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Sylvia Schroeder: Bridging DCU and WHU
Author:Hu Zixin  Date:2017-12-22  Clicks:

It is Sylvia Schroeder’s fourth visit to Wuhan University.

“My previous travels to Wuhan only lasted for one day each; they were only short business trips. Also, I haven’t seen the cherry blossom trees yet.” This time, however, she has been hired by WHU and is going to spend a whole year here in Wuhan. “The climate here is much colder than I expected, I’ll probably need to buy myself a warm jacket straight after this interview.” Wearing a thin suit, the cross-cultural communication scholar with fine, blonde hair from Dublin City University, Ireland, told us half in jest.

Working on the collaborative education program

Sylvia is now the Director of International Engagement for North East Asia in Dublin City University. This time she comes to WHU to mainly work on the collaborative education program with the International School of Software.

DCU has been working with WHU for a long time. Since 2010, the School of Electronic Engineering in DCU and the International School of Software in WHU have collaborated on an educational program in Electronic and Computer Engineering in which students from WHU will study in DCU for one year and then get an accredited degree from both universities.

“It started off as a very successful program, but changing circumstances and requirements have led us to believe that the arrangement should be formalized by seeking approval from the Ministry of Education.”

Sylvia in her office in the International School of Software

The improved Collaborative Education Program—MEng in Electronic and Computer Engineering—specializes in advanced data networks. Overall, it is quite similar with the former program, but there are also some significant differences. “The collaborative program we are working on at the moment is more formal,” says Sylvia, “It requires more on-the-ground teaching sessions here, involving the participation of some of our foreign professors coming to Wuhan University to teach.”

Once the program is approved, there will be lots of work awaiting. In order to make the program more practical, Sylvia has been working on some plans, expressing concern for both students and teachers: “On the one hand, I am planning to develop an orientation program for students so that they would get to know what to expect from the program as well as how to spend the time in Dublin. On the other hand, I am planning to initiate a program for our own teachers. So that when the professors come to WHU, they will be well prepared for a very delightful teaching and learning experience. I want to pass on to them in advance what I am learning myself with all the support I am getting from colleagues across WHU as well as from my amazing student assistants.”

Many students are interested in exchange programs, but they may also feel confused about what they will gain through the program, even with the confusion about living in a foreign country. However, Sylvia shares her ideas about studying abroad with us: “To me, going abroad is really a unique opportunity to do something different, to learn new skills, and generally, to horn your character. You will learn to be more persistent, because when you go to a new place, language might be your smallest barrier, there will be various difficulties in life or during study you need to overcome. Therefore, in this process you will become stronger and it makes you grow, I suppose so.”

A bridge connecting two distinctive schools

Sylvia arrived in Wuhan about five weeks ago. When we talked about her impression of the campus, she didn’t conceal her compliment for Wuhan University: “It’s a really beautiful campus. I am always told it is one of the most beautiful campuses in China, and my dad told me last week that apparently it is even one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.”

Sylvia says she has been warmly welcomed and well accepted by people here, and therefore is passionate towards contributing more. She is eager to participate in activities on campus and learn more about the university: “The university has so many things to offer and I really want to be a part of the campus.”

Sylvia at the WHU International Day

On November 1st, she attended the University of Aberdeen Day & Wuhan University International Day and communicated with a lot of students, who generally showed a strong will to go abroad and exchanged their ideas with Sylvia, “To me, it’s a good opportunity to find out what students are really interested in. What I’ve learned from that day is that students at all levels are really eager to go abroad, you know, even just for one semester, which also reminds me of our students back home in Ireland, who may be a little more hesitant to go abroad compared to Chinese students. I always find it really interesting to talk to students because it allows me then to talk to colleagues back home, who are trying to encourage our Irish students to go abroad as well.” In addition, she came over to the International Cultural Festival in WHU held on Nov. 18th and 19th, helping Alex, the only Irish student in WHU at present, to offer some Irish delicacies, sponsored by well-known Irish companies supported by the Irish Embassy in Beijing and Education in Ireland, to the participants to promote Irish culture here.

