BEIJING — When she was a young girl, Wei Yi’s grandmother taught her Chinese characters and how they were made, and Wei began to see the beauty in her own language.
For example, the character for woman is based on the figure of a woman kneeling to hold a child or do some handwork, she said.
The character for tree when drawn twice means woods and when drawn three times means forest, she said.
The character for women when drawn twice means argument, Wei said, laughing.
“You could see the character, and you see the character and you also could see the story behind it,” Wei said. “That’s where Chinese is very beautiful to me. To me it’s amazing, but to foreign people it’s like mystery. It’s not easy to be understood.”
Wei, 25, of the eastern coastal city Qingdao, will be one of the Hanban teacher volunteers coming in July to the Confucius Institute at Western Kentucky University.
There are 12 Kentucky-certified teachers coming to WKU through the program as well as nine candidates who will complete their master’s degree at WKU, said Betty Yu, associate director of the Confucius Institute at WKU.
Wei also was one of about 195 Hanban volunteer teachers who attended a training to prepare them for the schools they may be assigned to. The training covered areas such as classroom structure, expectations and management led by a group of Kentucky educators on Saturday at Beijing Language and Culture University.
Eight Kentucky educators are in Beijing on a nearly one-week trip focusing on educational leadership. The trip was organized through the Confucius Institute at Western Kentucky University and paid for by the Hanban.
Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters is a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education.
On Saturday afternoon, Charles Proffitt, superintendent of Cloverport Independent School District in Breckinridge County, talked to the trainees about the differences in the Chinese and American school schedule.
Unlike many Chinese teachers, American teachers teach about six classes each day, five days a week, he said. They also get about 25 minutes for lunch.
The information brought a murmur of surprise from the audience.
Proffitt also discussed the differences between the grade levels to which the Chinese teachers might be assigned.
Elementary school students are eager to learn, but are “needy” of one-on-one time with the teacher, he said.
Proffitt described middle school students as “smelly students” who will need patience from their teachers.
“They just don’t know where they fit, just to be truthful,” he said.
High school students, in comparison, tend to not think they need school, but require more rigorous teaching, Proffitt said.
John Millay, superintendent of Meade County Schools, spoke to students about ways to manage their classroom.
He noted that students in America typically don’t stand and greet their teacher at the beginning of each class as many Chinese students do. Instead he recommended standing at the door of the classroom before each class, greeting students.
He suggested the teachers attempt to build relationships with their students.
Millay also warned that in early grades, students may not be as prepared for school as they are in China.
“Some parents depend on the school a lot more in the beginning,” he said. “The school prepares the child.”
Millay said that, for American teachers, teaching is a vocation.
“That’s a life decision they’ve made,” he said.
Of the 195 Chinese teachers being trained at BLCU, 175 will go to Confucius Institutes in America to teach Chinese language and culture with five going to Canada and 15 going to Australia or New Zealand, said Feng Yali, project manager for the Division of Confucius Institute Development at BLCU.
Other Chinese universities also have similar trainings, Feng said.
Wei has taught abroad before, but has never visited America.
She said she’s looking forward to eating Kentucky food, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, and seeing the state’s mountainous area.
But Wei said she’s a little concerned about working with American students.
“I kind of worry if my students will like me as my former students do, if they are naughty what I’m going to do to them,” she said. “How can I have an interesting and fun class but also a good management, class management? I’m thinking a lot about it recently.”
Being separated from her parents and grandparents will also be a challenge because, in Chinese families, multiple generations tend to be close, Wei said.
However, she said they have all been supportive, and she plans to keep in touch through phone calls and the Internet.
“They leave me no worries,” she said.
Joey Xing, 24, of Hebei Province near Beijing, taught Chinese in Thailand for two years and said he is now looking forward to seeing the American education system.
“I really want to learn the difference between the Asian education system and the American education system,” he said.
Xing will also go to the Confucius Institute at WKU. He said he decided to go into teaching because when he was little he always admired his teachers.
“They act like they know everything,” he said.
Now, he really wants to share what he knows with students, Xing said.
When he told his father he had decided to teach in America, Xing said his father was concerned.
“My father’s like ‘Hey, Joe, watch out because in America there is no gun control,’” he said.
Xing, however, said he is excited to take on the challenge of living in a different culture.
“Challenge is my middle name,” he said.