Acting fast on an unexpected opportunity sometimes yields surprisingly good outcomes.
As a result of some quick action, Hood River Valley High School Principal Karen Neitzel was able to create an unusual and exciting opportunity for her students — and the community at large.
Within five days from a first inquiry on Sept. 4, 2012, Neitzel was able to negotiate for the arrival of a new Mandarin Chinese teacher for Hood River, through a Chinese educational exchange program known as the Confucius Institute.
Minchun Huang, 25, of Jiangsu province, arrived Sept. 8. Two days later, she was meeting with a dozen interested HRV students and several teachers to discuss how to begin the new Mandarin Chinese class in the community.
“The amazing thing is that Ms. Huang learned about her opportunity to come to Hood River the day before she got on a plane,” said Neitzel.
The program is co-sponsored by Portland State University and is funded through the Chinese Ministry of Education under a program known as HanBan. Neitzel discovered the program while planning for her own upcoming short-term exchange with a school administrator from China.
“I was looking for an interpreter and called PSU (which offers Mandarin). Dr. Liu, the PSU professor I was working with, said, ‘Why not have a teacher come to your community?’”
Neitzel, departing from her self-described slow and methodical approach to program planning, plunged ahead and said “yes” to the idea.
That meant preparing to find housing for Huang for her (minimum) 10 months of service while in Hood River.
“We have had many teachers come forward and ask to house her,” said Neitzel. “Everyone is very excited to have her here.”
Huang introduced herself to the teens in the room and Neitzel had her discuss some of her background.
“I have taught many individuals Mandarin Chinese,” said Huang, “but not too many Americans — mostly Koreans, Indians and Japanese.”
Huang went on to explain that the relationship between teachers and students is very different in China: “It is very formal,” she noted. Neitzel had already shown her around two other language classes at HRV.
Huang has had a whirlwind tour of the area since her arrival, already visiting Timberline Lodge, attending an antique car show and taking in some sights in Portland. She reported being quite amazed at the beauty of the area. Huang also noted a personal connection to a landmark in Portland, as well.
“The Portland Chinese Garden was built by architects from my home town,” said Huang, who hails from Suzhou. Under the exchange program Huang receives a small living stipend, but no salary.
The local Mandarin program plans are still in formation, according to Neitzel, who is also working to set up classes at both middle schools and with Hood River Community Education.
“We want as many people as possible to be able to take these classes,” said Neitzel, who will ensure the public learns the details of the available classes, which may begin in early October.
Reflecting on her first trip to the U.S., Huang shared her obvious sense of excitement: “I want to know everything.” From the reactions of the students and teachers in the room, the feeling is mutual.
According to its website, Hanban-Confucius Institute provides Chinese “language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide, meeting the demands of foreign Chinese learners and contributing to the development of multiculturalism and the building of a harmonious world.”