When our ambassador teachers enter their classrooms in the U.S., they are opening the world to their students by exposing them to the cultures, languages, and perspectives of their home countries as well as of other countries around the world. Students develop into curious, empathetic global leaders who respect and celebrate the diversity of other cultures. Part of this meaningful exchange is immersing students in traditions that they might not have previously experienced in the United States through holiday celebrations.
Yan Ji is a fourth-year ambassador teacher from Hebei, China, whose favorite holiday is Chinese New Year. She is currently teaching fifth grade in a dual language Mandarin classroom at Stough Elementary School in Wake County, North Carolina. Read on to learn more about Yan Ji’s cultural story and how she has introduced authentic Chinese New Year traditions to her students in the U.S.
When did you start learning a second language, and what kept you motivated to learn?
I started learning English when I was ten. I began learning English because it was a very popular language to learn. What kept me motivated to continue learning was that I had a dream to go abroad and learn about other cultures. Language is one of the tools that helped me realize that dream.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about your home country?
There are 56 ethnic groups in China, each with its own characteristics, such as traditional clothing, food, and cultural aspects. There are also many cultural differences between the north and south of China.
What’s the most interesting place you have traveled to and why?
My favorite place is Yunnan, China, which is a province in the south of the country. I was born in the north of China, but I spent four years in Yunnan at university. There are traditional delicacies and customs that are different from those in the north, and the scenery there is very beautiful. Yunnan is also the province with the most ethnic minorities!
What’s your favorite holiday in your country, and how do you celebrate it?
My favorite traditional Chinese festival is the Spring Festival, which is considered to be the most important in China. Spring Festival is also called Chinese New Year. People celebrate the Spring Festival for fifteen days—from the week before the actual Spring Festival to the week after the Spring Festival.
On the day of the Spring Festival, people will wear new clothes (many of them are red) to celebrate the new year, and children will receive red envelopes. Most importantly, during the Spring Festival, people can spend time with their families, enjoy food, and chat together. It is a great time for family union.
What are some ways you teach students in your class about your culture? What do they love hearing about most?
For students of different ages, I use various methods, but the best way is to let them experience my culture firsthand. For example, for Chinese New Year last year, I led the students in making crafts to decorate the classroom traditionally.
We had a Chinese New Year party and invited students as well as their families to come to the school to taste Chinese New Year delicacies such as dumplings, fried rice, and Kung Pao chicken. I also give the red envelopes to students as a gift so they can experience the new year fun that Chinese children have.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I still remember the first time I heard about teaching Chinese as a second language when I was in high school. I thought it would be so cool to be a teacher who can teach abroad. My favorite foreign language teacher came from Texas and stayed in China for over twenty years.
Beyond just learning the language, I also learned a lot about American culture from her. She inspired me to be a teacher like her so I can share different cultures, languages, and stories.
How has being a cultural exchange ambassador changed the way you teach?
Before being a cultural exchange ambassador, I had experience teaching in international schools in China as well as the European Confucius Institute. Now, I have learned that I am able to teach students of all ages and to inspire them to learn about culture and languages in a way that interests them.
Why do you think global education is important in today’s society?
Global education allows students to better consider problems and see the world from another perspective. It lets them understand the infinite possibilities and ways of thinking in the world. Global education is not only an output for teachers but an input too. We improve alongside our students.
If you had one piece of advice for a new ambassador teacher, what would it be?
You may face challenges and obstacles, but please don’t be afraid. If you work hard and persevere, you will find your potential is limitless! You will be grateful for choosing challenges and excitement today instead of staying in your comfort zone.
Are you an international educator who wants to offer life-changing educational experiences to students in the United States like Yan Ji? Visit our webpage for more information on how you can become an ambassador teacher with Participate Learning. To learn more about the history of Chinese New Year and ways to celebrate in your classroom, check out this blog post.