Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Makes a Great Leader?

This week we finally began our special classes. For the first week of the semester, we sat in on all the classes our Chinese classmates had, and as I said before, it was extremely boring. Beginning this week, however, we only sit in on some classes with our Chinese classmates and take our own classes with just the American students for the other periods. We have Martial Arts/Tai Chi (MATC), Chinese, Brush Painting, Calligraphy, Geography, Chinese History, and our own English seminar to satisfy the credit requirements of NPS. Monday we had MATC and Chinese, and today we had our English class and brush painting. 

MATC was really fun. Our teacher was extremely nice and very patient with us, because it took us awhile to learn how to do what she was teaching us. We learned some basic martial arts poses, like how to punch and block (although I doubt these kind of skills would come in handy in any real life fight). For tai chi, we just learned the basics as well, but we did them to traditional Chinese music that was so soothing I started falling asleep while standing. In our English class today we had a quiz on the first three chapters of our core textbook for the course. It's called CHINA: Empire and Civilization, and it's one of the driest textbooks I've ever had the misfortune of reading. It's the kind of book that once you've read a sentence, you forget it immediately. It's very useful when I'm having trouble falling asleep though (which causes problems when I read it during school here-not supposed to fall asleep! {I haven't, though I've come close on several occasions}). The quiz was fairly easy, just a standard answer 3/5 questions in paragraph form thing. The main problems was that I haven't written anything more than e-mails, journal entries, and blogposts in a month, so it took some adjusting to write school-quality work again.

Moving on, I shall now explain the title of this post. Today during English class, Ms Kamerik taught my class. From now on, she'll do this one block every Tuesday and Wednesday, and today was her first day. She gave us a powerpoint introducing herself (where she's from, where she teaches, that kind of thing). She then moved on to a powerpoint on Abe Lincoln titled "What Makes a Great Leader?", in honor of his 200th birthday. She described the basics of his life, and then when on to say that he's considered a great leader in America. She asked us to work in groups to think of qualities great leaders should possess. The class thought of all the usual ones such as honest, courageous, dynamic, that sort of thing. Then came two unusual ones. The first was sexy, which came with a collective laugh. Ms Kamerik thought it best to not write that one down, because, let's face it, that's not always a quality a great leader possesses :P. But then came an interesting one. Someone said autocratic. Ms Kamerik wrote it down, but said "let's come back to that one." The class found that to be a somewhat strange choice as well. I found it fascinating. In the US, if we ever do this kind of exercise, people come up with the obvious qualities, and not much else. If anyone ever proposed adding autocratic to the list, it would be laughed at as ridiculous, and tossed aside. Here, however, it's not cast aside so quickly. While it wasn't embraced by the class as an essential quality a great leader must possess, it wasn't branded as insane either. It definitely interested me as an aspect of Chinese culture much different from my own.

As a side note, Ms Kamerik also asked the class to list people they thought of as great leaders. The first person mentioned was, you guessed it, good old Mao Zedong. I've noticed so far that here most people are more concerned with studying or shopping to give much thought to Mao and what he did for/to China and how he affected the country.

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