An International Scholar Reflects on Experiences at Rutgers in 2020

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Tiejun Bu Banner
Tuesday, October 20th

Tiejun Bu is a scholar from Jilin University (JLU) in China who came to Rutgers during the 2019-2020 academic year. He stayed in New Jersey with his family during the spring and returned to China in September. Here are his reflections from his time at Rutgers during a particularly tumultuous year.

Rutgers Global: Why did you choose to come to Rutgers University?
Tiejun Bu: I came to Rutgers University to study cross-cultural communication, with a focus on the influence of Confucius and his thoughts on America. I chose to study at Rutgers for several reasons. First of all, Rutgers is one of most renowned universities in the U.S. with a long history and tradition, and its academic reputation is impeccable. Secondly, Rutgers University is the first and oldest partner of Jilin University in America, a time-honored friendship that has nurtured a lot of achievements through our collaboration, including a very popular summer/winter school program with more than 100 JLU students visiting Rutgers annually; a Chinese language summer school program for Rutgers students at JLU; and regular university-level delegation visits and academic exchanges between the two institutions every year. I believed I would be able to conduct my research in a very healthy and friendly atmosphere here.

And most importantly, the Chinese studies department at Rutgers has a strong reputation in both America and the world since its establishment in 1966. Many of my colleagues at the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures are experts in Chinese studies, including Professor Richard Simmons, my host professor at Rutgers. Professor Simmons has visited JLU regularly, and has given many academic lectures at JLU in the area of Chinese studies. In fact, his lectures were so well-received and his academic achievements so recognized that he was honored by JLU with the title of Guest Professor of Jilin University in September of 2010. I believed his expertise could definitely help with my research.

RG: How long were you at Rutgers and what was your experience like?
TB: I was at Rutgers for 11 months and really enjoyed my stay. All the people I met were so friendly and professional, and provided all the support and help that I could possibly want. Upon arriving, I met Ms. Patricia Badillo-Salas who helped me to settle in, and introduced me to Professor Paul Schalow the head of Asian Languages and Cultures who gave me a thorough and detailed introduction of the professors and scholars who might be able help me with my research at Rutgers. By the end of our meeting, Professor Schalow even offered to walk me to the Rutgers Global–International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) office where I met another group of great people, including Carlo Santoro, Gina Antonatos, and James Jones. And the staff at Alexander Library was incredibly helpful. I have to say, I was in good hands during my visit to Rutgers.

RG: Was this your first time in the United States?
TB: No, my first visit to the United States was in 2006, when I visited Michigan State University also as a visiting scholar. After that, I visited the U.S. at least three times—short visits to promote the collaboration of Jilin University with its partner universities in the U.S. At that time, I was serving as a deputy director of the Office of Global Engagement of Jilin University and was very honored to do my part in promoting the collaboration and understanding between Chinese and American universities.

RG: What were some high points during your time at Rutgers? What were some challenges?
TB: The high points during my time at Rutgers were definitely my meetings with people here, including Professor Simmons, who gave me important support during my time here, and provided very helpful guidance on my research. In addition, Professor Ching-I Tu, the former director of the Confucius Institute of Rutgers University, also gave me very valuable guidance. His expertise in Chinese studies and connections with the related scholars at Rutgers have benefited my research tremendously. I also enjoyed the events organized by the ISSS office. I managed to participate in all the events that I could possibly attend, such as the gatherings with other visiting scholars from across the world and visits to different campuses and venues. My son and I both loved the visit to the SHI Stadium for the introduction of the Super Bowl, and the basketball nights at the RAC!

And yes, there were challenges. Above all, the COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest challenge for me, and for all others, I believe. Because of the pandemic, the whole campus was shut down, all the libraries were closed, all my appointments with the professors and scholars had to be canceled, all my plans to travel to other places in America had to be given up. My life was never the same. But I was grateful to the ISSS office who did everything they could to provide protection and support to us international scholars during this difficult time. To them I owe my highest regard!

RG: You mentioned your son was with you here in New Jersey. What was his experience like?  
TB: Yes, my 10-year-old son Jiacheng (Jay) went to the Bartle School during our stay, where he had a great time, in general. He had some very helpful teachers such as Ms. Deirdre Liu, who taught ESL class (my son just loved her), and he also made some good friends there. But he had some difficulties and challenges at school, as well. There were some language and cultural obstacles upon arriving, and some kids showed some hostility, but he managed to get over them and eventually adjusted to his school life. In addition, he continued his piano lessons at a local music school called Speak Music and loved it there. And he enjoyed the basketball summer camp program, robotics lessons, and the concerts and recitals where he performed. Overall, I am so glad that I brought my son here because he has learned about the language and the diversity of cultures. To be honest, this was one of the reasons why I wanted to come back to the States.

RG: What will you bring back to Jilin University from your time at Rutgers? 
TB: There is so much that I have learned and experienced at Rutgers that I will definitely bring back to Jilin University. First of all, I was impressed with the hospitality of the people at Rutgers. Almost all the people that I met at Rutgers were very friendly and helpful, and they were always ready to reach out and to help. This hospitality reflects the fact that Rutgers is such an open, friendly, and healthy community. And when I mentioned that Jilin University was Rutgers’ first partner in China, people showed extra hospitality and interest, which is really nice.

Secondly, I appreciated the high level of service and the management of the university, especially with regard to my experiences with the Rutgers Global ISSS office. I was once an administrator of Jilin University and I know how the administrative work should be done, so I appreciated the thorough considerations and seamless service of my colleagues at ISSS. (This is an important reason why I felt so close to them) 

Thirdly, I was impressed with the inclusiveness of Rutgers. Like Rutgers, Jilin University is a huge university with a large enrollment of more than 70,000 students, and all of the 12 academic categories in China. JLU is actually the largest university in China. However, we do not have as many international scholars and students present on our campus and have a lack of diversified cultures reflected in our campus life. I hope one day Jilin University will also attract many international scholars and students from across the world.

I look forward to sharing my experiences at Rutgers with my colleagues and students at Jilin University and will encourage them to visit and study at Rutgers.

RG: Any final thoughts or reflections?
TB: People-to-people communication between Chinese and American universities is so important, especially now as China and the U.S. are experiencing a tense relationship, because it is perhaps the most direct and efficient way to better understand each other. If we both stop trying and refuse to understand each other then more misunderstanding and hostility is bound to rise between us, which might eventually lead Sino-American relations into disaster. Personally, I don’t think either country can afford to lose each other as partners. Therefore, I sincerely hope Rutgers and all other American universities keep their doors open to Chinese scholars and students because they are a very important force to help promote mutual understanding and reduce mistrust between China and the U.S. Historically, the U.S. has influenced, helped, and changed China in such a profound manner that China is no longer the same. And China has played a unique role in the U.S. and contributed a great deal to American economy. Looking ahead to the future, my hope is that we hold the confidence that we can eventually find a way to maintain a peaceful and harmonious coexistence. May peace prevail.