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Teacher couldn't have traveled further
EXOTIC KNOWLEDGE — Yahua Xu, who is going by the English name of Helen while in Oxford Hills, says that the experience of teaching local students has been wonderful.
PARIS — Yahua Xu grew up in a city called Jinhua, in the Zhejiang province of China.
Earlier this year, she traveled from Jinhua to Oxford Hills, moved in with the family of High School Principal Ted Moccia, and began teaching American students about her native culture.
By all reports, it has been an enlightening experience.
Xu, who uses the American name "Helen" while here, says that there are many differences between a Chinese classroom and the American classrooms at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.
"At first , the students knew little about China, and they knew nothing about Chinese language," said Xu, "but now it has changed greatly."
Over time, says Xu, the students have learned quite a bit about her homeland.
"The students have learned many facts about China, including some major Chinese cities and rivers, some Chinese animals, [and] some cultures," said Xu.
What's more, the students have learned some of the basics of the Chinese language.
"They now know Chinese characters are developed from pictures," explained Xu. "They have learned all the Chinese pinyin (phonetic symbols) so that they can read Chinese when they see pinyin."
Xu reports that the students can perform simple math problems in Chinese, and can introduce themselves to each other in Chinese now.
American culture has not been much of a shock to Xu, this time around.
"This is my second trip to America, so I have already learned some of the cultural norms," said Xu. "The people have been friendly and supportive of me during my experiences."
That's not to say that there aren't any new experiences to be had. Earlier this fall, Xu joined in the American tradition of jack-o-lanterns, and carved pumpkins for the first time in her life.
When in China, she teaches at Zhejiang Normal University Middle School. There, she says, the class sizes are much bigger.
"A traditional Chinese classroom is big," said Xu. "It usually has about 50 students in it, while here in America, it has about 20-30 students."
She has found both countries to have classrooms that take advantage of modern technology to help instruction.
"We have a computer, projector and screen in each classroom in my school in China," said Xu, "similar to the classrooms here in America."
Xu says that this allows her to use the presentation software powerpoint to create visual aids "while teaching, or show a video for students, which is helpful for teaching."
One fortunate group of students is hard at work to raise money for a two-week trip to China next year. For the other students, Xu is doing her best to communicate the vast differences between the two countries.
"It is hard for them to understand the political system in China and the differences in our cultures," said Xu.
It can be hard for Americans to overcome their vague ideas of what life in China is like. Most of what we see in the United State has been processed by media and/or government filters, which can distort or simplify the truth.
If she could make one, lasting impression on her students, Xu says that it would be to communicate the value of her homeland.
"There is a country called Zhongguo with a long history, and the largest population in the east of Asia," she said, "where people are clever, hardworking and friendly. And it's worth visiting."
Zhongguo is how the western world usually refers to China. The english name for the country, China, is derived from the Qin Dynasty, which ruled the 4,000 year old country for just 15 years.
Xu is not just teaching. She has also formed a bond of friendship with her class.
"What moves me is that my American students bought me a birthday cake on my birthday, which gave me a pleasant surprise," said Xu. "They even made a card and wrote the Chinese characters for 'Happy Birthday' to me on it and also cut long paper noodles, because some people eat long noodles on their birthday in China, which is the wish of long life."