In her native Zhengzhou, China, Wei Xu teaches English, but she is spending the upcoming school year in Bowling Green teaching Chinese in several Warren County schools.
Xu is one of 33 teachers visiting from China this year to teach Chinese language and culture at schools in the region as part of Western Kentucky University’s Confucius Institute.
This is the third year the institute has brought teachers from China into local schools, said Betty Yu, assistant director of the institute. This year, 41 schools in 12 Kentucky districts will have Chinese teachers through the institute.
The institute’s mission is to promote Chinese language and culture to students and the community at large, which helps create a global exchange, Yu said.
Two of this year’s Confucius Institute teachers will not be placed at a school, but will be out in the community as well as providing tours of the Confucius Institute Museum, which is free, and in Helm Library next to Java City.
Xu, 42, said she came to the Confucius Institute because she wanted to teach Chinese and knows a lot of people in America would like to learn the language.
“I love teaching. I love my job ... I love the children,” Xu said.
She’ll be teaching students at Jody Richards Elementary School as well as South Warren Middle and High Schools.
“I’m very excited about that,” Xu said. “I’m doing preparations right now.”
While county schools don’t open until Aug. 9, Xu already knows of one big difference between teaching in the U.S. and in China. While South Warren is one of the largest schools in the region, the high school where she teaches in China is much larger, with 6,000 students total and 50 or 60 in each of her classes, she said. Here, she will have about 20 students in each class.
This is Xu’s second time in the U.S. She spent a year in Baltimore from 2004-05 as part of the AFS Intercultural Program. She stayed with a host family then, but in Bowling Green, she is staying in a cottage on WKU’s campus.
“I really enjoy it here,” Xu said. “The people are really welcoming.”
Jerry Zhang, 23, is in the U.S. for the first time to teach at Potter Gray Elementary School this year through the Confucius Institute. He thinks the country is beautiful, and people have been friendly to him so far, he said.
Zhang said he’s excited to start school today and is happy being a teacher.
“I like (communicating) with people, and I like children,” he said.
Zhang, who studies in Beijing and is from the Shanxi province of China, is here as part of his postgraduate work. He has taught Chinese to foreign students who come to China for college, but this will be his first time teaching younger children, he said.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but also very excited,” Zhang said.
Teachers with Confucius Institute go through training for 70 days in China and another five days once they arrive in Bowling Green, Yu said.
Other schools that will have a Chinese teacher through the institute this year include McNeill Elementary School, Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School, T.C. Cherry Elementary School, Greenwood High School, Drakes Creek Middle School, Warren East Middle School and Warren East High School.