Already no stranger to China, Dr. Jeff Schonberg is the latest ASU representative to head to the Far East and help pave the way for more international students to come to Angelo State.
A professor of English, Schonberg teaches courses in ASU’s new master’s degree program with a concentration in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), which accepted its first students this fall. ASU recently signed a contract with Xianyang Normal University in China to bring its graduate students into the TESOL program, and Schonberg spent a month at Xianyang this summer taking the first steps toward making that happen.
Since virtually all Chinese college students already know English, he primarily worked with faculty on other aspects of the program.
“Their students need to learn how to function in a Western classroom,” Schonberg said. “Part of what I was teaching their faculty is what it’s like to be a student over here. They had never had anything like that, so now they have a better idea of what is needed. I was also teaching them a lot about English linguistics, which they had never had.”
“One new thing I suggested was that they form a consortium of universities in that area so they can pool their resources to help prepare students who want to come to ASU,” he added. “Just about 8-10 kilometers away is the city of Xi’an, which has about 11 million people and universities all over the city. They are trying to form a consortium among all those schools to improve the caliber of students that could come over here.”
While this part of ASU’s international recruiting efforts remains in its infancy, Schonberg sees China as a tremendous future resource for students in both the TESOL program and eventually other academic fields, as well.
“There are a large number of smaller universities looking for U.S. schools to send their students to,” Schonberg said. “We are being given the opportunity to tap into that and have their students come over here. The head of Xianyang’s international office told me, ‘You’ve built a bridge.’ So we have those opportunities, which we didn’t before.”
“I think we have the opportunity to develop something that will really stand out in the years to come.”
And it’s not the first bridge Schonberg has built in China. As mentioned above, he is no stranger to the country, having been involved in a Language Rescue Program not far from Xianyang since 1996.
“It’s basically trying to save a language that has never been written down and is in danger of dying out because the speakers are dying out,” Schonberg said. “I’ve been working on that in the mountains of the Henan Province where this group of speakers lives. There are very few of them left, and they speak what they call ‘Jone,’ which is an Asian language that has no relationship to Mandarin or Cantonese. The closest relative it has is spoken in Western Tibet.”
During his ASU trip this summer, Schonberg spent some of his down time exploring tombs and trying to track ancestors of the Jone-speakers. But he did some regular touristy stuff, as well.
“I also went to lots of Buddhist temples,” he said. “I was also the first foreigner to set foot in this one restaurant, and the owner wanted to take a picture with me. Then some of the other people in the restaurant, and even some from out on the street, wanted to be in the picture, too. The owner printed it and has it hanging on the wall right next to this shrine he has to his father, grandfather and brother. I consider it a place of honor.”
All in all, Schonberg considers his trip a great success and has high hopes for the future of ASU’s relationship with universities in China.
“This consortium they are building could really offer some big opportunities,” he said, “not only for their students coming over here, but also for our graduates to go over there. I know that they would really like to see some of our TESOL graduates. They would snap them up very quickly for employment. I think we have the opportunity to develop something that will really stand out in the years to come.”