NSU band meets first international student in China

Farm Forum

This spring, Northern State University’s international programs came full circle, when NSU music faculty and students met the university’s first international student overseas.

On a trip to China in May, the NSU Symphonic Band met Liane Dzau Shishnia, who now teaches music in Hong Kong. Shishnia and her uncle, Y.S. Liu, chairman of the board of governors of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, flew to Shanghai to see the band’s performance.

“We were honored they both came to the concert,” Boyd Perkins, NSU’s director of bands, said in a news release.

Ten former NSU students met up with the band in Beijing and Shanghai, Perkins said. Two former students even performed with the band in Beijing, and one in Shanghai.

Today, NSU’s international student numbers continue to increase, with students coming from countries all over the world. But it all began more than 30 years ago with Shishnia and her host parents, Les and Charlotte Clarke, who are considered instrumental in starting international exchange programs at Northern, according to the release. Les Clarke is the former dean of the university — essentially the position now called provost — and has served as interim president. The late Charlotte Clarke taught at NSU for 17 years.

On a National Education Association-sponsored tour of China in 1977, Les Clarke left a Northern brochure with a professor at Fudan University. A few years later, that professor’s daughter — Shishnia — found the brochure and asked if she could study in the U.S. Her father wrote to Les Clarke, who set about finding a way to make it happen.

With no money available at the university, the Clarkes decided they would sponsor Shishnia themselves. So in fall 1981, she started classes at NSU.

Over the next four years, the trio became a family. The Clarkes helped Shishnia learn English and find work. Clarke chuckles as he recalls his wife taking the new student to Kessler’s to show her what various foods were when she got a job in food service. He also recalls a trip to Arizona over Christmas during which they stopped at a Chinese grocery store. A Chinese woman asked Shishnia who the Clarkes were.

“They are my American parents,” she replied.

Shishnia graduated from NSU in 1984 with a music degree. Over the years, Shishnia and the Clarkes have continued their relationship. Les Clarke said when he heard the NSU band was going to play in Shanghai, he called to tell her, and she was excited to meet the band.

For the Symphonic Band, the entire trip was a wonderful experience. Perkins praised the culture and graciousness of the Chinese people.

Both performances were wonderful, but university staff and students in Shanghai really made an event of the NSU performance, Jessica Perkins said. The audience was appreciative, and several high-ranking university officials attended.

Boyd Perkins said that the dean of the School of International Studies at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics is highly interested in sending the university’s orchestra to visit NSU.

“It is my hope we can make that happen,” he said. “It was a tremendous cultural exchange for both universities.”