A few weeks ago, I met one of our recently graduated seniors for breakfast. Peisong (Steven) was leaving the next day to go back to China for the summer before heading to King’s College in London to begin his studies.
Steven had been my student for two years and we have grown close in my favorite way – we taught each other. Last year, Steven was my student in Contemporary Worldviews; this year, he was in my Government class. I have been humbled by Steven sharing how much he has learned from those classes as well as from our conversations before, after, and outside of class.
Sitting and enjoying our final conversation of the year, I realized that as much as Steven and his fellow International Students may have taken away from my classes, I have learned more. As a historian and an unrepentant news junkie, I have always tried to take a broad view of the world while seeking to draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas. However, I’ve come to realize that my data set and ideas have always been based on a decidedly western view of the world.
Over the last few years, sharing a classroom with intelligent, creative, and enthusiastic students from Asia, I have had an opportunity to expand my own perspectives on the world and to broaden the ideas I am able to share with all of my students.
As an example, last year, with the help of my Chinese students, I tried to expose students to Taoism and help them to develop a basic understanding of the differences between Eastern and Western thinking. Our study turned to China again as we tried to comprehend the political and economic differences between Capitalist and Communist systems. With the help of our Chinese scholars, we were all able to realize that one must take into consideration the basic differences between Eastern and Western thinking in order to understand how Communism and Capitalism are able to coexist so smoothly in China.
Today, I am a better teacher, a clearer thinker, and, I believe, a more knowledgeable citizen because of what I have learned about the world from my International Students. As I enjoy some rest and plan for the next school year, I look forward to continuing my own studies while bringing more of what I have learned to all of my students.