By Samuel Beatson.

The Grand Circular Seating Arrangement

As a PhD student focusing on the Chinese financial markets, I was curious and attended an Open-Space Workshop last Thursday 1st November with the theme: Promoting and practising global citizenship in Chinese society. I guess a majority of more than 100 student attendants shared a similar feeling to me.

They had been asked to attend as a part of a Career Skills module and most of them are master degree students in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham who have majored in finance, banking or accounting.

I was even more surprised to find that more than 20 resource people had been invited by Dr Bin Wu, the convenor of this Module and organiser of this event, when I arrived at the workshop venue in the very heart of the University’s Main Campus, the Trent Great Hall.

These guests represented organisations outside of the University, including the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) from London, Nottingham City Council, Broxtowe Borough Council, the Nottinghamshire Chinese Welfare Association and Nottingham Chinese School.

There were also the senior managers and staff of relevant departments such as Student Services, Community Partnerships and the Chaplaincy in attendance. Unlike students, these resource people knew precisely the purposes and objectives of the workshop.

The circular arrangement of chairs at the venue gave students a feeling of equality with the staff and stakeholders. A freedom or large space was created allowing students, in particular Chinese students, to stand up and express their ideas and proposals in front of such a large number of strangers.

Butterfly or Bumblebee? Participants could stick with one project or mingle between groups.

Although having known nothing about global citizenship or the open-space technology/methodology before, I easily understood the rationale, theme and also the rules of this event. This was partly due to a clear opening address by Dr Jackie Sheehan, Deputy Head of the School, and an introduction by Dr Wu, and partly due to the skill of two professional facilitators.

In spite of unpreparedness, as if by magic, a lot of students including myself could not stop ourselves from expressing ideas for group discussions. The workshop received 15+ topics/ideas for two rounds of discussions, the majority posed by students.

Topics ranged from social help for the elderly to providing recovery support for compulsive gamblers in the Chinese community; from creating a bi-lingual entertainments newsletter to going into schools to raise awareness about Chinese Studies; from House Partying to how to make friends.

Resource persons played an important role in fostering innovative thinking and group discussion and inducing students to develop a realistic project proposal that would make use of internal and external resources by engaging relevant stakeholders.

To develop an in-depth understanding, I asked Dr Andreas Fulda, an expert in open-space workshop methodology who introduced this method to the School three years ago, to explain why he had proposed the topic: how to make friends studying abroad. Here is an edit of his response:

”If Chinese students… are unable to make friends with other international students it is also fairly unlikely that they will exercise their citizenship, for example by volunteering for charities or engaging in environmental groups… Students who attended our group discussion agreed to the individual goal of making at least one new friend. I consider this a most useful exercise in relationship building, a key skill in an increasingly inter-connected world.”

Discussion group “hosted” by Dr Andreas Fulda

I asked Dr Wu to assess the outcomes of this workshop. He replied that the event had successfully tackled the three objectives set-up in advance, including: raising awareness about global citizenship and the open-space workshop methodology; creating opportunities for students to volunteer in local communities and enhancing partnership and cooperation with the local community and stakeholders.

Having witnessed the smiling faces of student participants, I can understand Dr Wu’s satisfaction.

Sam Beatson is a PhD candidate in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

NB Click an image to enlarge.

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