Academic exchange as exemplified by the Fulbright Program is fundamental to promoting better global relations. This is especially important for the two superpowers of China and the United States.
My first real understanding of Chinese culture came through my friendship with Chinese students as a graduate student in the 1980s. When one of my friends and I parted, I promised him that someday I would come to China. That promise came true in 2012 through a Fulbright Scholar Award to teach at Southwest University in Chongqing. I was very fortunate to teach a class to “minority elite pre-graduate students.” These were students from among China’s 56 recognized ethnic minorities, competitively selected for a general education program that would prepare them for graduate study in fields ranging from mechanical engineering and biochemistry to art and English teaching.
I came to understand China’s regional and cultural complexity, and became lifelong friends with many of my minority students. These friendships led to visits to high mountain tea farms in Yunnan, the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. My interest in China also led me to take a lead role in establishing an exchange partnership between my college, Montana Tech, and the geological sciences program at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.
In 2017, I was awarded a second Fulbright to teach with Ningxia University in Yinchuan, in the Ningxia Hui Muslim Autonomous Region. As a stop on the ancient Silk Road, Ningxia was historically rich in both Islamic and Buddhist culture. Visits to the Xumishan Buddhist cave temples, Tongxin Great Mosque, and 2,000-year old sections of the Great Wall further solidified my appreciation for Chinese cultural history and diversity.
My experiences in China led directly to new directions in my scholarship. These include a book project, Narrative Inquiries from Fulbright Lecturers in China (co-edited with Shin Freedman and Jeannette W. Cockroft, Routledge 2019), with my chapter contribution, “This Too Is China: Hui Muslim Culture and the Fulbright Experience at Ningxia University.” Another project stemmed from my teaching an exchange course at Sun Yat-sen University. While there, I researched a Chinese American family that had built a house in the nearby Pearl River Delta in the 1930s. That work, “Coming Home to China: Margaret Woo’s Story,” is in press with The Journal of Modern Chinese History. As a very practical outcome of my Fulbright China experience, I also became board president with the non-profit Mai Wah Society, which operates a museum of Chinese American history and culture in Butte, Montana. Once a bustling multicultural city on the American western frontier, the museum honors the important role of Chinese immigrants in shaping the American West.
Pat Munday – Fulbright to China 2012 and 2017