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Family goes abroad to teach, and learns just as much

August 30, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - A Hagerstown family flew halfway around the world with a mission this summer.

Karen Stamper and her children, Kara, 11, Hamilton, 16, Heather, 19, and Heidi, 20, arrived in China expecting to share American culture and language with Chinese teenagers in an English as a second language summer camp.

The family found a warm, welcoming culture and what they call "lifelong" friends.

Some of her students would say, "You're my American mother," Karen Stamper said.

Hamilton said that when they went out to eat traditional Chinese meals, their students would do all the ordering and wouldn't let the Stampers pay for anything.

"They always had to give you something," Kara said.

"They're a very giving people, even though they have little," her mother said.

The Stampers taught English at a school in Baoji, a city in the heart of China.

In China, where educators are strict and children spend more than 10 hours a day in class, the Stampers made learning fun. One night, the family threw a good old-fashioned American birthday party complete with balloons.

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"Many of them, even though they were 16, had not had birthday parties," Karen Stamper said.

Kara said that the Chinese students tried to start a food fight at the birthday party, because they thought Americans threw food all the time.

They also thought all Americans are rich, her brother said.

Hamilton Stamper said he was amazed at what amused the Chinese teenagers.

"They had a blast with kiddie games," he said. Uno was a favorite among their Chinese friends, the family said.

While the teenagers enjoyed simple games, they took their education seriously, Karen Stamper said.

"Their middle school was like a college ... they stayed there," Kara said.

Hamilton explained that the Chinese students studied hard because they wanted to go to universities. In China, the government chooses jobs for people who do not get into universities, he said.

Kara said the Chinese teenagers she met didn't want to end up as street cleaners.

Everyone she met in China had a strong work ethic, Karen Stamper said.

"They work hard for just a little bit of money. We work not as hard for a lot more" she said.

While the mission trip was organized through the Independent Bible Church in Martinsburg, W.Va., their mission was not to spread the Word but to show love, Karen Stamper said.

Kara spoke about Christianity when two Chinese girls asked her why she was so happy and smiling all the time.

"I told them I was Christian," she said.

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