Xi'an, the provincial capital of Shaanxi, has become one of the most attractive destinations in China for foreign educators, and they said it is not only the city's splendid history and ancient architecture that intrigue them but also the opportunity to communicate and share their expertise with Chinese students.
Michael Schmittbetz, a veteran journalist from Germany, started teaching German language and studies at Northwestern Polytechnical University's School of Foreign Studies in 2015.
"Here, I not only teach the language, but also my culture, linguistics, literature and history, and I find my current profession very interesting," he said.
Schmittbetz said he does not consider himself merely a teacher behind a teaching desk.
"We have a proverb in Germany — politeness is the willingness to communicate, and my focus here is always lively communication," he said. "The conventional education system in China focuses heavily on written exams, but in my classroom, we always try to find our ways of communication."
"For foreign expats planning to move and work in China, my advice would be to be open-minded and make many friends," he added.
Schmittbetz said he was a fan of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). "The imperial tombs of this period is located in the outskirts of Xi'an, and I quite enjoy talking about it with my Chinese friends who are experts on this," he said.
For Flora Gaetani, a visiting professor at the Joint School of Design and Innovation at Xi'an Jiaotong University, the juxtaposition of historic roots and metropolitan vibe in the city has impressed her.
"The first time I came here last semester, I got some time to walk around and see some typical architecture in the city. In the meantime, the campus is a bit far away from the city center and very quiet," she said. "I like the two aspects of going into the crowded city and spending time on campus."
Gaetani teaches sketching and graphics design at the school, and has a natural connection with patterns and texture embedded in traditional architecture in Xi'an.
"Looking around, and you can see beautiful surfaces of objects and beautiful roofs (of houses)."
Gaetani has taught in Italy, her home country, for over 12 years before beginning to give courses in Xi'an last semester. Differences in the language she uses, the size of the class, and the classroom atmosphere are distinct.
"While in Italy, there is always someone raising hands and asking questions while I am speaking, that's not the case here," she said. "So I have learned to give Chinese students more time to formulate questions, and not only ask them to speak to me directly but also write to me via WeChat, which could also help translate questions in Chinese."
Gaetani said interaction between teachers and students is fundamental. "Design is a creative field, and if one doesn't ask, they will not be able to design projects in proper ways."
Tony Brown, dean of Xi'an Eurasia University's School of Art and Design, said that he is drawn to Xi'an for its strong cultural backgrounds, distinct four seasons and the people here who take pride in their history and culture.
In Xi'an, he sees a harmony between the modern environment and cultural heritage.
"There is a strong interest in not just dealing with the past, but also moving forward and embracing certain aspects of technological advances and very progressive thinking," he said.
Brown said one of his priorities as a professor is to prepare students for the shift toward an increasingly digital society, powered by rapid development of technologies such as artificial intelligence.
"When I first came to China many years ago, I was impressed by students who were very hungry and consuming DVDs about other cultures," he said. "They accelerated at an incredible speed and I saw a young generation becoming computer literate in a quite short period of time."
At the school, Brown is creating a program that can provide students with a chance to get a job and thrive in a creative, innovative environment and be part of society.
"We should provide them with the technical skills, managing skills and cultural skills that are necessary to move seamlessly into the shift that is occurring," he said.