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Jane Jackson on Education Abroad

Prof. Jane Jackson
Professor in the Department of English, recipient of 2013 University Education Award

What brought you to Hong Kong, and to CUHK?

From 1991 to 1994, I worked as a consultant for the Canada-China Teacher Education Project at Beijing Normal University and used to stop in Hong Kong on my way to and from China. At that time I was the director of a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) Centre at a university in Halifax and I wanted to have more time for research. I knew that CUHK had a good reputation and I thought that Hong Kong would be an excellent place to do research in my field and I was right! When I first started to work here in 1995, I had no idea how long I'd stay… I've now been in Hong Kong for more than18 years!

You are an advocate of learning English through studies abroad, and have successfully facilitated such programmes before. Can you share with us some of your experience and findings?

In our increasingly interconnected world it's very important for universities to internationalize. Education abroad is part of this process. From 2001 to 2009, I helped organize and taught in a study abroad programme for English majors that involved ethnographic fieldwork and a summer sojourn in England. Since 2009, I've been studying the impact of a semester or year abroad on the language and intercultural learning and 'whole-person development' of CUHK students. I'm now leading a joint project on education abroad that involves Tsinghua University, Nanjing University, and Fudan University. I'm also investigating the experiences of incoming international exchange students on our campus.

While international experience certainly has the potential to be transformative, sojourns are actually quite variable. While some students experience significant gains in second language proficiency and become more globally-minded, others do not really make the most of their stay in a different linguistic and cultural environment. Many researchers, including me, now advocate some form of intervention, such as intercultural communication courses and ongoing, guided reflection. To maximize education abroad learning, the 'Global Scholar' website offers online support for student sojourners and returnees.

What other advice would you offer future international exchange students?

Before venturing abroad, it's important to think about specific goals for the sojourn. For example, they can think about what they want to achieve in terms of personal, academic, social, and professional enhancement. Instead of living with other Hong Kong students, they could stay with host nationals or other international students who have a different linguistic and cultural background. While abroad, they could challenge themselves to try new things and actively participate in extracurricular activities. Many host institutions offer orientation programmes to help students adjust to the new environment and these can be helpful. Also, culture shock is a natural part of the adjustment process and if students persevere, they can gain a tremendous amount from their sojourn. I would also encourage incoming international exchange students to get out of their comfort zone and more fully benefit from what Hong Kong has to offer.

While I strongly encourage all students to venture abroad, it's also important to recognize that local students can have intercultural experiences on our campus. We now have many more non-local students, including students from mainland China, and I would like to see more meaningful intercultural interactions at CUHK.

You are one of the two recipients of the 2013 University Education Award, the highest accolade for teaching excellence in CUHK. What does the award mean to you, and what would you cite as your most remarkable achievement in your career here so far?

I felt very honoured and deeply grateful to receive this award. For me, it shows that the University is genuinely concerned about the quality of teaching on campus and really values research that is designed to enhance teaching and learning.

I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to create several postgraduate and undergraduate courses that stem directly from my research on language and intercultural communication and education abroad. Most recently, with the support of a Teaching Development Grant, I developed 'Intercultural Transitions: Making Sense of Education Abroad', an elective course for undergraduates with recent or current international experience. This course encourages local and non-local students to interact with each other as they 'unpack' their experiences and critically reflect on their assumptions and behaviour in intercultural interactions.

Also, with the support of a Teaching Development Grant, I started the CUHK's Annual Study Abroad Writing Contest, which is now in its third year. The winning essays are posted on the website of the Office of Academic Links.

The Nobel prize for literature was recently awarded to a fellow-Canadian of yours. Do you have books that are particularly to your liking?

My mother read many of Alice Munro's books and she would have been delighted to see that Ms. Munro has won this prestigious award. I am looking forward to reading her books as my mother has left me her collection.

Not surprisingly, I very much enjoy reading books that focus on Chinese culture as well as intercultural and international transitions. On my last conference trip, I read Adeline Yen Mah's autobiography Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter . Another book on transitions that I've read recently is Driving over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain . It's about an English couple who relocated to the Alpujarra Mountains in Southern Spain.