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Chinese teacher enjoyed energetic students, warm welcome in Willmar

Tang Beiyi reviews Chinese words Wednesday with one of the classes she has taught at Willmar High School during the past school year. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Tang Beiyi's students are going to miss her when the school year ends in a couple weeks.

For Tang, it will be hard to leave them, too, as she ends a school year teaching in Willmar and returns to her home in China. Tang has been a teacher in the U.S. State Department's Teachers of Critical Languages Program.

Tang is the second Chinese teacher to live in Willmar in the past three years. As with Bai Jinguo two years ago, she has been co-teaching with Willmar Chinese teacher Todd Lynum.

"She's really friendly," Morgan Lalim, a senior at Willmar Senior High, said last week. "She understands where students are, and if someone is falling behind she brings them up."

Tang is a kind teacher who can be a bit tough if she feels students aren't applying themselves, her students said.

"She really expects you to try," said Zoe Vossen, a junior. "Some kids tested that," added junior Paul Benson.

Students said Tang had them make music videos and had them do performances in class.

Tang said she has recorded her American students' singing Chinese songs "so I can keep them forever." Some of her students say they plan to visit her someday, and others have become pen pals with her students in China.

After nearly a year in Willmar, it's hard to say goodbye to students, teachers and the town, Tang said. She arrived last August and will leave in mid-June.

She has lived with Bev Baseman of Willmar, who included her in many social events and church activities. "I need to say thanks to all the people in Willmar," she said. "I experienced the true social life here, and that's very precious to me. ... I feel warm here not only because of the warm winter."

No matter how much she has enjoyed her adventure, she said, she is looking forward to being with her parents and her college-age son again in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province.

"I think a school year is enough for me to be away from them," she said. "They miss me; it's time for me to go back home.

In China she is an English teacher, but she's learned that "I really like teaching Chinese," she said. Switching back to teaching English will be an adjustment, she added.

American students are active and confident, she said. "They love learning Chinese, and they are interested in the culture."

Chinese students are more serious and pay more attention to scores, as they must pass rigorous entrance exams to go to college, she said.

Tang said she believes she can use some of the teaching methods she learned here when she returns to China, but not all of them.

"I will be able to help my students learn more about American culture," she said. She plans to have them do research projects and class presentations on American culture.

It's not commonly done in China, but she saw how much the students in Willmar learned doing projects on Chinese culture and would like to give it a try.

"They enjoyed doing it, and they learned," she said. "I was impressed by the students' work."

Tang enjoyed playing table tennis with people in Minnesota, though she always beat them. She is the fourth-best player in her age group in Chengdu, so her level of play is much higher than most any American.

It was a good way to get to know people, she said, and to learn more about the culture.

Table tennis is a "gentle sport" that can be a lifelong activity, and it's good for kids' developing brains, she said. Their eyes learn to judge the speed and distance, and their brains learn to send orders to the muscles at the right time.

Early language instruction is also good for young minds, Tang said. When she did presentations in the district's elementary schools, she saw that the younger children learned quickly. "The students learned everything," she said with a smile. "The students were better than their teachers."

Tang was well prepared for a harsh winter that never came this year. "I was always waiting for it," she said, and native Minnesotans kept warning her that a blizzard could be just around the corner.

She experienced one snow day, but no blizzards. When it did snow, "I took a lot of pictures and sent them home," she said.

In Chengdu, it snows only a little bit a couple times a year, and even a mild winter here was colder than winters at home, she said.

She's gotten used to the weather, though. She has traveled to Orlando, Fla., and to California during her year here, and when she got back to Minnesota, "I felt more comfortable here," she said.

Tang's travels also took her to New York City and Washington, D.C. She made numerous trips to the Twin Cities. Going to the state fair and the Mall of America reminded her of the busy city where she lives, she said. The Chinese collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was impressive, Tang said, with a larger collection than museums she visited in Washington or New York.

"I have gotten used to life here -- it's quiet; it's comfortable." Tang realizes it may take a few days for her to readjust to the population density of her home city.

When it came to food, not all American food appealed to her. Chinese food often has too much oil and too much salt, she said, but American food has too much sugar.

American baked goods were interesting to her. "I think baking is a kind of art," she said. "Chinese people do not do a lot of baking." In fact, most Chinese homes do not have an oven.

Tang did like barbecue, grilled foods and salads with raw vegetables. "When I go back to China, I will make some salad."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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