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Intercultural journey, continued: Fulbright award to enrich teaching of Chinese language, culture

| Julie Poquette

For Dr. Kaishan Kong, teaching a foreign language is about more than ensuring her students attain language proficiency. It’s about helping them to be better global citizens.

Kong, assistant professor of Chinese in the department of languages at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, recently learned she has received a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to teach in China. The Fulbright award, she says, will allow her to serve students in her native China, further her teaching and research expertise, and continue to develop cultural awareness among her students both in China and at UW-Eau Claire.

While Kong applied to teach in China during the fall 2020 semester, her appointment will not begin until after Jan. 1, 2021, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Kong has immersed herself in various languages and cultures along her academic and career path. After completing both her K-12 and undergraduate college education in China, Kong went on to earn a master’s degree in intercultural communication in the United Kingdom and a doctorate in second languages and cultures education in the U.S. She has been a member of the UW-Eau Claire languages faculty since 2014.

“My intercultural journey in the U.S. and the U.K. will allow me to examine Chinese education in a new light,” Kong said. “Just like a fish out of its bowl, I am driven to look at my home culture through new lenses. The Fulbright-China program will bring my intercultural journey full circle. Through this opportunity, I look forward to interacting with a new generation of Chinese students, exchanging ideas with faculty in China and gathering authentic materials that reflect contemporary China to apply in my teaching in the U.S.”

Kong has an already impressive track record in her six years teaching at UW-Eau Claire, establishing the study of Chinese language and culture as an important component both within the languages department and throughout the wider university, said Dr. Matt Waters, professor of classics and chair of the languages department. Waters said Kong’s efforts have resulted in the creation of a certificate program in Chinese language study, a program that is growing rapidly since its implementation last year, with close to 30 students already enrolled.

“Professor Kong is an ideal department and university citizen who is both sensitive to and proactive about her role as a U.S. educator with valuable professional and personal connections to China,” Waters said. “Her experiences there while on a Fulbright cannot help but enhance what she is able to offer us here at UW-Eau Claire, and we heartily congratulate her.”

Kong said she plans to take a three-part approach in supporting the Fulbright program’s goal of developing international understanding by establishing open communication and long-term cooperative relationships in her host country. She hopes to build cross-cultural tandem learning projects between students at her Chinese host institution and Blugold students; establish collaborations with faculty at her Chinese host institution to work on research and/or cultural exchange projects; and explore opportunities for Blugolds to conduct internships and community service in China.

Kong said she had known about the Fulbright Scholar Program for some time and thought she would eventually like to apply, once she had grown enough professionally. Thanks to her UW-Eau Claire colleagues, she found the motivation to achieve that growth. 

"Within the languages department, I am constantly inspired by my colleagues’ exceptional work and achievements in language assessment, innovative teaching and dedication in study abroad programs," Kong said. "I am equally motivated by faculty from other disciplines and their endeavors to try different things. I remember saying to myself, 'We, as faculty, always encourage students to try and have no fear for failure. Why don’t I try?' This past summer, I decided to apply and feel very fortunate to receive the award."

Kong said she is thankful for the support she received from colleagues across campus during the competitive Fulbright application process, including staff in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, the Center for International Education and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, as well as Waters, her department chair.

Though her time in China will not start as soon as initially planned, Kong looks forward to her Fulbright experience with enthusiasm.

“Although I originally came from China, having been away for 10 years, I am constantly amazed at the rapid changes in China,” Kong said. “From something as small as everyday grocery shopping to the current generation’s mindset, China never ceases to amaze me. I want to collect as much as information as I can and share it with my community in the U.S. There is so much I want to do during the program. I can’t wait for it to launch.”

Photo caption: Dr. Kaishan Kong and students in one of her Chinese language and culture classes took advantage of a pre-2020 warm spring day and held their discussion on UW-Eau Claire's campus mall. Kong is the recipient of a recent Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to teach in China.