UM-Flint English Language Instructor Details Trip to China and Brazil

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UM-Flint English Language Instructor Kathrine Colpaert
UM-Flint English Language Instructor Kathrine Colpaert

Kathrine Colpaert, an English Language Instructor within the English Language Program at the University of Michigan-Flint, recently took a four week multipurpose trip to China and Brazil. She discussed the benefits of the trip for the university, what draws international students to UM-Flint, and more in this Q&A with University Relations.

Can you summarize where you traveled to, for how long, and who you met with on this trip?

I spent 4 weeks traveling in China and Brazil to recruit, teach, and develop connections and partnerships with new schools. For the first week in China, I traveled in several cities near Shanghai with one of our university representatives to meet with Chinese high school and college education officials, English teachers, and students. I spent the following two weeks in Shenzhen, where I taught, conducted teacher training, presented on UM-Flint admissions, and did one-on-one student counseling at two different schools. I also got to help establish an English Club and Model UN Club.

Finally, during the fourth week, I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I met up with the students I taught in our January short-term program, English for Health Professionals. They helped arrange meetings at medical schools to promote that specific program to medical students, which surprisingly generated interest among several medical faculty who expressed an interest in a program tailored to instructors.

What was unique about this trip and the approach?

Because I am an English language instructor who has been trained in international admissions, I was able to work in a variety of roles during this trip that made it unique compared to more traditional recruitment trips.

For example, when I met with school officials in China, I had the chance to not only present about UM-Flint and connect with students, but I was also able to offer teacher training that promoted our short-term program, English and Teaching Methods for English Teachers. This generated interest among other faculty at an IT college we visited, who are now looking at ways to connect with us to send their professionals for exchanges as short as 2 weeks and as long as 6 months, which would include a language component in our English Language Program and lecture component in their fields, which are primarily Business, Engineering, and Information Technologies.

By being able to connect in these ways, we not only get to welcome these guests in our short-term and scholar programs, but we get to stay connected when they return home because they are able to share about the real UM-Flint experience with other students and faculty, which we hope will lead to long-term partnerships.

Also, because we spent the first week meeting just one school a day each day, we were able to develop unique kinds of relationships, taking the time to get to know about their school and share about UM-Flint, take a campus tour, observe English classes, meet teachers and students, present on admissions, discuss how our institutions could collaborate, and finish with a wonderful, welcoming dinner at the end of the day, which was a fantastic cultural experience for me (it was my first time in China!). 

Kathrine Colpaert was able to experience the learning environment in China firsthand.
Kathrine Colpaert was able to experience the learning environment in China firsthand.

What are the potential short and long-term benefits of these efforts and the relationships built during the trip? How does this benefit current students?

The short-term benefits of this trip will hopefully be in several short-term programs in our English Language Program, in addition to some potential scholars. In the long-term, we hope this “quality over quantity” model of recruitment will demonstrate our sincere interest in investing in these schools to have a long-term relationship versus a one-stop-shop at a recruitment fair, where we only get to meet with students briefly and superficially.

As far as it benefiting  current students, we are always looking to increase our international student population and diversity to add that extra perspective and unique background to the mix, which in turn benefits our domestic students and entire campus community. The intercultural exchange between international students and our UM-Flint staff is invaluable, adding a certain depth to the education you can receive here at UM-Flint that helps you grow both on a personal and professional level.

What qualities of UM-Flint interest and intrigue potential university and high school partners abroad?

One of the most appealing qualities of UM-Flint that interested potential partners abroad was our variety of short-term programs, which range from 2 to 7 weeks and run throughout the year. Our short-term programs include Academic English, Business English, Medical English, English and Teaching Methods for Teachers, and more. These types of programs are appealing for a variety of reasons; first, the cost for a short-term program is generally much more affordable to a wider group of students and professionals versus long-term programs; second, it allows students who normally might not be able to commit to a full 2- or 4-year program abroad to have an international experience; third, it provides a certain flexibility to students and faculty to have an intensive language, cultural, and civically-engaged experience during their holiday and summer vacation times; and finally, international students can get to know UM-Flint and its community during these short-term programs, allowing them to make a more informed decision about their future university studies if they plan to study abroad (which many of them do). A further appealing quality is how these short-term programs are able to be tailored to fit the needs and interests of the groups that participate.

Are there certain things you learned from the visits that you can incorporate into your teaching or other work at UM-Flint?

There are so many things that I learned from this trip that will not only influence the ways we think about international student recruitment, but the way I think about teaching (which I’ll also be able to share with my colleagues in future meetings and “share shops”). While I had previously had Chinese students in my classes and knew some things generally about their cultures and academic backgrounds, there is no replacement for first-hand experience. So, when I was in China and got to both observe and teach in English language classrooms, I was able to gain a deeper understanding about how Chinese students’ backgrounds influence their experiences in the U.S. both in and outside of the classroom. While I may have known from textbooks and word of mouth about the more traditional, lecture-based, teacher-centered classrooms that Chinese students generally have, seeing and experiencing it with my own eyes — and for this length of time — widened my perspective in a new way, which will allow me to better serve both my future Chinese students in the classroom, as well as from a student services perspective.

Similarly, in Brazil, where I got to visit two medical schools to promote our short-term program, I learned so much just from meeting medical professionals, students, and touring their campuses. Further, while it was unfortunate, I did fall ill during my week there and had to visit a hospital, and going through that process (with my former students along to help me) was eye-opening as well, and I was thinking non-stop about differences between U.S. and Brazilian health care the whole time, which will definitely add a new layer to the discussion the next time I teach that course this July! Not to mention, once I was feeling better, I was able to joke with my former students that helping me navigate through a hospital in Brazil using English was actually their final exam and the real reason for me being there!

I could not have anticipated the degree to which this recruitment trip would affect me both from a recruiter and teacher’s perspective, and I’m excited about the ways in which we’ll be able to utilize this information, these connections, and so much more both in future trips as well as in and outside the classroom here at UM-Flint.

Robert is a staff writer in the Office of University Relations. Contact him with comments, questions, and story ideas.