By Samantha Gillis
She pulls two DVDs out of her purse- “In Country” and “Inside Man.” She is brimming with excitement. Her wardrobe consists of a pink traditional Chinese dress with a floral print. “One of my hobbies is watching DVDs,” said Nancy Wang, Chinese exchange teacher.
“I also love sports.” She plays soccer, ping pong, basketball, and most recently, tennis.
George Gangwere, professor of physics, introduced her to tennis. However, he did so in China. “There aren’t many tennis courts available in China. I mean they are everywhere but they are all locked up and reserved for the P.E. teachers,” said Wang.
Wang, Gangwere and his wife, Patricia Gangwere, are participating in a Chinese exchange program. Last February, the Gangweres flew to China to Huangshan University, where George taught physics and Patricia taught English.
“We didn’t know Mandarin,” said Gangwere, “so there was a bit of a language barrier.” All Chinese students are required to learn English from primary school to their sophomore year in college. “They knew a little bit and they could understand us but most of them had difficulties speaking,” said Gangwere.
In Ganwere’s class there was a student interpreter who helped connect the distance. “He would let me know if the other students understood or not,” he said.
Gangwere recalled how the students were eager to learn from his wife. She is from Arkansas and has a little bit of Southern drawl, which they loved. “They were very excited to learn English from a native speaker,” said Gangwere.
Finding a good meal was a bit of a challenge too. “In France or Germany you can at least recognize some words, but not with Chinese characters,” said Gangwere.
When they found something they enjoyed, one of their students would write it down in Mandarin so they could just show it to the restaurant. Now that they are home, the Gangweres have traded positions with Wang. “We are her host now, so we are teaching her all about American culture. Just yesterday we showed her how to swipe your credit card at Dillons,” said Gangwere.
“I am shocked at how there are no people here,” said Wang, laughing. “In China there are just people everywhere, but you can drive down the street, and no one.”
Wang is trying to bring some Chinese culture to Winfield as well. She is teaching Tai Chi from 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday by the Mound. “It is very easy and relaxing, anyone can join, except for sleeping babies,” she said, as she let out another infectious laugh.
“In China when you go to the parks in the morning, there are people everywhere doing Tia Chi. The men, not so much. They like to play cards. But many women,” said Wang.
Wang is helping teach a three hour class called Chinese Language and Culture with Timothy Chan.
At Huangshan University where Wang teaches English, only three professors are allowed to be a part of the exchange program. “It takes a lot of money and you also have to be under 40,” she said. Age plays a role in deciding which teachers travel because there are too many people who want to go to America. Wang is 39, just skirting the cutoff.
“I am very happy to be here. I believe it is very important for cultures to understand each other, to experience the culture and politics yourself and not through watching celebrities,” said Wang.
“It is good for us to understand each other, to find the good about each other,” she said. The main objective for Wang is to improve her English and go back to her students in China as a better teacher.
Both Gangwere and Wang learned from their experience and encouraged others to go outside of themselves. “I wasn’t expecting to go to China, but my wife and I want to travel as much as we can before we die,” said Gangwere.
Wang wants to get to know other students on campus. “Come talk to me, bring your culture, you teach me something and I will teach you something in return,” she said.
Samantha Gillis is a senior majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.