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Fudan's John Keating

Half teacher, half motivational speaker.

(Originally published September 19, 2014) 

If you are familiar with classic 80’s movies, then there is a strong chance you know Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams plays John Keating, the archetypal passionate teacher who teaches his students with out-of-the-box methods. If you are lucky, you get a few Keatings for real life teachers. It’s too early to be positive, but I think I have one at Fudan.


Cristóbal Collignon is a PhD student who transferred from Mexico to teach at Fudan. He’s young, and the only professor this week that showed up in a suit. He has worked in Mexico, Japan and China. He is also clearly smarter than the average professor.


I arrived to class early and he struck up a conversation with me. At first, I thought I was talking to another student (again, he’s young). He asked me where I was from, and I told him I was from America. He smiled knowingly at me, rebutting, “I am also from the Americas, but what country are you from?” I quickly realized I was not dealing with a well-dressed undergraduate.


Our conversation was over as quickly as it began, and then he strolled around the room quietly answering questions from other early arrivals. The room quickly filled with more than seventy students, the noise escalating as conversations grew louder and louder. Then the bell rang, and suddenly the quiet and quick-witted professor turned into an orator who commanded the attention of the entire class.


“Hello, my name is Professor Cristóbal Collignon, and we will now begin Business Research Methods!” Conversations across the room came to a halt (a pretty impressive feat in a class that size), and Collignon had the floor. He held our attention for nearly three hours.


What I like most about Collignon’s class is how he designed it to be an open-ended course. In his class he teaches all the frameworks of persuasive and expository research, but what you research is up to you. It can be anything. Issues in phone recycling. Cross-cultural relations. Taco shops.


“A large part of this course is how you present you research. Okay, now we’re going to go around the room and everyone will introduce themselves, their major, where they are from, and their hobbies.” No one really got the point of this up front, and it seemed like a tedious task with a room of 70 plus people. But Collignon made everyone do it, making a point to walk to far corners of the room and call people out if they did not speak loudly enough for him to hear.


“Okay, now you heard where everyone is from around the world. You heard people with similar interests as you. Write down five research ideas, get up, and go talk to these people about your ideas. One rule: for today’s assignment, you must have multi-national teams.” And just like that, a lecture turned into interactive class and I found myself with two Mexicans and a Swede talking about how we could pull together a research project exploring the feasibility of expat entrepreneurship. The rest of the class was spent trying to cobble together a basic research proposal that was passable (Collignon made my team do three drafts).



Overall, my class experience in Fudan has been full of intimidatingly intelligent professors that all come from really different backgrounds—Taiwanese marketing directors, Chinese career academics, and a Mexican John Keating. This is a perk of studying abroad at a top Chinese university that I really did not consider before I left. I am not only exposed to Chinese culture and students from around the world, but I am also getting taught by some of the best professors in the world. Get your Quizlet note cards ready, because it is going to be an intense semester.

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