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A&M-Central Texas Alumni and Teacher Shares a Love for Teaching in China

Smiling A&M-Central Texas student

Friday, February 21, 2020

A&M-Central Texas Alumni Succeeds Abroad

When Lampasas resident Sara La Comb, 26, talks about her first two years of teaching in China, her countenance changes. She smiles as she speaks, her dark brown eyes sparkling with inspiration, and her entire body seems full to the brim with happy animation.

A graduate of the A&M-Central Texas teacher education program, La Comb graduated in 2017, earning a coveted teaching position with Suzhou Science and Technology Town Foreign Language School, teaching local first graders.

A city of 13 million, Suzhou is known for its well-preserved historical architecture balanced against a hyper-modern skyline, its 11th century UNESCO-designated gardens, and the Venice-like waterways ribboning through the world's largest manmade canal.

Suzhou has been her home — or more precisely, her home away from Texas home — for the past three years, where she has grown to love her school, her colleagues, and most of all, her students: 27 early elementary school children who call her "Miss Sara."

"They are so passionate and inquisitive," she said, leaning forward as she spoke. "The first time I met them, they couldn't help but come close. They were like cautious little creatures, wanting to touch my face, putting their little fingers in my hair, and inspecting everything about me."

One student, she remembers, remarked on her "big nose," deploying the earnest candor of childlike observation. In response, she said, she playfully tapped the student's nose back and teased, "Well, my nose might be big, but yours is flat." Everyone laughed together, she remembers, and another student observed, "Different, but same, like us." In that moment, she said, those 27 children became hers. And she, Sara readily admits, became theirs.

Living there, she says, is filled with equal parts of pragmatism and wonder. Her apartment is on the top floor of a six story compound and has no elevator, but it does offer a glorious rooftop garden where she enjoys taking in the sights and sounds of the city.

Being a part of the culture, however, takes some getting used to. Foreigners are referred to as 'wai guo ren' — or 'foreign nation people,' and routine day-to-day social interaction is grounded in maintaining 'face' — the perception of social ranking based on wealth, education, and adherence to country and custom.

For a teacher, acclimating to an unfamiliar culture presents any number of personal challenges, but professionally, as well, she says it took the help of her colleagues and boss to navigate some potentially difficult situations.

In the classroom, she says, there are times when she has to remember that she cannot apply American cultural values to her profession as it occurs within a Chinese private school. And, while her educational training serves her well, the way some situations would be resolved in the U.S. is not the Chinese way.

"If a child were to come to school with any kind of issues, for example, I'd recruit my Chinese counterpart homeroom teacher to help me because it would be an insult for a foreign teacher to bring up sensitive questions."

Overall, she says, the families are extremely respectful and grateful for the education their children receive.

"The children and their parents have a deep respect for education — valuing it above almost everything else."

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