A new school of thought
Mao Lei arrived at Xiamen University Malaysia to teach Chinese history in February last year. When asked about her initial impressions of the new school, “deserted” was the first word that came to mind.
“At the beginning, even the cab driver didn’t know where the campus was or how to get there. It was not indicated on my Google map, and there were very few people on the campus,” said the associate professor of Chinese history, who was one of the first batch of teachers dispatched by Xiamen University in China to work on the new campus.
“Now, more local people know about the new institu- tion, and with about 2,000 students on campus, the academic atmosphere is getting better and better,” she said.
During her two decades at Xiamen University in Fujian province, Mao has always been keen to embrace new opportunities; when the university set up new campuses in China, she was one of the first teachers to
volunteer to work on them.
Mao has discovered that teaching on the campus in Malaysia is completely different from her experiences at home.
Unlike many of her campus peers, she doesn’t have to lecture in English — Chinese studies is one of just two programs
taught in Mandarin at Xiamen University Malaysia — but she understands that she needs to adapt and adjust to ensure she is better understood.
“The majority of students coming to my class are Malaysian. Unlike Chinese students who learned Chinese history at high school, Malaysian students have comparatively less knowledge about the subject. Although they have a deep interest, there are still times when they are confused by some definitions that Chi-
nese students find basic,” she said.
For example, lectures about ancient Chinese history rely on knowledge of a number of geographical factors, such as the North China Plain and the regions south of the Yangtze River. “These are abstract things to Malaysian students. After all, many of them have never been to China, so they cannot have a reality-based concept.”
In light of that, Mao now spends extra time on class preparation, attempting to combine her regular lectures with more detailed materials, such as background history, photos and maps, to ensure her tuition is effective.
So far, she has been pleased with the results.
“What I didn’t expect before coming here is that the students would master Mandarin so well. They are always passionate about what they are learning and make great efforts to study hard. I’m really proud of them,” she said.