ABERDEEN, S.D. – 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,” said Boyd Perkins, NSU’s director of bands.
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
Today, NSU’s international student numbers continue to increase, with students coming from countries all over the world. But it all began almost 30 years ago with Shishnia and her host parents, Dr. Les and Charlotte Clarke, who are considered instrumental in starting international exchange programs at Northern. 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 Aberdeen Central High School for 17 years.
On a National Education Association-sponsored tour of China in 1977, Les Clarke left an NSU 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 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 1984, she started classes at NSU.
Over the next four years, the trio became a family. The Clarkes helped her 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 1988 with a music degree. Over the years, Shishnia and the Clarkes have continued their relationship. 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. Boyd Perkins praised the culture and graciousness of the Chinese people.
“The trip was absolutely amazing, and I know everyone who went was just blown away by the experience,” said Jessica Perkins, instructor of low brass, conducting and music education at NSU. “I hope we will have an opportunity to do something like this again in the future, as I think it was an invaluable experience for our students.”
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.”
Small group photo: On a trip to China, NSU officials met Liane Dzau Shishnia, Northern’s first international student, who now teaches music in Hong Kong. Pictured left to right are: Shishnia; Doug Ohmer, professor of business; Dr. Boyd Perkins, director of bands; Jessica Perkins, instructor of low brass; Mike Bockorny of the NSU Foundation; and Y.S. Liu, Shishnia’s uncle and chairman of the Board of Governors of the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
Concert photo: Liane Dzau Shishnia, Northern’s first international student, is pictured on the right in the front row in this photo of the NSU Symphonic Band at its concert in Shanghai.