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President of Chinese university extols value of international student exchanges

International exchanges can help prepare students to compete in the global economy, according to H.K. Chang, president of the City University of Hong Kong, who visited UConn October 10 as part of a tour of three U.S. universities.

Chang, whose visit was a follow-up to an international forum on higher education in Hong Kong in July that was attended by Chancellor Mark Emmert, said he hopes to develop a student exchange program with UConn.

"We in Hong Kong are extremely interested in international exchanges. What makes Hong Kong tick is the international dimension," he said. "The way we can retain our competitive edge is to keep all our professional, educated people bilingual and bicultural. One way is to send more students overseas - for a substantial stay, not just one or two weeks."

Although he praised American universities for encouraging students to seek out other cultures and to learn languages, he said the achievements to date are not comparable to those of Asian students. "Asian intellectuals know a lot more about Western culture and language than the other way around," he said. "Ask any educated person in Asia who Shakespeare is, or Moliere or Hugo, and they will know. But if you ask an educated American about Murasaki Shikibu, Caoxun Quing, and Dufu, you will probably get a blank look."

Chang, who has taught at SUNY Buffalo and McGill University, said many American students lack foreign language skills. "The English-speaking world has been privileged for two centuries. For 200 years, the world's strongest power has been an English-speaking country. That is a privilege but it is also a drawback."

Chang, who also visited the University of Maryland and Syracuse University, toured the Storrs campus after meeting with a small group of deans. He admired the University's setting. "It's such a strong contrast to our university, which is right in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world," he said. "With this rural setting, in this season, with the leaves and the gorgeous sunshine, I envy your students and staff."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu