From the moment she arrived at the airport in Beijing, University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn Foster said she was showered with hospitality by the university’s partner school, Beijing University of Technology.

As part of a two week visit to commemorate a 25 year anniversary with the Chinese university, Foster said she met with the school’s president and senior leadership, was taken to whatever part of the city she wished to visit and was invited to lecture for the university students.

While meeting with the university’s president, Guo Guangsheng, Foster asked why the university officials were placing so much importance on this visit, when the Chinese university had relationships with about 60 other schools from around the world.

“They were being so friendly to me and I was trying to get a sense of why this would be important,” she said. “And he said, ‘We never forget who partnered with us first.'”

The exchange program started 25 years ago —— the same year the world watched as university students gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square for a protest that ended with bloodshed.

China was barely a decade past the Cultural Revolution, and Foster said the partnership formed between the Beijing University of Technology and UMF was a type of connection not common in 1989.

“At that time there were not the kinds of relationships that just about every university and college in the United States has now,” she said. “For UMF, it was a risky thing at the time. It was a rare, unusual move to make.”

Since the partnership was established, the number of international students studying in the U.S. has more than doubled from 386,851 to 819,644, according to the Institute of International Education.

The current agreement between the schools calls for the exchange of one faculty member and two students a year. The faculty members teach English and Chinese at the respective universities and the students get a chance to study while immersed in a different cultural setting.

Over the past 25 years, more than 125 students and faculty members from the schools participated in the program.

Foster said the two schools complement each other: the technical school has 20,000 students or about 10 times as many as UMF, one is urban while the other is based in rural New England, UMF is known for training teachers while the focuses on engineering, science and management.

Going forward, Foster said the two schools hope to expand the agreement to include exchanging more people. She said there is an interest from the Beijing university to learn more about the approach to grade school education in the United States.

UMF staff have also observed that the Chinese students have a more clear sense of what they plan to do to apply their agree and better follow-through to landing a career after graduation. As the exchange program continues, Foster said UMF faculty want to identify and adopt ways that the Beijing university leads students to job placement and post graduate success.

Foster also said faculty want to increase the number of students who study abroad and are exposed to foreign cultures as an undergrad.

“We have a low percentage of students, relatively speaking to other bigger schools, with international experience, and we’re looking very hard to push so students that may have been born and raised in Maine or may have traveled very little outside of Maine would be comfortable with and prosper in a study abroad setting,” she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]




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