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An Auspicious Beginning to COSEE-China

March 12, 2010 in China by Carrie Armbrecht

blog entry by Eric Simms

I was expecting a lot of things upon my arrival in Beijing – new sights, new sounds, new food, new people.  But not snow.  Although it’s not unusual for it to be cold in Beijing this time of year, it is unusual for it to snow there.  Not only was I surprised, but our Chinese colleagues were, too – especially the ones who had to travel across the city for an early start to our meeting.  It turned out, however, that the snow is considered an auspicious sign that the gods are smiling in our favor, so our efforts here appeared to be off to a good start.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this workshop.  Initially I imagined that a number of differences – e.g., language, how the research and education communities are structured – would outweigh our ability to make significant progress in our limited time together.  But after four days, I’m encouraged and excited about the possibility of advancing ocean sciences education in China.  We’ve had a chance to learn about the state of ocean science research and education from many Chinese scientists and educators, and have done our best to reciprocate.

As I write this, we’re all on a 3-hour flight from Xiamen (pronounced ‘sha-men’) to Qingdao (pronounced ‘ching-dow’).  We’ve just finished a 48-hour visit on the southern China coast to visit one of the leading oceanographic institutions in the country – Xiamen University.  Our time was spent visiting high school and undergraduate students and educators, and ocean scientists, to learn more about how their education and research programs are structured.

Interestingly enough, scientists and educators here share many of the same challenges and constraints as those in the U.S. – primarily, limited time and resources, and swimming against the tide of established professional cultures that are often resistant to change.  Not surprisingly, Chinese students would rather not spend their days in a class room any more than students in the U.S., perhaps even more so since their days begin at 7;30 and end at 4:30, followed by 3 hours of homework.

In general, the pre-college education experience for Chinese students is based on a very prescribed, rigorous curriculum largely determined by the federal government. A tremendous amount of importance is placed on standardized tests that students take in middle school and high school, which largely determine whether or not they are able to attend university, and what career opportunities they will be able to pursue.  As a Chinese student, your academic performance can either open or close doors of opportunity, but once they close it can be nearly impossible to open them again. As a result, Chinese students are under a tremendous amount of pressure to excel at their studies.

Similar to the U.S., ocean science concepts are largely absent from the Chinese curriculum and testing, and their educational system appears to leave little room for including new approaches.  For those of us engaged in ocean sciences education in the US. it is encouraging to know that we are facing the same challenges, and may be able to work together towards some common solutions.  But perhaps most important is the desire and will that has been expressed by all parties during this workshop to move forward with this collaboration.  It may all begin with small steps, and time will tell the outcome, but it seems like the right people and organizations are involved to get things moving and affect some change.

I’ll sign off by sharing the Chinese character for ‘ocean’.  Collectively, it’s a combination of the three characters for water, mother, and man – taken together it translates as ‘The ocean is the mother of all mankind’.  It’s hard to think of a more fitting reminder of the fact that there is only one global ocean, and just as the ocean takes care of all of us, we’re all on the hook to return the favor.

海 The ocean = 水 water + 人 man + 母 mother

Collaboration Commences

March 8, 2010 in China by Carrie Ferraro

Today was the first official day of the workshop and, along with the compulsory nametag, each participant was presented with a gift bag containing a commemorative COSEE t-shirt and a beautiful plaque from our Chinese collaborators.  These will make amazing keepsakes of our experience.

The meeting began with welcoming speeches and introductions.  Then it was time to get down to business. We learned about the state of ocean science research and education in both countries.  As Dr. Chen noted, comparing crocodiles and alligators will give you more information than studying just the croc, meaning comparing our two systems will help us to learn more about our own.  After the talks outlining the background information and lunch, we moved on to talk of the COSEE Network.  We learned the origins of COSEE, how it is run, and were provided with an example of a successful COSEE center, COSEE Southeast.  Now we were prepped for group discussions.  We split ourselves into groups with representatives from both countries and shared our ideas on the purpose and goals of a COSEE China.  We also identified barriers and opportunities for COSEE China and international collaboration.  This productive dialogue was followed by a poster session.

Participants from both countries exhibited their work and everyone was engaged in lively interaction. Lastly, it was time for dinner. The food was delicious though mysterious, even our Chinese friends could not identify all of the dishes. After dinner, we parted ways, some left to blog and e-mail while others rested up for another productive day.

China bound!

March 3, 2010 in China by Ari Daniel

We visit the Great Wall of China upon arriving.  Credit: National Geographic Society.

We visit the Great Wall of China upon arriving. Credit: National Geographic Society.

This Friday I head to China with 14 other COSEE members! We’re visiting Beijing, Xiamen and Qingdao to participate in a workshop discussing the possibility of establishing a COSEE-China. I’m really looking forward to the trip, though I have a lot to do before I leave like packing (!), backing up my hard drive, and finding the right power adaptor. It will be relatively cool this time of year so I plan to bring plenty of warm clothes.

Check back here between 7-13 March for blog updates of our travels and the workshop!

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