My name is Cheng Li and I have lived in St. John’s Newfoundland for the past 5 years, completing my PhD at the Faculty of Education. During that time I taught 2 courses, at the grad level. I appreciate the opportunity to apply in practice what I have learned on paper and to communicate this to others.
Before I came to Canada I was an English teacher at Chenghi at a university in China. The university is similar in size to Memorial, located in south-western China, with 20 thousand students.
I grew up in south-western China, completed my higher education there and worked in China before coming to Newfoundland. I travel back to China once a year, to visit my husband and family who still live there.
L-R: Dr. E. Yeoman and Dr. X. Li, and Cheng Li on Convocation Day
Appreciating cultural differences
It was important to me to get my doctorate. I had worked in several places outside of China, in Australia for one year. While I was living in these western countries, I enjoyed the experience of being in another culture. I looked at universities in the US, Australia and Canada. Tuition is very high in the US and I came to realize that Canada was the best option for me although I didn’t know much about it other than it has plenty of nature and was multicultural.
Newfoundland was a bit of a shock for me even though I thought I was prepared. The weather took some time to get used to. Where I grew up, it is warm and I quickly came to realize that Newfoundland was not like that. The lifestyle here was similar to what I had experienced in Australia but the weather was a challenge.
Academic progress is different in Canada than in China, and learning to navigate through the system can be a challenge for students from China. The system in China tends to guide students through every step whereas in Canada you learn to navigate through the system on your own.
My focus is on exploring the challenge rural students face who learn English as a foreign language. China is a monolingual country, from HUN descent. Speaking English is closely related to the emergence of the new economy in China, and learning to speak English has become an essential skill. This raises questions about the values of rural students who believe that hard work is more important and developing a skill in a new language, particularly English, may not fit with their value system. In China, many rural people are immigrating into urban centers to improve their opportunities while at the same time trying not to lose ties to where they came from and their values. Urbanization has taken place incredibly fast, in 30 years, and people in China are continually adjusting.
I chose a research topic that was related to my experience teaching rural students. My findings through my research can be applied to my teaching practice in China. However the topic is not exclusive to China, as many regions of the world are experiencing economic growth and the conflict that coincides with this change.
There is something called a drift concept, where people don’t feel at home anywhere, in a rural or an urban setting. China experienced dramatic urbanization when the people began to migrate to the cities in early 2000. It was driven by government policies because they felt it was good for the economy. Families from rural regions have their beliefs and values challenged because their values aren’t in direct correlation to the governments. Currently the government is looking at developing smaller centres for rural people to settle outside of the large cities. This idea aligns with findings in my research that this would make transition easier for them.
Teaching after PhD
I can take my PhD research as a starting point to further my work. My studies at Memorial opened many possibilities, allowing me to explore something fundamental about human nature.
It also gave me time to reflect, particularly looking at my parent’s lives and the changes they’ve experienced in the past 40 years. The difference between my life and my mother’s is vast. I am very interested in how people recall their memories and while I have been in Canada I have had time to reflect on this.
I am returning to China to teach in the faculty of Foreign Language and Studies. My work there around foreign language pedagogy and socio-linguistics and language policy. I look forward to returning to work and also my family, who have been very patient.
Xumei Li was my supervisor and she was extremely important, from beginning to end. For two particular reasons:
1. She helped me establish an image of what an academic woman looks like. She works very hard, undertakes huge amounts of research, has many grad students, teaches courses and is someone I aspire to be.
2. Doing a PhD is a long process. Xumei played such an important role in advancing the process with me.
Cheng with Supervisor, Xumei Li at Convocation.
Advice for Students
1. Find a supervisor that you’re compatible with.
2. There are many forces that compel you to succeed but it most important to follow your passion and your own instincts. I have not done anything in my career that I haven’t felt strongly about. My research work for example is something I an intensely
3. Do not hesitate to ask professors and administrative staff for help.
4. Get familiar with the university system and how the system works early on, particularly for international students.
5. Focus on studying
Memorial felt like home
The support I received from the faculty has been helpful and many people were generous, and particularly Tony, Sharon, Gabrielle and Ursula. Their advice was important to me, and even though they are not obliged to offer it, I felt it was sincere and honest. They are also very happy for you and with you when you graduate.
Also, the administrative staff in the Faculty of Education were wonderful. They are nice, responsive, efficient throughout the entire process and even more so at the final stages with thesis, setting up exam board and many other details. I appreciate their work. I know they are very busy.