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The Andersons give a talk during the Amity Winter Conference

Long-term teaching in Inner Mongolia

Hugh and Teena Anderson are Amity long-term teachers. They committed themselves to work in Inner Mongolia for two years. They teach English in a region of China that is not very developed and where native English teachers are still urgently needed and seen as a blessing by the locals. This interview was given during the Amity’s English Teacher Mid-Term Conference in Kunming.

Q: Can you first introduce yourself and what are you doing here in China?

Hugh: Teena Anderson and I and we are teachers at Chifeng College in Inner Mongolia. We are here for two years. Since we have completed one year, and we are going back to for the second years.

I am Hugh Anderson. Our sponsoring agency sending agencies from the United States is the Presbyterian Church and and obviously our Chinese sponsor sending Agency is the Amity Foundation.

Q: So you are here being long-term teacher for Amity, teaching English in not so developed parts of Mainland China?

Hugh: Yes! Teena works with the Mongolian students, which is a whole other issue in Inner Mongolia, to have ethnic minorities groups at the university learning English.

Q: So actually there are special Inner Mongolian classes?

Hugh: Yes, they separate the Chinese from the Mongolian undergraduates, because Mongolians learn Mongolian and then they learn Chinese and English as the third language. So they are far behind the Chinese as far as where they are at, at the English level because they didn’t have it before.

Q: How do they think about it? They like it?

Teena: It’s like any class. Some like it; some not. Some are there because there is nothing else they can enroll in as a college student. going through. So they put them into the English class. So I have some Mongolian year one students who didn’t have English at all and who are starting from the ground level up and some in the class are very advanced. So we are also we are also dealing with issues like this in the class.

Q: When I was a student, I talked to some fellow students, who also came from ethnic minority areas. Some of them told me that it is great that they can learn their own language and that the government is sensitive about their own culture. The other part said: We want to be treated like everyone else. It seems difficult to please everyone.

Hugh: Yes, that’s very interesting. I think the Mongolians are looked down a little bit at least in our town from what we have heart, heard. They seem not have the same status as the Chinese have. They just struggle with the English. They are working hard; they want to learn English.

Teena: What also is interesting is, that as a foreign language major at the university, they have to learn a second foreign language. So many of them are taking Japanese because that’s the only other language offered at our colleague i college at this point of time. So they are not only struggling with English but they also struggling with Japanese.

Q: So how did you end up going to the other side of the world, teaching in China?

Teena: My background is that my mother was born in China. My grandparents were missionaries in China for 30 years. So I grew up here in joy hearing stories about China. During the times my grandparents were missionaries there were warlords and communism and Japanese, but I only heard the good side of China. They had horrific times but they loved the Chinese and I just grow up with a heart for China. I always wanted to go. When I was growing up and going to college China was closed. And when it was opening up and we started looking for opportunities. We are going to China whether through the Presbyterian church because we wanted to go through the church and finally we were able to discover Amity.

Hugh: In 2002 we spent our first summer with Amity’s Summer English Program We came to China and we had the opportunity to experience China. We were working with the Chinese English teachers of Amity’s Teacher program and we enjoyed it so much, that we came back. I came back three times and Teena four times. After working with Amity we had connections then with the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Preservation Movement and we were asked to teach for their English program. So we did that for two summers and now we are here for two years finally.

Q: Why did you choose Amity to come to China and not another agency?

Hugh: I think its us, in that we are both Christians and both I am a Presbyterian ministers and Teena is a daughter of a Presbyterian minister and granddaughter of missionaries. We feel that doing projects like teaching English is part of expressing our Christian faith. so It’s part of human beings helping those who are in need of help and being connected to a Christian agency to the Presbyterian church and in the United States and to the Amity Foundation here in China. So we are not two freelancers but we represent these two agencies in all we do. The other advantage is that the Amity Foundation is familiar with what is the greatest need in China and [like sending teachers to the western provinces and to minority regions] so that we are able to be of the most benefit when we are here. And then the third reason is that since we are then connected to an agency at the States and here, and there is accountability. We are connected to the Presbyterian church, the Amity Foundation in addition to the school. We have three bosses (Teena is laughing). But we also have a support system so when ….

Ni hao… Ni hao…. at this moment a middle-aged, local Chinese woman with a red scarf in her hair who entered the hotel lobby and came straight to our table is interrupting the sentence. With a delighted smile all over her face she grabs Hugh’s hand and starts shaking it. Taken by surprise the three of us are completely puzzled and it takes us a few seconds to respond to her greetings with amused and friendly laughter … Ni hao… ni hao…thank you, thank you… xiexie ni xiexie .Hugh continues his interrupted sentence….

We are responsible of….aehm… We have the support of the agency. So if a problem arises we are not left stranded on our own. We can contact Amity, we can contact the Presbyterian Church and say: This is it was what has risen. What can we do? How it can be solved?

At this moment we stopped in our talk. The woman has sat herself straight down at the table of the hotel lobby where we are having our interview. She is giving us a splendid smile as like it is something that is completely normal. For the next few minutes we are trying to start a conversation. But the woman is speaking a Yunnan dialect and we don’t understand each other in greater depth. But it is clear that the woman is overjoyed welcoming us in China. And as she sees that we are also very pleased about this surprising and warmhearted incident, she is happily leaving the hotel lobby leaving us back perplexed. After we have sorted ourselves out Hugh continues with the interview:

Hugh: To work as volunteers is the expression of our faith and we want to involve the faith community. Amity knows the situation in China since they are a China based organization and they know the places with the greatest need. Amity and the Presbyterian Church are the sending agencies. We are accountable to them and they are accountable for our well-being. So whenever a problem arises we can contact Amity or the Presbyterian church and say: So here is an issue, how we can solve this particular issue? So we are not out there alone on our own.

