A “Bit of a Shock” for Dr. Stephen Schwark in China
UIS global studies professor Dr. Stephen Schwark arrived at Heilongjiang University in the middle of the night. He and his wife, Elaine Rundle-Schwark, were in Harbin, China as part of UIS’ China Faculty Exchange program.
As the Schwarks began to get settled into their faculty apartment, their guide announced that there would be no water for the plumbing facilities during the night. The university had running water only during certain limited hours.
Seeing Steve’s surprise, the guide said, “You know, Steve, we ARE a third-world country.”
Valuable Academic Insights
Looking back, Steve considers this one of the most helpful “academic” insights he received while in China.
“China is becoming more and more important,” Steve says. “In the context of all that we think about China—how big it is, how many people, how its economy is growing so fast—in many respects it’s still a very poor place.”
And indeed, during his visits to China, Steve has seen plenty of evidence of both China’s economic strides and continuing poverty—even on city streets, where he and Elaine saw everything from donkey carts to BMW’s. Seeing this contrast in person was a “bit of a shock” for Steve and certainly enriched his teaching here at UIS.
The UIS Faculty Exchange Program with Heilongjiang University
UIS has had a faculty exchange program with Heilongjiang University in the People’s Republic of China for almost 30 years. After a brief interruption toward the end of our SSU days, the program began again in 1996 under the direction of Steve Schwark.
Every year since 1996, a professor from the Heilongjiang University has spent a year at UIS—17 professors in all, and each year a UIS faculty members goes to China for six to eight weeks. Most Chinese faculty members teach English or linguistics, but UIS sends faculty from throughout the university.
“This is an important program for UIS,” says Hilary Frost-Kumpf, UIS global studies professor. “We are introducing American scholars to China. It doesn’t matter what professors are studying. This is an important part of the world that we all need to know better.”
Valuable for Chinese Professors
Chinese professors value what they learn here at UIS as well. While here, professor do research, usually in literature or communications, and often publish their results. They also learn a great deal from UIS professors about teaching. “They look to us as models,” Steve says, “for things they can do and apply in their classrooms.”
In addition to academic information, Chinese faculty frequently mention two additional insights they gain about life in the States:
- A chance for solitude: “One beautiful fall afternoon,” Steve says, “we took a professor from China to Lake Springfield. We were the only ones there, and she looked around, and said, ‘Where are all the people?’ In China, there are always people around. Here, she could go to this beautiful place and be completely alone.” Coming from a country so densely populated, the opportunity to be alone is foreign to them.
- Clean air: Professors always comment on the blue skies and the deep breaths of fresh air they can take here in Springfield. “In China,” Steve says, “they wear masks every day during the wintertime because the smog is so bad.”
Many Chinese faculty members consider Springfield their second home, a place they know they will always be welcomed. The program builds a great deal of good will for faculty from both countries, with all the faculty gaining valuable global insights.
Work With Us to Make the Program Stronger
Each university provides visiting scholars with housing and a stipend, as well as a small budget for travel and books. Steve works very closely with Chinese faculty visiting UIS, and so he knows how quickly these funds run out.
Steve is retiring soon. When we asked him about starting a fund in his honor, so that friends, former students, and others to recognize his retirement, he requested this: a gift fund in Steve’s name that will provide these funds for travel and other expenses to visiting Chinese faculty members.
Please send your gift to the new Dr. Stephen J. Schwark China Exchange Program Fund, either by using the Donate button above or by sending your gift to the UIS Office of Development.