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Teacher studying up for Asia trip

January 31, 1999

Evelyn WilliamsBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / staff writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Evelyn Williams says she can't wait to put into practice the information on China that she learned last summer.

A teacher at South Hagerstown High School for 17 years, Williams studied modern Asia at Yale University last summer, and will travel to China and Hong Kong for a month this summer.

Williams, who teaches social studies, was one of 24 educators from a nationwide pool of 200 applicants chosen to help improve the quality of teaching about Asia in U.S. schools.

The Yale University Program in International Educational Resources initiated the two-part project, "Teaching about the New China."

It was funded by a grant from the Freeman Foundation, and involves a curriculum development program, and participating in a field study in China and Hong Kong.

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Williams and others spent two weeks last summer at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. They studied Chinese language, history, geography, society, and contemporary art, film and literature in seminars led by Yale professors.

Williams, of Hagerstown, said she read about the project in a trade magazine. Her interest was piqued by the prospect of a nearly all-expense paid trip to China.

"My mother said I was born with one foot out the door," she said. "I love to travel."

Other than a $300 registration fee, which was refunded after Williams submitted a lesson plan, and an airline ticket from Baltimore to Los Angeles, Yale picked up the tab, she said.

Williams said the hour spent daily learning the Chinese language was the hardest part of the Yale curriculum. Group members had to learn some 8,000 Chinese characters and be functionally literate, she said.

In the Chinese language, words spelled the same way take on different meanings when spoken in different tones, Williams said.

She said she found she didn't have a great ear for hearing tones.

Chinese table etiquette was a lesson unto itself, she said. Chinese diners never serve themselves, pass the plate or finish every morsel - unless they want another plateful.

Then there's the cuisine.

"Everybody says food in China is not like Chinese food, here," Williams said.

Though digesting information on everything from Chinese politics to culture was challenging, Williams said working with the Yale staff, forming friendships and sharing ideas with other educators, and expanding her knowledge of modern China, made the effort worthwhile.

"We spent those grueling two weeks at Yale, and built up a wonderful camaraderie," she said.

From June 27 to July 27, Williams and 19 other teachers will tour six Chinese cities and Hong Kong. The traveling conditions will be primitive, and Yale advisers warned the group to be apolitical, she said.

"We signed a contract that said we shouldn't make any political statements, even to agree or disagree," said Williams.

When she returns, Williams said she will bring her experience into the classroom with photographs and lesson plans. Until then, she will keep practicing her Chinese.

"I think all good teachers really never stop being students at heart," she said.

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