In a recent class at MU, eight Chinese women struggled to deliver speeches in English that weighed the pros and cons of a problem of their choice. Their American instructor listened carefully, stopping them from time to time to correct pronunciation and grammar.
One student talked about the difference between Chinese and American cultures. Another discussed the importance of having a car in cities such as Columbia.
A third student, 29-year-old Lily Niu, gave a detailed analysis on why the college students to whom she taught English back in China were reluctant to learn a foreign language and how she plans to help them.
“I will say to them, ‘You can speak Chinese. That means you can speak good English,’” Niu said.
Niu and nine other English teachers, including one man, from China’s Hebei province, have been taking English lessons at MU’s Asian Affairs Center as a part of the institution’s project to acquaint native Chinese with American culture.
Niu, who teaches at Hebei Economic and Business University in Shijiazhuang in northern China, applied for the three-month program after reading about it online. She arrived in Columbia for the training program on Sept. 8, leaving behind her husband and daughter.
“This is a valuable chance,” she said. “We don’t have much opportunity to come to America.” She was chosen through a competition.
Some of her team members, including Tan Yaling, an instructor at a technology vocational school based in Shijiazhuang, did not have to go through a competition.
“I did not know about the program until the principal of my school told me I could go to America,” Tan said. The school arranged the training for her.
Taking four classes and English language skills, along with American culture every morning, the teachers devote their afternoons to activities such as seminars and campus tours. They visited Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools, strolled along the streets of downtown Columbia during Twilight Festival, watched volleyball games at Hearnes Center and attended multicultural events while touring Jefferson City and Kansas City.
Speaking in Chinese, Nina Niu said the class load was heavy. She taught English at a school for nurses before coming to the city.
“Sometimes we have 100 pages of assignment. There is little time for leisure activity at night,” she said.
This past week, though, the group took a break from campus life and toured New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Bos-ton and Buffalo, N.Y. They will take another trip on Oct. 21, this time flying to California.
“The blue sky is what impresses me the most,” Lily Niu said of Columbia. “Shijiazhuang is too polluted for such blue skies.”
Her team members agreed with her, cutting her off with their own favorites:
“And the wild animals.”
“And the green grass.”
“And the friendly Americans.”