Using the case of Chinese visiting scholars at one western Canadian University, this two-phase research project explores how fostering collaboration between international visiting scholars, the host university, and the community promotes internationalization. The first phase examines the impact of the visiting scholars’ social interaction on and off campus on the satisfaction and success of their stay in Canada. Based on these findings, phase two addresses ways the community could benefit from interacting with international visitors. As a result, a partnership model is proposed which connects the interests of the university, international visitors, and the local community and emphasizes mutual benefit, shared learning, cross cultural understanding, collaboration and sustainability.

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Introduction Many universities have seen an increasing number of Chinese visiting scholars spend a significant amount of time in their institutions (Zweig, Changgui & Rosen, 2004). While universities recognize visiting scholars as an important part of their international activity, little is known about the quality of the social exchange with visiting scholars both on and off campus and the impact of such international programs on personal, social and economic goals of all those participating. Even less is known about the local community’s knowledge and reaction towards visiting scholars and the potential benefits arising from interacting with them. With the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the new leadership under Deng Xiaoping, came a major policy shift in China from a focus on political development to one of economic pursuit. Among other things this led to new policies and strategies in the area of higher education. One of the initiatives to support the goal of modernizing the nation was the Chinese visiting scholars program-visiting scholar is a term originally used by the Chinese Government to describe scholars sent abroad to institutions of higher education to further their training instead of studying for degrees. Especially in the early years of this program, it was deemed an efficient way to upgrade credentials and training of existing Faculty members. Thus, upgrading became one of the long-term strategies for development in education. The period abroad generally ranged from several months to 2 years. Later, the concept was broadened to include anyone who studied or conducted research in a foreign university without pursuing a degree. In higher education, it was manifested in a two-way investment: inviting foreign experts to teach in Chinese universities and sending students and staff overseas to learn the “advanced technology mainly from the west” (Europe and North America) (Swieg et al. 2004).

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The implications for universities are numerous, as are the administrative challenges. Paying attention to the visiting scholars is about making sure we have a good relationship with our Chinese partners including government, business, and the local community. This requires strategic planning, a supportive infrastructure, faculty awareness and buy-in, and a commitment to internationalization in one’s institution that is multi-faceted, coordinated and integrated with the community. Promoting university community engagement with these scholars can contribute to creating a learning community. Further research needs to be undertaken to examine the interaction of visiting scholars and the community as an important element of a university’s internationalization strategy. The current study has been limited to one particular group of visiting scholars focussing on one aspect of their experience-social interaction. The research needs to look beyond the social interaction to include a wider range of experience. Studies of this nature need to extend to visiting scholars and students from other countries and regions.

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