Upper school Chinese teacher Annie Dai shares her culture with upper school students.
Upper school Chinese teacher Annie Dai said it was fate that brought her to the central region of the United States from her central China upbringing in the Hubei Province. “Both are very similar geographically and Plains-like,” she quipped.
Annie originally studied biology at Hubei University in the provincial capital city, Wuhan, and earned a second degree in English. “English was my favorite class/subject, but I was not a confident speaker, even though I was an English teacher at the university-level after graduation,” she said. “Quite a few of my colleagues of my generation decided to travel to English-speaking countries to further build our English proficiency.”
Annie traveled to Huddersfield, a town near Manchester, England to receive her master’s degree in business. Though she had already been on her own for five years, she enjoyed the independence of being in the new country and studying with classmates from countries such as Japan, India, Denmark and the United States. “The language was still a barrier,” she said. “I remember getting off the train and not understanding the taxi driver. I share some of these experiences with my students, to explain you have to go out into the real world and practice these languages with people, instead of just in the classroom. And don’t be intimidated by trying to use the language.”
While in England, she began teaching Chinese to businessmen who worked with clients in East Asia, which she found was a new way to utilize her native language. “I never would have thought of that as an option,” she said.
After spending a few years in Sweden for her husband’s job, they moved to the United States and Kansas City. She tutored Pembroke Hill students in Chinese, before starting the Chinese program at Pembroke Hill in 2008.
Annie’s Chinese classes delve into more than just the language. They look into the culture of the country, architecture, philosophies, as well as current events and American/Chinese relationships. “I assign my students to bring in articles of East Asian, European and American relations. This helps my students to understand issues from not just the American perspective, but also from multiple perspectives. We talk about Taiwan and Tibet, both of which are sensitive subjects with the Chinese government. We talk about artificial islands being built in the South China Sea, which America has interests in the region. So we look at different sides of issues.”
The students work on two culture projects each year. One of the projects this year focuses on the difference between Chinese ink painting versus western oil painting, and looking at their similarities and differences. Students will select a Chinese artist and focus on their biographical information, discover how their education and life experiences have influenced their painting style and what they want to convey in their pieces.
In one of her other classes, they are working on Chinese beliefs such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Feng Shui and Chinese legendary stories, how other religions connect with China and its people, and how beliefs influence Chinese way of thinking and behavior.
Annie’s students try to immerse themselves in the culture by hosting a children’s activity station at the Dragon Boat Festival along Brush Creek, participating in the Ethnic Enrichment Festival at Swope Park and taking students to China for January Interim. She also coordinates with the Kansas City Chinese American Association to send PHS students to Yanzibian, a rural town near Xi’an, to volunteer teach at a local school that was rebuilt after the earthquake in 2008.
Annie said her experiences as a teacher at Pembroke Hill have been amazing and rewarding. “The students are very respectful and really enjoy learning. My colleagues are very supportive. I have become a better me by working here and attending professional development opportunities, and through the students, by learning from them about both America and China.”