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Visiting Chinese Scholar a Cultural Ambassador for Students and Faculty

Songhe WangCONWAY, Ark. (December 9, 2010) – If Dr. Songhe Wang’s immersion into the Hendrix College and central Arkansas community is any indication, U.S.-China relations are in good hands.

Songhe is spending the 2010-2011 academic year at Hendrix, thanks to an education partnership between Hendrix and Heilongjiang University in Harbin, a city of 5 million people in northern China near the Russian border.

Though her home institution has more than 30,000 students, the adjustment has not been significant, she insists.

“Big river, small river … many things attract me,” she said. “I needn’t feel strange.”

She arrived at Hendrix in August and quickly immersed herself in campus life, attending lectures by visiting scholars, sitting in on other Hendrix classes, going to concerts and other campus activities. Off campus, she has visited a jazz bar in Little Rock and toured Eureka Springs in northwest Arkansas.

“The only problem is time,” she said. “I want to have as much contact as possible with students and local people.”

Though this year is her first time to teach at Hendrix, it is not her first encounter with the college.

“Hendrix, to me, is not a new place,” she said. “Hendrix is like a second home.”

Since 2006, Songhe has taught Hendrix students studying at Heilongjiang, where she has been a faculty member since 1988. In Harbin, she teaches linguistics and English to Chinese students and Chinese culture to American students. She has served as the English editor for a foreign language research journal.

Songhe’s first encounter with Hendrix came in 2004, when she met Dr. Jay McDaniel, Professor of Religious Studies at Hendrix, who works closely with the Heilongjiang student and faculty exchange program.

Since her arrival this fall on campus, she has kept very busy, visiting with Hendrix faculty members, such as Jane Harris, Ian King, and Wayne Oudekerk, who have become friends over the years, as well as current Hendrix students who have studied at Heilongjiang.

This fall, she helped teach a course in Chinese history, and she will teach a course in Chinese culture this spring.

Songhe has seized every opportunity to get closer to students and faculty, to learn more about their culture and share with them what a brilliant culture her country has.

“Most people know very little about us,” she said.

Shortly after arriving at Hendrix, Songhe got to know a group of Hendrix students from Rwanda. She believes the cultures of Africa and China are very close in origin and history.

“We are brothers and sisters,” she said. “With more contact and more understanding, we hope times of conflict will be less and less.”

Wang has also shared her culture with the local community, performing traditional Chinese operas for residents at the Trillium Park retirement community and Taichi dance for students at St. Joseph’s Catholic School near campus.

“If we have more contact, we understand each other,” she said.

“One of her passions is to teach local culture,” said Dr. McDaniel.

In China, Wang facilitates meetings with American students and local families to “provide students the opportunity to see the country from different levels.”

“Each culture has its essence,” she said.

Beijing opera, for example, embodies the essence of Chinese culture, with words as elegant as Shakespeare’s sonnets, brilliant costumes, martial arts and music.

Dr. McDaniel calls Songhe’s time on campus this year “a great gift” to the Hendrix and local communities.

“I admire her very much. She loves life and she’s extraordinarily curious about everything,” he said. “I’ve never met such a combination of roots and wings openness to learning and diversity.”