Over the summer, Natasha Bowen became only the second faculty member at UNC’s School of Social Work to teach a three-week course at Renmin University’s International Summer School in Beijing, China.
Bowen was selected to participate in the program, which brings scholars together from all over the world, thanks to encouragement and support from former School colleague, Shenyang Guo, the only other UNC social work faculty member who has participated in the initiative. Guo, now on faculty at Washington University in St. Louis, taught a course at nearby Peking University during Bowen’s three-week teaching stint in July.
Bowen’s course on structural equation modeling attracted students from various disciplines, including public administration, sociology and social work. About 25 people, including undergrads, master’s students, and couple of faculty members, attended the class.
“It was a valuable experience for the students because they were exposed to a different teaching style and to a topic they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to,” Bowen said. “I was impressed with the students. They all worked very hard, and I think they know that it really is a privilege to be at the university and to get an advanced education.”
The course, which was taught in English, also immersed students in a language that many are still learning, she added.
As a first-time visitor to China, Bowen said she also appreciated her own immersion experience, mainly for helping her to better understand “what our international students go through.”
“I was only there three weeks, but it was hard not having anybody around who spoke fluent English and who was culturally similar enough that I could really relax and be myself,” she said. “At the same time, it was also amazing to realize our cultural differences and to have the experience where people actually looked at me with curiosity, including little children. Although I am well-traveled, I had never been in a situation like that before.”
When she wasn’t teaching, Bowen took in many historic cultural sites, including the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.
Although the trip was overwhelming at times, Bowen is eager to return and hopes other faculty members also will consider teaching in the summer program.
“It allows us to share social work content with students and scholars in a country where social work is a relatively new discipline. And it provides us with opportunities to collaborate on cross-cultural studies,” she said. “Such experiences are good for our professional development, our research, and for our students.”