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A friendly 'Ni hao': Thomas students welcome Chinese teacher

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chinese cultural teacher Dongmei Wang has been warmly welcomed by faculty and students at Thomas Magnet School.
(T-G photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
When you meet her, Dongmei Wang will ask one thing: "I hope you could speak English slowly."

While southerners are often teased for speaking slowly, to an ear hearing our language and accents for the first time, it can be confusing. Throw in our frequent use of idioms and the number of words we use interchangeably, well, it takes time to get used to.

New home

Other than that, Mei, as she asks to be called, is settling in well in her new environment.

She arrived in Shelbyville three weeks ago after being selected by a team of local educators who travelled to China to interview candidates earlier this year. Wang, 41, is considered key to the formation of Chinese culture programs at TMS and throughout the county.

The community will have an opportunity to both meet and welcome her in a reception this afternoon at Thomas Magnet School.

Wang has been entranced by the local landscape, "It is very different. There are many green grass, the weather is very clean, there are many beautiful houses, nice and friendly people. I like here very much."

Learning the lingo

For now, her biggest challenge is embracing the English language. She always asks the people she meets to speak slowly. Although she studied English while in university, and in-depth for six months before making her first trip abroad, "My major is not English. I need to speak English every day but the people that live here [are] very nice, very kind to me."

She admits to being a bit homesick, but mostly because her father passed away just three months ago, and she is still grieving that loss. "I miss my dad, because he loved me, and I love him." She talks almost nightly to her mother and brother back home in China, using real-time instant messaging service QQ, similar to the FaceTime or Skype services familiar to Americans.

New friends

She has been the house guest of assistant principal Mindi DeWitt and pup Gizmo since she arrived, and has already fallen in love with each. "I so appreciate her," said Wang, and "I love her little dog."

She is also becoming accustomed to American food. In China, she ate pizza, at McDonalds, and "the KFC," and assumed American food would be just like the fast-food it represents in franchises all over the world. "But when I [came] here I [found] it was a little different." She's visited Legends, and became an instant fan of potato skins.

Real surprise

She has been observing peer classrooms, and getting to know the students at TMS. She was charmed to be greeted by the students with "Ni hao" (pronounced "nee haow"), the common form of 'hello' in Mandarin.

"That make me so surprised. I asked them where do you study the Ni hao?"

She finds the students curious about China and its culture, and eager to learn. "I hope my students will like Chinese culture," she said.

'I love here'

The warmth of the people she's met so far has made her feel more at home. "I like [it] here ... very much. I think this is not strange to me. I think I love here very much."

She's looking forward to her very first "real" Christmas Day, "This is my dream when I was a girl. It is different from Chinese New Year."

"This [is a] wonderful school. Many people ... have [given me much] help. It makes me [feel] warm [at heart], it makes me [not so] homesick."

"I hope to make my English progress faster, then I will make friends here. I like [the] people live [who] here, they are very friendly and kind."

If you go

A welcoming reception for Dongmei Wang will be held 1-3 p.m. today at Thomas Magnet School. Representatives of Confucius Institute, which sponsors Wang, will be on hand to offer insights into Chinese culture.

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