LAWRENCE — When Jinhang Jiang started his first semester of high school in Kingman, as an exchange student from Shandong Province in China, he experienced a significant barrier.
"I couldn't understand a single word," Jiang said. "Literally, not a single word that the teacher said. It was a hard time for about six months."
He had studied English as a student in China, and while he had mastered rules of grammar, the verbal experience took some practice. He has adjusted well. Jiang is finishing his second year now as a University of Kansas major in accounting.
Jiang is one of about 2,300 international students from more than 100 countries currently enrolled at KU. Hagith Sivan, professor of history, is working to preserve the stories of KU international students with an oral history project she began earlier this spring semester.
"This is a pioneering project. The idea behind this series of oral history is to be able to share the experiences of international students at KU not only just to enable us to hear your stories but also for you to see how well you fit our ideas of diversity and openness," Sivan told students during the first interview. "We are very happy to start with students from China."
Sivan in late February interviewed KU students Jinhang Jiang, a Jinan, China, sophomore; Dongyu Li, a Lanzhou, China, sophomore, Xizhi Jiang, a Chengdu, China, junior; and, Yanfei Huang, a Zibo, China, sophomore, all of whom are active in the Chinese Students and Scholars Friendship Association at KU. The full conversation is available here.
The interview ranged from light moments — surprise, the students are basketball fans and they had lots of homework in Chinese high schools — to more serious ones about the political climate in the United States after the 2016 election and questions about U.S. immigration and American relationships with other countries.
Jiang said he followed the news about the election and subsequent political events, but as a student he hasn't noticed a difference in the environment on campus.
"People are nice here. They don't seem to change because of political change," he said.
Sivan, whose scholarship focuses on ancient history, has undertaken recent research projects into comparative history and comparing values among cultures. She said for one she wants to document the experiences of international students in the United States and at KU. She also hopes the project reinforces to students they are welcome on campus and perhaps can be of value in best serving them and recruiting more to campus.
Jiang and fellow students in the Chinese Students & Scholars Friendship Association said the association gives the students a chance to connect with one another and develop a community while living in a foreign country. However, they say it also is a way for them to share more about their own experiences growing up through art, performances and festivals with people at KU and in Kansas.
"We do it so that all the people who are interested Chinese culture can get access to it and learn from it," Jiang said.
Sivan plans to conduct subsequent interviews, and she will make video recordings of all interview sessions available online, which will also allow participants' families and friends back home to view the interviews.
All international students interested in participating can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.