By Robin Henson
Virginia Wyeth, Little Rock Central High School English teacher, was among 16 Arkansas teachers who recently spent three weeks in China as part of the Bringing China to Arkansas Program.
After visiting a Heifer Project village near Beijing, Wyeth wrote in her blog: “There were chickens, goats, and pigs and corn and beans. There were beautiful red-cheeked babies who waved and smiled when we said ‘hello’ in Chinese. I could have stayed there all day. I felt so recharged. The people must think it odd that we come in a troupe to watch them live their everyday lives. What a humble existence, but wow what a place to live humbly.
“And then we went to the Great Wall. We rode a lift most of the way up the mountain, and as I looked down at this incredibly beautiful mountain below me and the incomprehensibly ancient wall getting closer to me, I had to pinch myself. Am I really here? Over and over again I became emotionally overwhelmed.”
In Lijiang, Wyeth joined a seventh grade English class. “I made sure they learned all the basic body parts and taught them the song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.’ We headed out to the courtyard after that to watch the kids do their daily dancing exercises — with the Himalayan Mountains as a backdrop.
“Those poor teachers are so overwhelmed. They have classes of 50-60 students and typically teach 10 hour days,” Wyeth added.
Her experiences were possible because of Arkansas Global Programs at UALR to facilitate international relations through global education and exchange. Its Bringing China to Arkansas Program, funded by the Freeman Foundation, is a rare opportunity for Arkansas teachers to learn about China in-depth and first hand, according to Director Martha Morton. Program activities include helping design Chinese language courses and finding teachers, linking Arkansas and Chengdu and Xi’an schools for teacher and student exchanges, taking Arkansas teachers to China annually, displaying a China exhibit in Arkansas communities, and providing lesson plans and other China materials for teachers. Such efforts have reached 21,848 students; 3,065 teachers; 342 schools; 172 communities; and 200,000 museum, conference, and exhibit visitors a year from 2001 to 2007, according to Morton.
Another endeavor is the Southwest Minorities Cultural Heritage Project, funded by the U.S. Department of State. It trains experts in the western Sichuan Province to preserve Yi, Tibetan, and Qiang heritages. Training includes educating community organization professionals in management and public outreach, focusing on youth activities, tourism, economics, mapping, stakeholder participation, volunteerism, and sustainability.
Working with China’s Sichuan University, global initiative partners are the Department of Arkansas Heritage, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Arkansas Archaeological Survey, UALR’s Public History program, Historic Arkansas Museum, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, Arkansas Museum Association, William J. Clinton School of Public Service, and Smithsonian Museums.
Two additional Arkansas Global Programs efforts funded by the Department of State are the China Patterns Project and China Sports for Life Success Project.