by Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan
SAN DIEGO, the United States, May 13 (Xinhua) -- "I'm very happy to have the opportunity to share Chinese history and culture with my American students as a Chinese language teacher," said Kong Deyu, a young and energetic Mandarin teacher working at the Eggers Middle School in Hammond, Indiana.
"Most of my students are not only interested in it, but are also curious about China and Chinese culture. But some of them lack a basic understanding of China. Some students even have an image of China based on decades ago. I have to work hard to communicate with them," she told Xinhua.
Kong, from China's Hubei Province, came to the United States to teach the Chinese language on a contract. She was one of the over 1,300 attendees at the 2019 National Chinese Language Conference that ended in San Diego on Saturday.
The conference was the largest annual gathering in North America that brought together leaders and practitioners in the field of Chinese language education.
In collaboration with the Confucius Institute, this year's event was co-organized by the College Board and Asia Society, with a theme of "connecting to a global future".
Peng Han, an educator from Andrews Osborne Academy in Willoughby, Ohio, told Xinhua: "I want to make a difference."
"If more Americans spoke Mandarin, they would have a better understanding of the Chinese people. Our countries would be better friends," he said confidently.
He uses honesty and openness to build trust with his students. "They need to develop critical thinking, so if they ask about a problem they've heard about in China, like air pollution, I never deny it, I just focus on why it happened and how we are going to deal with it," he said.
Many of the teachers who attended the annual conference are finding ways to better serve their students by acting as informal ambassadors to improve relations between the United States and China and share the best that China has to offer with young Americans.
James Montoya, Chief of Membership, Governance, and Global Higher Education and Secretary of Corporation of the College Board, told Xinhua: "Our work as school administrators, educators, and cultural ambassadors has never been more important and by working together we can accomplish more than we can individually."
Jenny Lin, a teacher for the last eight years with a public school Mandarin program in Osprey, Florida, said her students want to be a bridge between the United States and China.
"Some have Chinese friends and want to know more about where they come from and others just got interested in a language and culture so different from their own," she told Xinhua.
"Our school mission is to be globally-driven, so we recognize our differences and celebrate our diversity," explained Hongli Holloman, a Mandarin teacher from the Washington International School in Washington D.C., the U.S. national capital.
"It's never just about teaching the language," she told Xinhua. "You need to use many of the authentic aspects of Chinese culture to capture the students' attention and motivate them to want to learn the language."
Mandarin teachers from across the country revealed that American students have many reasons for learning the Chinese language.
Song Xiuxian, from the Northwest Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, surveyed her students, saying that "some are just fascinated by the Chinese culture. Some of them have been to China or want to go and that makes them want to learn Chinese."
"Some had funny reasons, like thinking it was cooler than Spanish or thinking Chinese written characters are interesting," said another teacher who took part in the conference with Song.
"Others were more mature and think this is a good opportunity to find a better job in the future," said Song. "They realize China is developing fast and see a lot of potential opportunities for themselves if they are bi-lingual."
Song posted on the school's website: "I love our school because teachers here are extremely helpful and students here are collaborative and outstanding."
"This is a place where I am willing to make all my efforts," noted the Chinese teacher.
Kamila Carter, a young American student from the Tierra del Sol Middle School, began learning Mandarin at a very early age and is now fluent in it.
"Learning Chinese has changed me -- got me out of my little bubble and really opened doors for me. It enabled me to speak at conferences like this, participate in competitions, and meet tons of interesting people. I wouldn't be the same person without it," she told Xinhua.
Another panelist was Holly Chang, senior advisor of the "Committee of 100", an organization of influential leaders in the Chinese-American community. She is also the founder of Project Pengyou, an alumni association for Mandarin students and visitors to China.
Chang echoed Carter's assessment, saying "once Americans go to China and come back, their worlds and dreams get bigger."
Montoya summed up the motivation shared by most of the Mandarin teachers working around the United States.
"We want our future to be better than now. We care about student mobility, expanding educational opportunities, and enhancing global citizenship. We're inspired to work with our students to the better future," Montoya said.