A Bridge to Beijing … and Beyond
Posted 09/21/2009 04:28PM

More bridges were built and bonds strengthened between Winchester Thurston and East Asia last summer when Middle School Director Holly Hatcher-Frazier and City Campus third grade teacher Karen Gaul each journeyed extensively through China on two different study trips for educators. They immersed themselves in myriad aspects of Chinese culture, and enjoyed experiences that are certain to enhance and fortify the study of Asia in all divisions at WT. Although each trip had a different purpose, the end results were the same: both Hatcher-Frazier and Gaul returned to Winchester Thurston brimming with enthusiasm, ideas, and a deeper understanding of Chinese culture. "I can now speak with much more depth.  I've explored temples, ancestral shrines, villages, factories, the mountains, even steppe farming. I'll bring so much more to the table," Gaul declares.  

Pittsburgh, Pioneers, and China
Gaul - one of 18 teachers chosen by a selection committee for a three-week study tour of Beijing, Guangdon, Guangzhou, Guilin, Shenzen, Hong Kong, and Northern Vietnam - studied migration and identity on her trip. 

Her research significantly augments third grade units on China, and - believe it or not - pioneers and Pittsburgh.  "When we study Pittsburgh, we talk about where you come from and why your ancestors came to Pittsburgh," she explains. "When we talk about pioneers, we discuss moving west.  Because of the tremendous amount of Chinese goods purchased by Americans, it's impossible to understand modern China without examining, even on a third grade level, factories and their impact on Chinese culture and internal migration. Many young people leave their villages because of lack of opportunity.  They go to the cities where the factories are, and they send home their earnings to help their family."

Additional concepts Gaul plans to share include China's ethnic minorities ("There are many faces of China," she marvels) and its religions ("Visiting temples and shrines across China gave me a significantly improved understanding of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism from the Chinese perspective," she notes, adding, "China also has a rich Islamic heritage"). 

For all that was fascinating and foreign, one of Gaul's fondest moments involved familiar faces:  "I saw WT students Michael (Class of 2017) and Andrew (2019) Caosun, and spent an afternoon with them and their mother in Beijing," she smiles.  "They're in the midst of their second year in China, planning to return next year."

Cross-Cultural Connections
"When you have authentic travel opportunities like this, the world becomes smaller," says Hatcher-Frazier, adding that it becomes infinitely larger at the same time. "You can make connections across cultural contexts that are not limited to a text or another person's interpretations." 

Among other things, Hatcher-Frazier's study tour focused on exploring the Chinese education system to better understand its culture and people; learning how to best support WT's new Middle School and Upper School Chinese teacher, Tian Yu; and enriching the Asian Studies Program. 

Highlights for Hatcher-Frazier, who has traveled extensively throughout Asia (this was her second trip to China), included cultural centers such as Tiananmen Square, the Great Hall of the People and the Forbidden City in Beijing; the Yuyuan Garden and the Bund in Shanghai; the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an; and - for the second time - the Great Wall of China ("...surreal...and incredibly peaceful").   In addition, Hatcher-Frazier visited a number of Chinese schools, both public and private, which resulted in invaluable sharing of perspectives and pedagogical philosophies.  "The cross-cultural exchange was a powerful development experience for me," she says. 

The Power of Partnership
Hatcher-Frazier's and Gaul's travel experiences represent one more element in a partnership that WT has forged with the University of Pittsburgh's Asian Studies Center-a partnership that is entering its third year. The study tours were sponsored by the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA), which is operated by the Asian Studies Center, and which offers ongoing professional development for K-12 teachers. The partnership has also encompassed adult programming, including a lecture series on China in 2007-2008 and an Asian film series in 2008-2009, both co-sponsored by WT and the Confucius Institute, also operated by the Asian Studies Center. New for this year is the introduction of Chinese language in the Middle and Upper Schools, also through Confucius Institute, which brings teachers to the Pittsburgh area from China each year to work in K-12 schools, public and private. WT's Chinese teacher, Tian Yu, has come through the Confucius Institute.

 "I am happy to report that we have two sections of Chinese language instruction starting in the Middle School and one in the Upper School this fall," states Hatcher-Frazier. "With close to 40 students enrolled in Chinese at WT, there is strong interest in this educational opportunity, and I hope to leverage it so our students -- as well as our new Chinese teacher, Confucius Institute (CI) scholar Tian Yu -- can get the most out of this experience.  I would like to further explore continued partnerships with the University of Pittsburgh's NCTA program and CI."