Bloomington school exchanges teachers with Chinese school Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Julie Zenz, Principal, St. Mary School, Bloomington   
Thursday, May. 05, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
Bloomington Teacher with Chinese Students
Miss Margie Duwe, a teacher at St. Mary School in Bloomington, is pictured with some of the students she taught at Shijiazhuang No. 40 Middle School in China as part of an exchange program. (Contributed photo)

BLOOMINGTON -- People might forget many things about you, but they rarely forget how you make them feel.

St. Mary School in Bloomington -- located in Grant County in the Diocese of Madison -- has completed our first teaching exchange with Shijiazhuang No. 40 Middle School in China.

Exchange program

St. Mary's teacher Miss Margie Duwe spent four weeks in China teaching science to almost 1,000 students a week, and Mr. Mark Ma, Mr. Peter Cao, and Miss Susan Wang taught science and reading at St. Mary's.

The experience has had a profound effect on both teachers and students, who embraced culture beyond the classrooms.

Since 2012, St. Mary's and Shijiazhuang No. 40 Middle School have been strengthened by an exchange program in which students and teachers live with host families.

The children from China feel like they gain another set of parents, as well as new brothers and sisters.

Cultural similarities are often the biggest surprises that people experience during the exchange. Families in China enjoy socializing, playing cards, eating, and watching sports together. The Shijiazhuang soccer team is as beloved as our Green Bay Packers.

Food is important

People often work long hours at their jobs, and they treasure time spent with their loved ones.

Food is an important part of daily life in China. They often greet each other with, "Have you eaten?"

Baking was a special treat for the teachers in our homes, because ovens are rare in Chinese homes.

Miss Duwe shocked her students by tasting Chinese delicacies like brains and "stinky tofu."

Striking differences

The physical structure and setting of our schools and homes have striking differences.

Some of the Chinese students saw stars for the first time during their visit to Wisconsin. The city of Shijiazhuang has nine million people, so the night sky is often obscured by light or pollution.

The majority of people live in apartment buildings that stretch as far as the eye can see. Traffic crawls through the city beside bicyclists and motorscooters. Cars became popular only in the last 15 years.

Apartments tend to be small in China, so the people don't own many items because of limitations of space. Our homes feel like a maze to the children who stay with us.

Welcome change

The small population of rural Grant County was a welcome change for the Chinese teachers at St. Mary's. They enjoyed visits to our restaurants and taverns where they could talk with local people.

One of the highlights for the men was a trip to Cabela's and the Bloomington Sportsman's Club. It was the first time that they were able to handle or shoot a gun, as citizens don't own guns in China.

Mr. Ma was excited to photograph squirrels because they are rare in urban China. The Mississippi River, blue skies, and wide open spaces of our woods and fields were delightful memories for our guests.

School in China

Miss Duwe was treated to fine restaurants and delicious meals in China. She enjoyed school breakfasts of vegetables, porridge, and eggs each morning with her fellow teachers.

Before the school day started, the students cleaned their classrooms and the school grounds.

Miss Duwe taught seventh and eighth grade science, with an average class size of 55 students. Her Chinese students were accustomed to lectures, power points, a lot of rote memorization, and large quantities of nightly homework.

She was able to introduce them to a more process-­based way of learning, culminating in a unit on the design and creation of catapults. The students tested their designs in the school's open courtyard.

Chinese teachers typically show students how to do an experiment, and then the students copy the teacher's design. Under Miss Duwe's direction, the students were given a problem to solve by trial and error. This type of lesson is often difficult for Chinese students, who are used to using a formulaic method to find a single correct answer.

Language not a barrier

Language would seem to be a barrier for teachers and students, but smart phones and English speakers bridged any gaps in understanding. We find that laughter and smiles are a universal language.

Students in both schools were helpful and kind toward their teachers. Some of the students at St. Mary's surprised their teachers with the pronunciation of Chinese tongue twisters to the delight of all those who could hear the twisted syllables and sounds of the words.

Teachers open the hearts and minds of students. One teacher can have a long­lasting effect on the future of a child.

The fruit of this exchange may look small today, but the understanding and friendships created will endure. We look forward to welcoming students and teachers to St. Mary's next fall, as the number of students in St. Mary's who will visit China someday grows.

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