Shanghaied, Restored, and Grateful: Experiencing the Global Learning Experience
Little did I expect, when I signed up for Professor John Shanahan’s Restoration Drama course last autumn, that our class would journey beyond the shores of 17th and 18th Century England and across two continents to Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Fulfilling the goals of DePaul’s Global Learning Experience initiative—designed to “integrate meaningful global conversation.” For our benefit, Professor Shanahan exploited his enduring relationship with his former Advanced Chinese professor, Fudan University’s Professor Baihua Wang. Through Skype our class met twice with Shanghai undergraduates studying English literature in an attempt to foster a global conversation on a few classic texts.
Professor Shanahan shepherded us gently, across the cultural bridge, pointing out potential landmines and coordinating our contributions to the virtual trans-Pacific class meetings, while always feeding our intellectual curiosity and encouraging free expression.
At times, technology—a familiar foe to DePaul students and staff—resisted our efforts to span the globe. Intermittently poor audio, combined with highly competent but accented English and our lack of Chinese language skills, occasionally conspired to hinder comprehension. With realistic expectations and the help of both patient professors, however, we nonetheless managed to negotiate a scholarly exchange.
Understandably, the two course’s syllabi were imperfectly aligned, creating a mildly disruptive incongruity in our study of Restoration masterpieces. Accommodating the Fudan curriculum, we mixed Shakespeare’s earlier Antony and Cleopatra into our genre study. This misfit, however, was beautifully redeemed by Professor Shanahan’s addition of Dryden’s All for Love, a partial rewrite of Shakespeare’s tragedy penned in 1678, right in the sweet spot of our literary period. Reading the two works together allowed us to plumb otherwise unfathomable depths of understanding, turning a potential negative into a true positive.
Perhaps most interesting of all, we read lengthy excerpts from The Peony Pavilion, a Chinese play dating to 1598. A contemporary of Shakespeare, author Tang Xian explored a highly mystical world over a sprawling 55-scene play. Though remaining in performance for the last 400 years, it is most frequently produced segmentally: a start-to-finish production could span days rather than hours. As with Shakespeare, Peony drew us a little too far back along the literary timeline, and, as Professor Shanahan candidly pointed out from the start, the Xianzu would have been much more interesting to read alongside the Bard’s thematically and theatrically similar A Midsummer Night’s Dream, rather than Antony and Cleopatra. International diplomacy, however, is always a matter of give and take, and the Chinese play was eminently worthwhile.
Ultimately, these complaints are quibbles. As our world continues to shrink, DePaul would be wise to continue pursuing this goal of global exchange—with a pair of caveats. First, and most important, our professors will be most effective when their interest in the partnering culture is abiding. Excitement is a classroom contagion, and having an unabashedly passionate sinophile teach this class made a world of difference. Further, a reliable guide—one who possesses extensive, relevant cultural knowledge and has performed the scholarly work to readily direct students to additional resources when their study takes them farther afield—keeps the enterprise serious and worthy, preventing it from devolving into a mere feel-good exercise. The second caveat is that DePaul provides participating professors whatever technical resources are necessary to eliminate all surmountable barriers to good A/V communication, such as reliable conference microphones. If these caveats are heeded, the learning horizon will be vast and vastly accessible.
I am grateful for the experience and would not hesitate to enroll in another class with a global learning component. I look forward to seeing the program grow and unhesitatingly encourage my fellow students to become active participants in and beneficiaries of that growth.
-Anthony Louis Troyke
Fore more on DePaul’s Global Learning Experience initiatives, check out their website.
Or take it trip to Fudan University here.