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WSE Graduate students take part in cultural and academic exchange

Doctoral students spend week in Beijing with Australian, Chinese counterparts

February 1, 2016 - It’s not often a graduate student gets to step away from his or her research to connect with others from the other side of the world, for the purpose of discussing doctoral research across cultures-- what it means to research across cultures and to challenge previously held understandings of language, research, education and the broader social cultural context.

It’s even less frequent for these students to have the opportunity to sit down together, face-to-face, to carry out these dialogues.

But that’s what recently took place for five doctoral students in the Werklund School of Education who travelled to China for a week with faculty coordinator Janet Groen and faculty advisor Sylvie Roy.  For five days, they took part in a research seminar with counterparts from Beijing Normal University (BNU) and Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT). 

While BNU and QUT were celebrating the tenth year of their academic and cultural exchange, the Werklund students were the first group from the University of Calgary to take part in the well-established exchange program.

The program was broken in to three segments; first, the selected Werklund students met to get to know each other, both personally and academically.  They also learned about educational reform in international contexts--in this case Australia, Canada and China.  

Next came the week long exchange in early December , where the students from the three universities got together in Beijing for a week long seminar, where they had the opportunity to learn from each other, formally through presentations and question and answer opportunities and informally through sharing meals, walking to various venues and coffee breaks.  “Watching the growing relationships unfold with the students from all three universities was wonderful to witness, says Groen, an associate professor whose focus is on adult education.

In the final phase, the students are continuing their engagement by participating in writing and presentation opportunities through the preparation of conference proposals, poster and lunch-and-learn presentations and co-authoring journal articles.   

“What is particularly unique about this doctoral research seminar is that it not just a simple exchange,” says Groen. 

“We’re seeing sustained engagement through all phases of the international doctoral research seminar, and that’s the real impact of program.  Students are really dialoguing about this broadening of their understanding of research--both the context and the process--and the opportunity to work with other doctoral students in China and Australia is certainly contributing to their own individual research programs in a very positive way.“ 

The students will meet in Calgary later this year for a program organized by the Werklund School, and in 2017, they will gather at QUT in Brisbane, Australia. In the meantime, Werklund students are holding an info session their research experience for faculty, post-doctoral scholars and graduate students on February 5; all are welcome to attend this free event, but an rsvp is requested by February 3 as a light lunch will be served.  Please email educres@ucalgary.ca. to rsvp or for more information. 

Xueqin Wu, PhD candidate in Language and Diversity

What do you, as a student, find most important about this type of exchange?

The most important (element)about such an exchange is that it provides an opportunity for PhD students to step outside of their routine life and gain fresh ideas about their research as well as new insights into their understanding of themselves as PhD students. As a student originally from China, I found the trip to Beijing especially enriching because after three years’ study in Canada, I started to notice things in China that I used to take for granted and (was) able to think about it from both the western perspective and the Chinese perspective, such as the meanings of Chinese way of hospitality, the air pollution, China’s economic development, and China’s rise as an economic and political power in international affairs.  

How do you think this program might influence your future work/career?

This program provided an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with other PhD students and faculty members. It established a network through which PhD students and faculty members are working collaboratively to present at conferences and publish journal articles. Not only can students learn from each other, but more importantly, they get guidance and advice from experienced faculty members, valuable resources for their future career development. 

Jonathon Woodend, PhD student in Counselling Psychology

What do you, as a student, find most important about this type of exchange?

As a graduate student, we are often unaware of the academic culture that exists within our own institution and how it might compare or contrast to those at other universities. This culture informs how we approach courses and learning, research, networking with peers, and even our post-graduation careers. This exchange highlighted the existence of these different institutional cultural experiences of being a ‘grad student’. For example, at the University of Calgary, doctoral students take courses yet at Queensland University of Technology, students are expected to work independently without any courses. This awareness of these different school cultures brought a greater understanding of how diverse academia is and how colleagues from around the world may approach a problem differently, even when they come from the same field as you. This exchange allowed for these experiences to be understood because we had the time and space to work closely with each other.

How do you think this program might influence your future work/career?

Moving forward with my career, this program has situated me to start thinking and acting globally. My research has focused on the Canadian-context regarding immigrant and international students’ career development. At this exchange, I made connections with other researchers looking at international transitions from the Chinese and Australian context. These collaborative partnerships will refocus my research to incorporate diverse perspectives in helping individuals adjust to international transitions. My hope is that I will be able to learn effective and innovative ways of helping newcomers to Canada integrate into the workforce while also showcasing the best Canadian-grown practices to the world in a mutual give-and-take of resources. Without this exchange, I might not have had the opportunity to make these partnerships and certainly would not have been able to meet my future collaborators face-to-face, which, I believe, accelerated our understanding of potential projects on which to work.

Lisa Fedoruk, PhD Student in Adult Learning

What do you, as a student, find most important about this type of exchange?

The importance of this type of exchange is composed of opportunities to experience first-hand contexts surrounding the environmental, political, social and emotional intricacies of a sojourn. As a student, this experience has allowed me to become part of and contribute to an international community of practice that enables ongoing networking, and sharing of ideas and co-constructed discourse across borders. Meeting and interacting with the members of the international doctoral forum as well as experiencing the physical environment of Beijing, has given me an additional perspective that has supported my reflective and reflexive practices as a student and novice researcher. Developing this partnership has also created vast opportunities for academic writing and publishing.

How do you think this program might influence your future work/career?

Involvement in this program has proven to be a unique experience as the University of Calgary is a newcomer in the partnership with BNU and QUT and is currently in its initial year of participation. Being a member of the International Doctoral Research Seminar has provided interest, credibility, direction, influence and adds context to potential areas of future work / career opportunities I hope to pursue in the future.

Avis Beek, EdD Candidate in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning.

What do you, as a student, find most important about this type of exchange?

This exchange experience was very important for me for two reasons. I live in Prague in the Czech Republic and am a distance student who studies online, generally asynchronously. I am a member of the wonderful EdD Integral Theory cohort and really value our supportive online community that we have created. However, this seminar was a wonderful opportunity to meet face-to-face and connect with real live people! I very much enjoyed talking with other doctoral students and professors about my and their work, comparing our experiences and extending our network of support. The exchange was also important for me as my research focuses on intercultural experiences of high school students. The seminar was an opportunity to turn the lens of myself in an intercultural setting. This has not only led to reflective introspection but has enriched my understanding of the experience of the participants in my own research.

How do you think this program might influence your future work/career?

I feel that meeting scholars from the three universities opened my eyes to continued opportunities for international collaboration among scholars. Additionally, the affordances and challenges of working and researching across cultures was a theme we spoke of in the seminar that definitely will be relevant as I continue my career in international education.

Xiang Li, PhD candidate in Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning

What do you, as a student, find most important about this type of exchange?

What is most important for me is that the exchange program allows me to problematize what I used to take for granted. For example, why are we using English only even in a non English speaking country? The exchange may also provide the opportunity to let the once silenced voice be heard.

How do you think this program might influence your future work/career?

I am currently working with new immigrants, and this program has opened possibilities for me to see from their perspectives and to take into consideration their concerns. It has also raised awareness regarding cultural difference, which I will pay more attention to in my work.