an experience that far exceeded their expectations.

“I think I walked away from the experience with an enormous amount of gratitude for this University,” said Soslau. “To give us an opportunity like this, to send us on a trip like this, it was just amazing.”

Article by Cassandra Kramer
Photos by Tim Snyder