Hello from Hong Kong!
Teaching has been my primary means of fulfilling the Fulbright mission of cultural exchange. My courses—a seminar on the campus novel and a survey I call “the margins of the canon”—have facilitated discussions about American culture, some of which were more instructive for me than for my students.
There are plenty of differences here, and it’s hard to pinpoint which are due to broadly Asian values, which to the Hong Kong education system, and which to H.K.U.’s research environment. I found the students to be respectful, sometimes to the point of extreme deference. They have the reputation of being shy about class discussion, but I found that some patience and creativity could open them up. Classes here don’t start too punctually, and students require very specific directions for assignments—more specificity than I thought I had in me to provide. And while class instruction is in English, students often use Cantonese in their small group work, making it impossible for me to eavesdrop on their progress.
And in crucial ways my H.K.U. students are similar to the students I’ve taught at Lyon and elsewhere in the U.S.: hardworking, ambitious, and highly anxious about the future—the uncertainties of their job prospects, and certainties such as the dire wealth gap and insane real estate market in Hong Kong, not to mention the terminal point of 2047.
It’s hard to talk about my students without digressions–anecdotes about this issue or that, patterns I’m still trying to fit together, sweeping hemispheric generalizations. The Fulbright program’s opportunity to think and teach in a new context has been too rich to put into words. And likewise, I’ve begun to dread pressure to package this experience into smalltalk form when we’re back home. It feels too big to narrate it. So please forgive me if I see you around and you ask about Hong Kong and I can’t muster anything more than a bewildered shrug.
Anyway. Here’s a picture of me and one of my classes—a good group, willing to take some risks in discussion, interdisciplinary in their studies, ambitious in their writing, and patient with me as I continued to screw up with the course website.
Until next time (in the U.S.).
Wesley Beal is an associate professor of English at Lyon College. This fall he is serving as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar at the University of Hong Kong, where he teaches two courses in American literature and continues a study of the campus novel genre. Please reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have Hong Kong- or Fulbright-related questions for him to investigate. He’ll do his best to oblige in subsequent blog posts.
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