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Teacher shares China experience

| Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006

Yan "Elizabeth" Wang wants to teach her students that the world is a small place and that the people in it need to understand each other.

That's why she traveled thousands of miles to come to the Bethel Park School District to teach a Chinese history and culture class.

"I took this chance to teach Chinese because humans share a lot of similarities, and we need to understand each other," said Wang, who normally teaches English at Xing Zhi School, north of her native Shanghai.

Bethel Park High and Xing Zhi began a partnership 10 years ago. Each year, one of the schools plays host to visitors from the other. This semester, Wang has come to America to teach her everyday culture.

Xing Zhi is a college-prep-style school with about 2,000 students. The students, who come from throughout China, must pass an extensive exam to get accepted into the campus-style school.

Now, Wang teaches about 85 Bethel Park students in four classes everything she can about China, including cooking, etiquette and manners, the country's history and of course, the language.

"I want my students to learn about Chinese people. I show them what we look like and teach them about our culture, history and customs. I want them to get the general idea that in China, we are all human beings. We are all kind," Wang said.

The class, called "The China Experience," has been a hit with Bethel Park students.

"I think the class is very authentic," said sophomore Kelly Zimba, 15.

"It's not often that you get to take a class from someone who's been there. It's neat to learn that they have New Year's like we do. Everyone celebrates, and they watch the ball drop on TV like we do. It's good to see that we have some of the same traditions."

Zimba's classmate, junior Abbie Giannangeli, 16, also said she has learned that there are similarities between Chinese and American people.

"I didn't know much about the Chinese. I thought they were school-minded and didn't have fun, but they do. We learned about their spring festival, which is like a big party where the kids go out and have fun and eat, just like we do," Giannangeli said.

Not only does Wang want her students to learn about her homeland, the married mother of a 21-year-old daughter wants to learn about American culture, too.

"America has impacted the cultures in all other countries, and I wanted to learn more about it," Wang said.

This is her second time in the United States and in Bethel Park. During a visit in 2001, she toured several American cities, including Washington, D.C.; New York; and Los Angeles.

Wang is staying with elementary school teacher Cynthia Buckley. While Wang is here, Buckley and other teachers in the district are trying to show Wang the best that America has to offer.

Since arriving here last month, she has been to the symphony and a musical and will be traveling to Kentucky with a teacher over the Easter holiday.

"I'm a lucky dog," Wang said with a laugh. "The teachers here are very kind and wonderful."

Bethel Park teachers also enjoy having an international colleague.

"We're lucky to have her here because she is open to the American experience," Bethel Park oral history teacher Tracey Schuster said. "Our governments may have issues, but as people, no one feels that they are better than anyone else."

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