GREENVILLE — Eureka Township resident Tim Reno recently spoke to a group of more than 200 students on a topic he holds in high regard — the freedoms that each and every American are entitled to.
To your average American student, it’s a topic that would likely generate a few yawns and lead some to fall asleep, but Reno wasn’t speaking to American students.
He wasn’t even speaking in America.
Reno was standing in a lecture hall at the Shandong Institute of Business and Technology, located in Yantai, Shandong, China, speaking to a curious and engaging group of Chinese students, eager to learn anything about America.
“I explained to them what America is and all of the different cultures that make up America,” Reno said. “I felt honored to do that.”
This past December, Reno, half a world away, in a Communist country, delivered his personal view of America, one that he said was difficult for the students to grasp.
From the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech, the right to assemble and the history of slavery, Reno said he covered a variety of topics that the students had many questions about, as many of those freedoms and rights are not available to citizens in China.
Reno was visiting his daughter and son-in-law, Abigail and Ryan Corcoran, who spent two years as English instructors at the Chinese university after graduating from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
“They invited me to come and see them and I was able to finally go,” Reno said. “Abigail had asked me if I would talk at the university there on American culture and I thought it would be a great opportunity.”
Speaking on the topic of America being a “melting pot” of citizens, Reno said students were mesmerized by the idea of citizens of different ethnicities and races living together.
“Everybody there has black hair and they are all about the same size,” he said. “For them to see all different facets of people is really interesting.”
Reno said he also focused heavily on the Bill of Rights, knowing that those freedoms aren’t prevalent in the communist country.
“I talked about how people are free to choose to go to church if they wish, have a faith in God,” he said. “I explained how the government does not tell people that they have to belong to this group or that.”
After giving his lecture he opened the floor to questions by the students and Reno said the very first question was one that was difficult to answer, but not surprising.
“How do we get the freedoms like you have in America here in China?” a student asked him.
“I danced around it, initially,” Reno said. “I do think that the younger people are the ones that will push for change, and I do think change will come in China.
It just might not be in this generation.”
Reno said he was as honest as he could be with the students.
When asked why America’s education system was great, he told them they should actually look at Finland’s education system because they operate the highest-ranked education system in the world.
When asked why America was such a dangerous place because of all of the gun violence, he explained that though there are instances of gun violence, many misperceptions of America are exaggerated and viewed out of context.
“They know about America as much as their government allows them to know,” he said. “I grew up during the Cold War and during that time we didn’t learn much about China or the Soviet Union, and what we were told was mostly bad stuff. It’s pretty similar for them now in that regard.”
Reno said one large similarity was the eagerness to be successful and to live one’s dream.
“A lot of them want to come to America,” he said. “They all have the same aspirations that we do. They want to have a job, a family and a place to live.”
Ryan Corcoran said they asked Reno to speak because many of their students make an attempt to study for at least two years in the United States as part of a study abroad program.
“Most Chinese students are fascinated by American culture and are very interested in it,” he said. “Tim coming was a unique opportunity for them. I think the students were pretty interested in what he had to say. They had a lot of questions about history and how they can make a difference in their own realm, in their own country.”
Ryan Corcoran said students pursue an American education to escape the pressures of competing in a country with 1.3 billion residents. Earning a degree from an American university separates them from the pack.
“I was encouraging them to come to the lecture because it’s important to know about the history and culture of America, because it will make their transition easier if they choose to come here.”
Abigail and Ryan said they chose to teach in China for two years because of the opportunity and chance to change lives.
“We went over there because there was a need and we wanted to help with that need,” Ryan Corcoran said. “One of those needs is teaching English, and another one of those needs is sharing the love that we’ve received from Christ.”
For Reno, it was a trip made to visit his daughter and son-in-law half a world away, but the opportunity to speak and enlighten a few minds about the culture in America is something he’ll never forget.
“They were eager to learn and I was more than happy to provide them with information,” he said. “It was a neat experience and I think a lot of them felt pretty good about what they learned.”