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 Department of English

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ASU English Home > Special Features > Global Connections

ASU English Forges Global Connections in China and Beyond

As Arizona State University extends its reach to places around the world, the Department of English also interfaces with local and global communities. Contends department alumnus and Community Faculty Associate Dr. Dan Shilling about these sustainability practices, “We are using language and literature to connect us and to provide a fundamental access into the social, cultural, and environmental questions that confront every place on the planet.” Indeed, every aspect of what we do—our teaching, our research, and our service—underscores a growing participation in and efforts to facilitate conversations and experiences that impact and transform lives here and afar.

Maureen Daly Goggin in China

While students and faculty in the English department have always engaged in international conversations through scholarship, professional service, and teaching, this new partnership with Sichuan University in Chengdu, located in southwest China, began with a December 2006 exploratory visit by Associate Chair Dr. Maureen Daly Goggin.

Neal Lester in China

With a media-covered agreement-signing event and a substantial ASU delegation that included the Presidents and the English department chairs of both universities, Professor and Chair of English, Dr. Neal A. Lester, spent over three weeks this summer (May-June 2007) as the inaugural Visiting Scholar. Lester, a specialist in African American literary and cultural studies, offered six public lectures on his research to Chinese audiences of over 200 who were enthusiastically curious about American culture, intensely interested in American literature, and thirsting for opportunities to hone their spoken English skills. Among the topics of Lester’s presentations were: “Once Upon a Time in a Different World: Conflicts, Controversies and Celebrations in African American Children’s Literature,” and ‘”Don’t talk about my mama!’: The Dozens as African American Talkin’ and Testifyin.’” About the first lecture, an account published on the Sichuan University homepage announced: “Dr. Lester emphasized that children should understand that the world is composed of different cultures, and [that] cultural differences are not barricades to development, but [can actually promote] cultural diversity and global advance[ment]. At the end of  his lecture, Dr. Lester answered questions. His profound learning and great intelligence won him admiration from the audience, and he was impressed by the studious and enthusiastic students.” The second lecture met with equal excitement from the Chinese faculty, students, and staff. Says a reporter for the University about this second presentation: “The climax of the lecture [was] an interaction game involving all the students there. Dr. Lester distributed cards with diverse jokes of “Dozens” to students. Then they performed the jokes and the winner of the game was the one who got the warmest applause. The atmosphere was lively with students’ active participation and their cheerful laughter.”

Neal Lester in China

In addition to delivering these lectures, Dr. Lester also co-presented with Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes (ASU English/ Creative Writing) on agency, orality, and storytelling in Toni Morrison’s Beloved to a graduate seminar on the African American novel. Dr. Lester’s second seminar presentation on the blues traditions in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a presentation based on his second book, a student casebook, involved analyses of lyrics from performances by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Dorothy Lovecoates. Dr. Jay Boyer (ASU English/ Creative Writing) presented to this group a lecture on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

Neal Lester in China

Neal Lester in ChinaDr. Lester’s lecture on African American children’s literature, the focus of his recent book, Once Upon a Time in a Different World: Issues and Ideas in African American Children’s Literature, was reprised for an audience at Leshan Teachers College, in Leshan, China, home of the giant Buddha. At Leshan, Dr. Lester further explored with school administrators employment possibilities for English department graduate students completing degrees in the vibrant Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MTESOL) program.

After leaving southwest China, Dr. Lester traveled to Shandong University at Weihai, where he delivered the public lecture, “Nappy Edges and Goldy Locks: The Race and Gender Politics of Hair.” To a group of graduate students specializing in American literature, Dr. Lester presented a talk on the evolution of the African American novel. Shandong University is the home of the ASU English department’s first Visiting Scholar from China, Caibo Zhang, an associate professor of American literature, who was hosted by the department during the 2006-2007 academic year.

Neal Lester in China

Dr. Lester’s final stop on this faculty/student exchange exploratory trip was at Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, Korea, where he met with the University President and Vice-President, and with the Vice Deputy of International Affairs, Jai Young Park, a recent English department alumnus and Dr. Lester’s former doctoral student.

Neal Lester in Korea

The Sichuan-English Department partnership involves three focus areas: American literatures and cultures, the teaching of English to non-native English speakers, and writing for the professions. The first exchange students from the English Department, both graduates and undergraduates, will be selected this fall and will be studying in China in spring 2008. In these early stages, two to three students from each university will engage in the exchange, and one to two faculty members will be visiting scholars at each university. In April 2008, assistant professor Dr. Mark James, an applied linguist, will be at Sichuan University and at Leshan Teachers College. Such faculty visits will be based on two- to three-week stays modeled on Dr. Lester’s visit.

Neal Lester in China

Such exchanges allow faculty and students to consider teaching pedagogy related to specific content areas and provide optimal opportunities for English Department faculty and students to observe, learn about, and participate in Chinese culture. This new partnership will also involve faculty serving on graduate committees on both sides of the ocean, and Chinese and American students engaging in conversations electronically using Google Groups. Well over 100 Chinese and Korean students have requested participation in such a global conversation as cultural exchange. With the assistance of the ASU President’s Office, the Department of English and Dr. Lester are also exploring podcasting department classes as part of this university global engagement initiative.

Neal Lester in Korea

Indeed, as we embark on a range of faculty and student partnerships between this department and Pusan National University (Korea), Korea University (Seoul), Royal Holloway University (London), the University of Jendouba (Tunisia), the University of Calgary (Canada), and Chonbuk National University (Korea) and seek opportunities with neighboring universities in Mexico and Latin America, it is clear that this department has a responsibility and a desire to experience the world and education from multiple and diverse perspectives. “As different as are these perspectives and experiences,” adds Dr. Shilling, “these human stories—embedded in folklore, poetry, fiction and nonfiction—provide the touchstone that connects us to each other.” That teaching, research, and service are interconnected for students and faculty alike means that these connections between the local, national, and international are occurring simultaneously. This department is making an impact on the world, and the world is making its mark on this department in the best possible ways.

Neal Lester in China

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Updated: August 5, 2007