Science - December 1, 2005

English teacher visits Wageningen

Many of the Chinese bachelor students have good memories of their English teacher from when they were studying in Beijing. Their teacher was in Wageningen last Tuesday and took the opportunity to meet her pupils and friends.

Alena Bartoli, who was raised in Massachusetts in the US, initially went to China for three months when she was asked to teach at the Chinese Agricultural University (CAU) in Beijing. She agreed, extended her visit and taught English to many of the Chinese bachelor students who are now in Wageningen. Thanks to her classes the level of English of the second and third generations of CAU students was significantly better than that of their predecessors. On a visit to the Netherlands this week, she decided to come over and meet them. ‘I am interested to see how they are doing. When I was teaching them, we developed a good relationship. It was hard to get to know my Chinese colleagues, but in China it is very common for foreign teachers to have good contact with students,’ Bartoli explains.

The Chinese students invited her for lunch followed by a tour round some university buildings. During the lunch the fruits of her classes are evident. The students all participate in lively conversations: with Bartoli and amongst themselves, all in English. But Bartoli taught them more than speaking and listening to English. Hu Yuming, one of her students: ‘She also invited us over to her house and cooked for us. We even learned some dancing.’

Bartoli also helped her students choose an English name. ‘Most of the Chinese students pick an English name for themselves and sometimes they just go through a dictionary and pick the first word they like. In some cases those names were not suitable.’ One of the students originally picked the name Commando for himself. At her suggestion he later changed it to Forrest, although his classmates still use the old name. ‘For me there was also a practical side to it,’ Bartoli adds laughing out loud. ‘I would never have been able to remember all of their Chinese names.’

Now that she is studying in Sweden, she feels she is in the same situation as her pupils. ‘It is easy to make first contact, but it is very hard to make good friends there. You really have to try very hard.’ The Chinese students agree. There is a short silence as people continue with their lunch. Bartoli looks around, smiles and concludes: ‘It seems like only yesterday.’ / JH

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