Bridging the gap between cultures

By Amanda Ramirez

Nicholas Kliminski, a senior elementary education major, had a goal to speak the three most spoken languages in the world: English, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.


After previously studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina for one month, Kliminski said he felt proficient in Spanish. He then decided to continue his Chinese studies through an independent learning experience in China. However, for this trip, he desired a program with less rigidity and that would include his elementary education studies.

While intensively searching study abroad possibilities, Kliminski met Dr. Guoli Liang, a UW-Whitewater professor in the College of Education. After first working as a student intern with Liang, Kliminski was asked to play a pivotal role in the first Elementary Education International Conference (EEIC) held in Beijing, China.

“It all just fell into my lap,” Kliminski said. “I guess all I can say is when opportunity knocks you have to be ready for it, and you have to take it to the fullest.”

The first chapter of the EEIC involved the participation of five schools in Beijing that partnered with Janesville school district educators over the summer. The goal of the program was to introduce Chinese students to an American education setting.

While preparing classrooms for American teachers, Kliminski spent the first month of the conference teaching English to Chinese students grades one through four.

Kliminski’s main task was to analyze lesson plans American teachers intended to teach Chinese students during the conference. Then, Kliminski had to create about three English lessons per day to present to Chinese boys and girls.

Kliminski found that Chinese students did not have much difficulty intellectually grasping material, but rather, they struggled with the language barrier. He implemented lessons and educational games that focused heavily on vocabulary.

While teaching in Beijing, Kliminski noted distinct differences in Eastern and Western education. He found Chinese classrooms to be more rigid because students are taught to ask few questions and focus on completing their specific task.

During the second month of the conference, Kliminski acted as the main liaison between American and Chinese educators. He also assisted American educators transition in to Chinese culture.

“Being just a student, it was a little bit difficult to be the bridge between the eastern culture and the western culture,” Kliminski said.

Because American culture encourages asking questions and interactive learning, Kliminski had to frequently reassure Chinese educators that questions were not due to lack of preparation on their part, but rather, the American tendency to be active participants in their education.

During his trip to China, Kliminski stayed with five different host families whose children attended the main partner school, Zhongguancun No. 3 Primary School, which Kliminski would report to each morning.

Kliminski said the host families enthusiastically helped him in learning Chinese and showing him their culture.

“They were overwhelmed with the fact they could take their child’s teacher to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace,” Kliminski said.

After the conference concluded in Beijing, Kliminski had the opportunity to return to the Janesville school district to host a select group of fifth-grade students from Beijing for three weeks.

Dr. Liang described Kliminski’s performance during the conference as outstanding and praised by all parties he communicated, especially the students.

Kliminski said the next EEIC is in planning stages, and he hopes to return to China one day.