Nan Meng joined the LCL’s Chinese section as Assistant Professor in Residence last Fall, after having studied and worked in four other universities in the US. Professor Meng received her B.A. in English Language and Literature at Shandong University, her hometown in northeastern China. She moved to the US to do her M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language at Bowling Green and completed her Ph.D. in Chinese Pedagogy at Ohio State. She realized that she wanted to become an academic while pursuing research as a graduate student. She has lived in Connecticut for four years after having worked at both Yale and Wesleyan. Before coming to UConn, she also spent a year working at the Department of Asian Studies in Pennsylvania State University. For Professor Meng, Penn State and UConn have a lot in common, as they are both public institutions outside of big cities. She loves working at UConn’s LCL department because of its friendly environment and great diversity.
This semester she is teaching three courses in Chinese culture and language. Some of her classes are very popular with enrollments of over 130 students, so managing such large groups is sometimes a challenge. Her classes include lectures, group presentations, hands-on group projects, discussions and online work. She is happy to see that UConn students are very energetic and active. In collaboration with the other faculty in her section, she helps organize group activities to celebrate the Chinese New Year and other cultural events with her students.
American students find it hard to learn Chinese because of the cultural differences and because the language is very different from English. She teaches Mandarin Chinese, the most commonly used language in China, which is spoken by around two thirds of the country’s population. Professor Meng also speaks some Japanese and French. Her research focuses on language socialization and the development of intercultural competence stemming from her interest in how people acquire competence in different cultures. Other areas of expertise include teacher education, sociolinguistics and computer-assisted language learning.
Since Professor Meng specializes in intercultural competence, I asked her about cultural differences in China and the US. A main difference is the relationship between professors and students. In China, professors are seen as absolute authorities. Even though questions are welcome, students tend to avoid challenging them and certainly do not negotiate. Most graduate students in China work and study in a similar fashion as in the US, typically as TA’s or RA’s. However, tuition fees at Chinese universities are not as high as in the US. Due to cultural differences, she says, it can be difficult for foreigners who study in China to mingle with the locals.
Professor Meng belongs to the first generation of the one-child policy in China (which started in 1979 and was lifted in 2015). Although she does not have any siblings, she is very close to her cousins. Whenever she has the chance, she visits them in China. When she worked with a study abroad program at another university, she used to go every year. Because she has been away from her home country for so long, when she does go back home she experiences “reverse culture shock”. For instance, because of the intensity of the traffic, she doesn’t like to drive there. She laughingly admitted that she doesn’t like taking the subway in Beijing either because it is always packed. As a result she ends up just walking everywhere. She has two children and likes taking them home so that they can experience Chinese culture and spend time with their relatives. In her spare time, she likes playing the violin, attending classical music recitals, and cooking Chinese as well as international dishes.
By Adriana Alcina