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How Brenau University continues bridging American, Chinese cultures
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From left, Yi Crystal Wang, Xiangqian Cathy Wu and Xinyan Daisy Qiu are escorted by Eugene Williams, dean of Brenau University's College of Education. - photo by Courtesy Brenau University

Cultural exchange isn’t something Brenau University takes lightly. 

Ed Schrader, former president of Brenau who founded the university’s Chinese exchange program, said the staff’s job is to “find ways to help students continue to experience new and different cultures.”

Schrader, who leads the program, and Brenau faculty members have helped build a bridge between Brenau and Anhui Normal University located in Wuhu, China. This year marks the fourth Anhui Normal graduating class to come through Brenau. 

Students from Anhui Normal complete their last two years of their undergraduate degrees by attending Brenau. Schrader said the Chinese students typically major in English, interior design or early childhood education. 

Before the students pack their bags and head to Gainesville, Schrader said they have a bit of a crash course in American customs to prepare them for their trip. 

Every semester Brenau sends three to five faculty members to Anhui Normal to teach the students American English and other American learning styles to soften the culture shock.

Brenau also sends over a group of undergraduate students in May to get to know the Anhui Normal students.
“We do this so they’ll have friends ready and waiting for them on campus,” he said. “When they come over here there’s less of a culture and learning shock.”

Schrader said Brenau currently has around 100 students from Anhui Normal at the university.  

He said the program forms bonds among students and faculty and generates tuition revenue. The biggest change the partnership has brought to Brenau is the increase in enrollment, he said. 

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Right, Ed Schrader, former president of Brenau University, speaks with students who are a part of the Anhui Normal University and Brenau partnership during a luncheon on May 4, 2018. - photo by Courtesy Brenau University

“Traditional liberal arts programs are in general decline across the U.S. in most undergraduate schools,” Schrader said. “To see enrollment in English jump by 50 to 100 students, it’s really terrific. It helps us bolster those undergraduate programs, where in normal situations, they’re really struggling.”

Brenau has also established connections with Anhui Business College and Anhui University of Chinese Medicine. 

While the business college hasn’t sent its students to Brenau yet, members of its faculty have visited the campus to train. Schrader said the Anhui Business faculty have taken intensive short courses to learn American teaching methods. 

The program with the college for Chinese medicine hasn’t taken off yet. Schrader said this is due to the challenge of aligning American medical teaching with traditional Chinese practices. But, he assures Brenau is not giving up. 

“The health care programs just from a curricular base and subject matter are really different,” Schrader said. “There's a lot to be said about bringing the two medicines together. One of the areas we are most interested in is how to care for aging populations.”

Arranging to bring Chinese students to an American university isn’t a walk in the park. Approval is not only required by the institutions but the Chinese government. 

At the moment, Schrader said there’s some readjustment in international relations around the world. Brenau is having to restructure the exchange program’s curriculum and how they put together their classes to accommodate new regulations from the Chinese Ministry of Education.

What goes on at the government level, Schrader said, doesn’t tamper with the way the Brenau and Anhui Normal faculty feel about one another and their students. 

“On a day-to-day basis, China and America have a great deal of respect for another,” he said. “All the universities work to cooperate with each other and accommodate whatever governmental regulation changes, so we don’t stall the important building of relationships at the student level. The important thing is not to let (relationships) die.”

Schrader first traveled to China in 1987. He was working as a geologist in a mining company that partnered with the Chinese province of Anhui. 

“Outside of my home south in Central Mississippi, I have never found a more friendlier, receptive and open people than the people I found in the countryside of Anhui province,” he said.

Schrader has traveled around the world in his academic career. Out of all of the countries he has visited, China has remained his favorite.

“I’ve always felt that the Chinese culture is arguably the strongest oldest culture and American is the strongest youngest culture,” he said. “They seemed to be natural global partners. And the only way that really works is to get the young people together so that they build lifelong relationships.”

Since the first group of 27 Anhui Normal students pulled up to Brenau in 2016, Schrader has seen his dream of strengthening the bonds between the two cultures flourish. 

“You notice that when the new students come here, they sit in groups of their own friends,” Schrader said. “By the time they leave, they’re sitting at tables mixed from students from Atlanta, Mexico and Brazil. You see that interaction that happens an inch at a time.”