Xiaozheng Wang from China plans to spend the next school year or two teaching Mandarin Chinese to Dobyns-Bennett students. Photo by David Grace
KINGSPORT — Exchange students from other countries have attended American high schools for years.
But Dobyns-Bennett High School now has an exchange teacher, a native Chinese educator who has taught English to Chinese students and Mandarin Chinese to English-speaking students.
After 15 years of such college-level instruction, Xiaozheng Wang — pronounced “Wong” — plans to spend the next school year or two teaching Mandarin Chinese to Dobyns-Bennett students.
Her arrival in Kingsport Aug. 1 marked the destination of her first visit in the United States.
Wang comes to Kingsport through the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis, which also supplies Chinese instructors to the Greeneville school system. Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie headed that system before coming to Kingsport in mid-2012.
Wang began teaching 10 students spread over two classes Aug. 13, following the start of school Aug. 5.
Her position was added in July after Ailshie determined enough money was available. Original plans had been to have four instructors, then two, before all were cut out because of budget constraints.
Nonetheless, Wang said she is happy to be in Kingsport and the United States.
Natalie and Brian Pickett are Wang’s host family. Natalie Pickett is a chemistry teacher at D-B and lives within walking distance of the school but said she usually drives both of them to school in the morning. In the afternoon, Pickett drives home but Wang said she prefers to walk.
“It’s a big change for me to teach high school in America. Everything is different,” said Wang, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is a candidate for a Ph.D.
One difference is in acquiring a basic necessity: buying food. Pickett said she took Wang to Sam’s Wholesale Club recently.
Wang said that in China, retail sales, especially food, are close to where people live. Instead of a weekly or less frequent trip to a grocery store, discount retailer or warehouse club, she said in China most folks go to a food market daily. Pickett plans to take Wang to the Kingsport Farmers Market.
Wang also said she was surprised to find Kingsport, as well as the greater Tri-Cities, to have so many trees. She said her vision of America, as shaped by television, was of skyscrapers in big cities — similar to much of what she’s known in China.
“In China, there are always buildings everywhere with a lot of people,” Wang said.
Asked about differences between U.S. and Chinese students, Wang said a big one is how aware and involved D-B students are in their specific future plans for college and beyond.
“American students know what they are doing, make their own choices,” Wang said. “It’s quite impressive for high school students to know what they want to be in the future.”
As for the difference in schools, she said high school last three years in China but that Chinese students in high school, who are bound for college, often study from the early morning to midnight so they will do well on college entrance exams.
She said that D-B students also are hard-working — including one who told her she took Chinese because German and other languages were “too easy” — but that they have more extra- and co-curricular activities outside strictly academic endeavors.
Wang will get a taste of some of those activities while in the United States. The plan is for her to take a trip to Disney World in Florida with the D-B Physics Club this school year. Pickett is giving up her seat on that trip for Wang.
Other trips include going to a drive-in movie in Bristol, Tenn., visiting Washington, D.C., attending a Kingsport Mets baseball game, seeing the area fall colors, going to Biltmore in Asheville, and visiting Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport, Fall Creek Falls, and Natural Tunnel State Park. She also plans to visit Knoxville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Charlotte and Charleston, as well as Nashville, where she will, among other activities, attend a hockey game.
Wang said she has found D-B students — as well as her host family and others in Kingsport — to be “quite outgoing persons and very warm-hearted.”
During an Aug. 12 reception for her before the Board of Education work session, she told the board: “I really enjoy everything here.”
She speaks clear and understandable English. However, she said she sometimes has minor issues understanding Americans, including Pickett, who is from California.
“The biggest problem for me is you speak too fast,” Wang said.
Pickett said the Chinese are more introverted and focused on family, while Americans are more extroverted and community-focused.
Wang is married and has a 2-year-old son. Although she is still discussing travel plans with her husband, she said she hopes her husband and son will come for visits.
“I really want my boy to come here and stay with me some,” Wang said.
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