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Rebuilding a better tomorrow
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13:10, January 05, 2009

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A group of college students from the earthquake-stricken Sichuan province, 19 in all, sat as dinner guests in the home of Professor W. Hubert Keen, president of Farmingdale State University. Large maps of China and Sichuan province were on the wall. Keen asked one student to point out his home town.

In 2009 these same students may be back in China, pointing to a map of Long Island, New York, as the place they consider their home away from home.

The group of 19 is the largest contingent of the State University of New York (SUNY) China 150 program - a goodwill program initiated by the university to host students from Sichuan for one year (mainly sophomores or juniors). The state university system has 64 campuses and 22 participate in the program, from New York City to Niagara Falls.

SUNY Vice Chancellor and Chief Consul Nicholas Rostow explained the initiative, which went from an idea last June to reality last August, when the program's 150 students arrived at New York's JFK Airport. Classes began Sept 2.

(Photo: Chinadaily.com.cn)

The idea for the program came while the university was going through the process of opening a representative office in Beijing. It seemed an important thing to do in response to the earthquake, said Rostow.

Governmental assistance from China was key to processing the 150 visas so fast and to help their home country out, the students will continue their education and work in governmental programs when they return. SUNY aims to raise $3.5 million to pay for the costs of the project.

Farmingdale, the largest of SUNY's technical schools with an enrollment of 6,800, but only 226 international students, received a group of 19 and made efforts to enrich their experience.

"I was aware of the cultural differences the students would encounter and the differences in the educational systems," said Beverly Kahn, provost of the Farmingdale School.

"Okay, this is what's going to be different about the classroom dynamics. You're going to be asked to speak. You're going to be asked to join teams of students to work on projects. You're probably going to have more exams more frequently, including mid-terms and papers to write," said Kahn, during orientation.

Kahn, a political scientist, has taught the 19 students in some classes including interest group pluralism and humanities. She also made sure they had an interdisciplinary course on the American experience and a course on global business.

Kahn invited them to her home for Christmas and organized barbecues and beach trips for them. A five-day educational visit to Washington D.C. is planned for January.

The students said they were also invited to dozens of dinners and gatherings at staff's homes and even to the homes of their American classmates, adding to their experience.

Kahn has seen the impact firsthand.

"They're learning so much, their eyes are opening to the broader world. We need to get students prepared to be global citizens because they're going to invariably do business with people in other countries all over the world.

"These Chinese students are going to be doing business with Americans, they're perfecting their English and I hope that likewise SUNY and Farmingdale students will prepare to go to China. China is going to be an important player and we need to have students learn about China and Chinese language," she said.

The map on the wall at president Keen's house literally drew a connection to this transformative experience.

"I said, well, show me where you live with respect to Chengdu. One student said if you draw a line across China from southeast to northwest, Chengdu is right on the line," said Keen.

"I think that they will take back the broad experience and education and turn that to the advantage of their hometowns. They seem very highly motivated to go back and do this," Keen said.

"I think they want to use their talents to rebuild the earthquake-stricken areas."

Source: China Daily

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