Teena: Amity has also done an excellent orientation. They gave us all kinds of information and prepared us about the situation. The Presbyterian Church which did an very good orientation too. They prepared us to understand better what will happen when you go abroad in general. You know that’s going to happen but in your mind you don’t know how you will react. They kind of prepare you for it and when it hits you its like: Oh I know, we have talked about this! Because even though we did have not traveled for the first time we knew that we are going to maybe be in very difficult situations.

Hugh: And that is a different culture in general and we had a first our orientation with Amity when we first arrived and became China cognizant.

Q: Now you are in your holidays, you are in your mid-terms and attending this mid-term conference. How do you think about that?

Hugh: I think it is a very good thing. It brings everybody together so we have the opportunity to talk to other volunteer teachers and share notes, share problems, share solutions and ideas and it is also exciting because we were involved in the August orientation program with the young adult volunteers and with some we shared worships and devotions. It is good to connect with them again six month after they have arrived and see what their experiences were like based on what they have said in August and what they are saying now. It seems there is a lot of room for excitement and also being able to see a different part of China. We are here in Kunming exact catty-cornered to Inner Mongolia and we are experiencing different projects Amity is involved in first hand , next to the English teaching aspect.

Teena: We have always been always involved with the teaching and we heard about the projects. So going to a project in the villages and seeing exactly what Amity is doing is quite unique. You understand it so much better when you see it. So now when we are back we can spread the word about education but also about the other projects.

The other good thing about this conference is it brought the Chinese school leaders here as well as the Amity volunteers and long-term teachers. So the school leaders can have a talk to the representatives of our college and they can share with one another the issues and concerns from their perspective. This is a chance to know them better and they to know us better as well.

Q: Do you think your long term commitment in China has changed you personally in some way?

Hugh: For me as I mentioned as being a Presbyterian minister and from 2002 until today being in China several times and in one way or another connected with Chinese Christians. And it has helped me remember that the church is more than just the churches I worked with in Oregon, the Presbyterian churches. It helps put things in perspective. When there seems to be such a major crisis in somebody’s congregation and then they are extremely upset about something, I can say: you know, in the grand scheme of things this really isn’t that bad. To be able to see the church is as more than a western white home protestant denomination is very liberating.

Teena: One of our goals is building friendships with Chinese and they do not have the opportunity to very well know foreigners and they are very surprised to see us. When we are talking they get to know that we are just people too and we smile and they smile back. When we go to the market, to the pork vendor we buy pork from, he is just all smiles. He is our best friends. We like that opportunity of touching of other people and we touch people in the town, in the store and they all remember that we Americans want to be friends and they smile.

Q: Just as the moment before the woman came in and started to hug us!

Teena: Exactly, the same thing, same thing. Oh my goodness! We have had some highly unusual meetings with people and – – – just small things that were just never expected and w We feel like God has sent us here and some of the things that have happened because God has prepared the road for us. We don’t know what is coming down that road but we are open, open to the world.

Hugh: Here is a quick story. There is a student in the second year Teena and I had at class. He wanted to improve his English more than many of the other students. So he went to the college and made a proposal to have a special club after classes for English writing. So Teena and I were asked if we would be willing to teach that class or be facilitator for that class. He is committed to getting 25 other students who want to improve their English writing for the coming year. So they start in spring term this year. The school accepted that and gave them grant money to get that running. So it was just that encounter of teaching that this young man said: I like to do this. Will you help us? And actually we said yes.

Teena: I think that is the good part about breaking in upon a Chinese School or college. You find out exactly what the inner workings are of the Chinese colleges and also about high school, middle school and what the Chinese have to go through to get into college, to get into the best high school. You know lots and lots of stories about how the education system works in China and you can’t get that by just talking to one person. But when you are in the middle of it, its fascinating how things work.

Hugh: Or not. (laughter)

Teena: When we are in the middle and I think why are you taking this, this is really crazy but when we are looking back and I am talking to other people I discover: It is the same in you your college! Really? Wow!

Hugh: This is why a conference like this is great.

Teena: I had to learn that we can’t be perfect. We are all going to make mistakes. You can’t be a perfect teacher. We make cultural mistakes a lot of times. Sometimes you want to tell your friends, you know they are complaining about some little things and its like: Just let it go.

Hugh: You also have the opportunity to see be a little bit more critical of your own country when you go back. We did a lot of traveling. We have seen Third World Countries, we have been in Africa, we have been in South America and when we come back and see the consumerism in the United States we can then say: Hey wait a second. Do we really need to do this?

Teena: Or what are you complaining about in the States? It is the same with church. When you go in a Chinese Church they are really very excited about going to church.

Hugh: That is not the cultural norm like in the United States.We do not expect to change the world, but we are excited about the possibilities we have of changing one or two people’s minds about: Oh this it what a foreigner is like. Or if America-China relationships hit a bump in the road and are difficult, people can say: Well, we may have trouble government to government but we know the Andersons and to me they are good people who love life and love us.

Teena: I think the bottom line is we are not here for ourselves, we are here for a higher purpose I guess: Building friendship. The people we are friends with we are life-long friends, and we will communicate with them for the rest of our lives. And that what you have in mind. So the world gets smaller.

Group photo of the Amity Winter Conference 2015
The Andersons in the middle of the group photo of Amity’s Winter Conference 2015