Sylvia with her friends in the International Cultural Festival 

Obviously, DCU and WHU are diverse in various ways, from the educational system and daily campus lifestyle. Take the master’s program for example, the master’s programs here in WHU, which is normally two or three years, is longer than in Ireland, which lasts just one year. Therefore, the program adds a lot more pressure on the students in Ireland since they need to complete pretty much the same amount of courses, only with a shorter period of time. It means students have to study really hard to do well in the master’s program.

In addition, most master’s students at DCU will not pursue a doctor’s degree after graduation; instead, they perform more practical tasks geared towards honing graduates’ employability.

It has been so many years since DCU started its cooperation with WHU on the first educational program, and there is still a long way to go. With the aim of promoting the partnership between Ireland and China, as well as improving the effectiveness of educational experiences between DCU and WHU, Sylvia shares her opinion with us on the possibilities of further cooperation between the two universities.

“There are a lot of areas in which both universities can cooperate together. First of all, in addition to the existing collaboration with the International School of Software, there are many other areas in which we can cooperate under, for instance, education, journalism and business management. Beyond that, there are exchanges and opportunities at the PhD level. I believe that at the moment the Irish government is trying to encourage more Irish students to go abroad while Wuhan University is also interested in bringing more international students to the campus, so I believe in the area of student exchange programs there will be many opportunities for us to cooperate. What’s more, in some research areas, the Irish government and the Chinese government started a program last year, and both governments have made funding available for research projects.”

In the wake of globalization, participating in collaborative programs is definitely a wonderful way to keep pace within a global society, though at the same time we still have some other methods to broaden our international perspective. Sylvia introduced a project set up in DCU named Global Classroom to us, where students from different countries work on common issues in different time zones. They might do that through video technology, for instance, but all work on the same problems together as teams. In addition, that’s a good way to get prepared for the workplace, because many workplaces nowadays are located across multiple countries. This project helps students to learn across cultures, practice teamwork, and learn to solve problems together without actually being in the same place.

“The career chose me and I really love it.”

Sylvia was born in Germany and has been working in Dublin City University for about 14 years, with her work mainly focusing on internationalization, partnerships and program development in international higher education. When asked about why she chose this career, she tells us that it is more like the career chose her.

“I studied anthropology and it’s all about learning about cultures.” Sylvia is always passionate to learn new things, and she has learned to be open-minded and curious in the process, “I think it was a coincidence initially and then I really loved this type of work thereafter. Every single day of my working life over the last 14 years has been different, and I have never become bored doing what I do.”

The job provides her with an opportunity to communicate with people from so many different places, as well as allowing her to be a bridge between people. “You know, there are so many misunderstandings and conflicts in the world.” Sylvia says with great sympathy, “I believe that the more you learn about other places and other people, the more open you can be and therefore the more you can help people try to understand each other.”

Sylvia being interviewed at a cafe (Photo by Li Yunzhen)

Working as the Director of International Engagement (and previously the Head of the International Office), Sylvia has been to dozens of places in the world, but this working experience in WHU is kind of special for her. “I studied Chinese for many years at home by myself and I was able to read and write characters.” Sylvia tells us about her interest in Chinese learning, “I really wanted to study Chinese, but I was unable to understand the grammar or other aspects of the language. I was simply too busy and just didn’t have time to learn.” Thus, she decided to take time off from work and went to Chengdu and Shanghai to learn Chinese for several months in 2015 and 2016.

Sylvia describes this working experience in WHU as one of the best things she has ever done, and cherishes the working opportunity here in WHU more than anyone else. “In a way coming back to China to work, is an excellent opportunity for my university; obviously because while I’m based here, it’s a really good way to develop the relationships between the two universities, and it’s also a really good opportunity for me personally to use and practice Chinese. To me it is more than just a work experience, it’s unique, and I feel really honored to be able to do this.”

Photo by Li Yunzhen & Hu Zixin & Liu Qingyun

Edited by Li Yunzhen, Zheng Yayun, Sun Jingyi, Edmund Wai Man Lai & Hu Sijia


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