Crossing Cultures to Educate People

Crossing Cultures to Educate People


Before being tapped to lead a redesign of CUI’s Master’s of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) degree, Yi Schuler lived through momentous cultural changes in her own life. Born and educated in China, she came to the U.S. in 1998, and later became a key factor in the growth of Concordia’s MAIS program.

“The Chinese philosophy of education is that if you are a teacher to somebody, you are a teacher to them the rest of their life,” Schuler says. “It goes beyond the classroom. You are a mentor.”

Now, Schuler is spearheading a relaunch of the MAIS program which will include a wider selection of global regions for students to choose from, a much shorter (three-week) period of overseas fieldwork, and updated curriculum.

For Schuler, much of her life and career have led up to this assignment.

Honestly, I was doing really well in the company at that time, but I knew I wanted to be full-time in a university. It has been my desire and plan to return to higher education.

Born and raised outside Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, Schuler was the oldest of three children of a school principal. The 1970s were a “unique historic time in China,” she says. “The country was recovering from the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution and other challenges. I still have vague memories of having just enough food to eat, and if you wanted a second serving you would realize the pot was empty.”

From a young age, Schuler was fascinated by English. While on a family trip to a tourist destination in Sichuan, she heard an interpreter “conversing beautifully in both languages [Mandarin and English]. I thought it was amazing — the fact that you could travel between two cultures so easily and be able to help people narrow the gap. That was the fascination.”

But college quickly revealed her limitations. An initial test demanded students listen to, and answer questions based on the BBC and Voice of America (VOA) programs.

"I didn’t understand a thing. So you swallow your tears and put in the hours,” she says.

In 1996, she earned her master’s degree in British and American literature from Sichuan University and was one of just two graduates asked to remain as faculty in the same department. Two years later she moved to the U.S. and, after having two children, started earning her PhD in intercultural education. She also took a job as a senior global account manager at a high-tech company, an experience which became significant for her work at CUI.

“I learned so much from the people I worked with in the high tech field. I also gained experience in the international logistical procedures, and learned that I had business potential, untapped areas that I didn’t imagine I could do,” she says. “It helped me a lot in my current job as director of the MAIS program at Concordia. In such a role, you can’t look at academics only but at the big picture, how the program will grow. My experience and achievements developed from seven years in business helped me look at the MAIS program from a holistic perspective. I learned how to do marketing, program branding, how to reach out to prospective students, how to support my alumni, recognize faculty talents, how to view the program from students’ perspectives and provide both faculty and students with the best support and guidance I could.”

While finishing up her PhD, Schuler was recruited by Concordia. For three summers she had taught as an adjunct professor at CUI, so when asked to consider a full-time position in the MAIS program, she was interested.

“Honestly, I was doing really well in the company at that time, but I knew I wanted to be full-time in a university. It has been my desire and plan to return to higher education," she says.

As assistant director of the MAIS program, Schuler ran the campus side of the program while the director was overseas.

In July 2017, CUI chose to significantly redesign the MAIS and asked Schuler to serve as the new director. In the new MAIS program, which enrolls its first cohort in Fall 2018, students will take core courses online, then spend three weeks of international field work in the region they have selected and studied — either China, Africa, Southeast Asia or Latin America.

Schuler is already hearing encouragement from MAIS alumni who are pleased with the new direction. Reflecting on her own journey, she says that as a child it was “unimaginable that I would one day call this country my home. Now, looking back, I see how interconnected we are culturally, economically, politically and socially, and it becomes natural. My students will be carrying the torch even further.”