Far East is found in a Virginia City classroom
VIRGINIA CITY – By the summer of 2002, the farthest east Bill Beeson had been was Hawaii. Then three of his former students called and the theater and English teacher soon found himself in a huge assembly hall in China.
The Virginia City man was being introduced to hundreds of students at a school in the city of Boxing, about 10 hours south of Beijing, as the new English teacher.
For the next three weeks, Beeson worked as a conversational English teacher for a middle school in China as part of an exchange program. He spent seven days a week providing intensive study to the students and every free minute exploring a country he knew nothing about.
“I was interested because I wanted to explore something out there, something unknown to me. Then having that opportunity come around, I couldn’t pass that up.”
Somewhere along the way, the Far East got in his blood.
“I’m fascinated by the culture and the language. Now, every time I go back I try to look at a different part of the country,” Beeson said.
Beeson has returned every summer since then to teach in Boxing, located in the Shandong Province. Every year his Chinese gets a little better and he gains another flood of memories.
For example, he spent time in Binzou, a city of one million people about 40 minutes from Boxing. While his group was sitting on a patio he heard a sound and turned to see a vendor slaughter two goats on the street.
“Things like that happen all the time. You are constantly surprised by the differences,” Beeson said. “This was a big city, but you would never see something like that happen in Reno. It makes you more alert and aware of being in the moment and paying attention.”
While Beeson spends about a month overseas each summer, his former students have begun teaching full-time in China.
“They went over when I did and have been going back and forth ever since, living mostly in China. They are fluent in the language and are studying history and calligraphy in Chinese. They have embraced it,” Beeson said.
This summer, a Chinese exchange student – nicknamed Frank – joined Beeson in Virginia City.
“I am surprised at American culture. People are so open with their relationships, especially the relationships between boys and girls,” said Frank, whose real name is Yu Gu.
Yet the biggest culture shock was adjusting from a large coastal city in northeast China to Virginia City.
“It’s very quiet here and people all seem to know each other very well. I lived in an apartment back home and didn’t even know my neighbor across the hall,” Frank said.
Frank said he took advantage of the opportunity to immerse himself in a foreign culture as a precursor to a longer stay in the states. He arrived in August and is scheduled to leave in June.
“I want to attend a university here and it’s better to experience American life before you try to do that,” Frank said.
Beeson said he uses his experience abroad to improve his teaching method, both in his English classes and in his upcoming theater productions.
“We are doing ‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’ by Bertolt Brecht and it’s going to be set in Southern China. Now I have a good sense of what much of China looks like and I have Frank to help with pronunciation,” Beeson said.
In addition to incorporating Eastern themes and ideas into his teaching, Beeson is also working to get a colleague from China to offer classes in Virginia City.
As for his next foray into the unknown, Beeson has his sights set on another Asian country.
“I’d really like to visit North Korea, I think that would be interesting,” Beeson said.