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It is not unusual to see students engaged in heated debate on the Old Dominion University campus. However, these 22 students are rapidly speaking in their native language, Chinese, and then turning to the blackboard to record the outcomes of their deliberations in English. It is clear that they are quite talented at multitasking. One of two delegations from Hunan, China, taking classes through ODU's Executive Development Center, they are balancing the dual roles of Chinese professional and visiting scholars.

Engaged in a troubleshooting session inside a Constant Hall classroom, the students, tax professionals employed by the Chinese government, are thinking of how they can apply the knowledge they gain at ODU to some of the problems they face back home. It will be another couple of weeks before they return to Hunan Province, an area located on the southern edge of China's Dongting Lake that covers 210,000 square kilometers and has a population of 64.4 million.

In class today, they are using real-life experiences to solve the fictional issue of how money from a tax surplus should be spent to help improve transportation. A flurry of Mandarin accompanies English words, such as governmental responsibility, conflict, public transportation and road infrastructure.

Leonard I. Ruchelman, eminent scholar of urban studies and public administration, watches his students with delight, noting that they are a joy to teach. "In addition to the fact that they are highly educated, they are eager and diligent students," he said.

Before being chosen for the program, the two groups of students spent nearly four months undergoing intensive English training in China. At the Executive Development Center, this group will spend nine weeks receiving instruction from ODU faculty members as well as local subject-matter experts. The second group from Hunan, 18 city and governmental officials, will spend four months at Old Dominion.

"Our faculty and staff feel as if they are students in this experience too; we can learn so much from the expertise that these groups bring to the university," said Sheila Powell, director of the center.

Past programs at the center have attracted students from Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, the U.S. Armed Forces, federal, state and local government units, and international organizations.

Most of the students from Hunan have graduate degrees. When asked why they traveled halfway around the globe to pursue more education, they said it was for the unquantifiable reasons. They acknowledged that they could have learned facts from a textbook, but said the American experience must be felt.

"America is the largest developed country and China is the largest developing country in the world. We can both learn and teach each other so much," said Tengfei Mao, deputy director general, Hunan Provincial Development and Reform Commission. "I wanted to come here and experience it for myself."

Later in the week, the second group of students from Hunan attend a seminar on social responsibility, public policy and issues management given by John Lombard, associate professor of business and public administration.

"Because of their background, these students bring a unique drive and determination to the subjects we teach," said Lombard.

Both the tax and governmental officials from Hunan appear pleased with the experience and the knowledge they will take away from their time at Old Dominion.

"We love that Americans are open with their views and thoughts. Our professors have engaged us to approach problems from a wide variety of business and cultural perspectives," said Meng Chen, deputy chief of personnel and education, Hunan Provincial Local Taxation.

"We hope that our time here will serve as a bridge between our two countries - letting Americans know about our people and learning about American business practices," added Mao.

This article was posted on: February 19, 2007

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