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Teaching Experiences -- China Connection

October 2008 By Regis Delmontagne
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IN A little over a year, I returned overseas to Wuhan University (my wife, Elena, also joined me) to teach Professional Business English for the printing and packaging industry. What a change has occurred in China in that short time!

First of all, the weather: My first teaching assignment there was winter 2006-2007. Cold and damp outside, the same could be said for inside the classroom, the faculty dining room--everywhere. Teaching with a sweater over two shirts, and a leather coat over that, barely kept me warm. But I could walk around the classroom. The students, equally dressed for the weather, were, unfortunately, confined to their desks...but, we all survived.

Returning in the spring allowed all of us to walk around with a light jacket or sweater, and teaching became more comfortable for both me and the students.

The mood of the students this year was altered considerably, not so much by the weather, but by their frequent questioning about whether there is a printing industry ready to hire them after graduation. More than one asked if they were studying a subject that was in rapid free fall. Should they instead be studying packaging, which they believe had an almost guaranteed rocketing growth rate and promise of a good position after graduation?

Reading, Printing on Rise

Their questions had some personal experiences behind it--none of my students in the printing section read a daily newspaper; a few glanced at one infrequently. None of them read a magazine or book other than for required reading. They get their news from the Internet, of course. I realized they are laden down with class projects and homework, so they don't have much free time to read.

But when you see the number of bookstores and kiosks selling newspapers and magazines everywhere, they should take solace in the fact that print is very much alive in China. On average, residents of the major Chinese cities read two books a year, a figure not much different than here in the United States.

I did my best to convince the students that while print is leveling off or slightly declining in the United States and the Western world, not so in China. The potential in China is mind boggling, when one considers the sheer size of the population. Consider the fact that China now has a middle class of about 350 million people who are literate and do read. Also consider that there are another 1 billion Chinese people who potentially will become readers, and the numbers get scary if only 100 or 200 million actually become literate. The printing industry here has a long way to go before it starts a downward movement. So banish the concept that print is dying in China!



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