This post is part of a series where the LRCCS Blog interviews our faculty members about their background and current work.
Born and raised in south Beijing, Liu Laoshi 刘老师, as most of her Chinese students know her, has always been passionate about the culture of her home country. "When I was in high school, I was obsessed with May 4th Movement 五四运动 figures like Hu Shih 胡适 and Bingxin 冰心." Liu Laoshi explained that one thing that she respected about them was that not only did they have a deep understanding of Chinese traditional culture, but they also saw value in modern global culture. "The Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program allowed people like Hu Shih and Bingxin to come to the US to learn about western thought - which played a huge role in the modernization of China."
"I wanted to find a career to leverage my interest in traditional Chinese culture. But I also wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer - I didn't want to stay in Beijing my whole life. Teaching Chinese was the perfect fit for me." In the 80s when Liu Laoshi was studying at Beijing Language and Culture University, Chinese as a second language was a blossoming area of study. After the Reform & Opening period began, China was increasingly open to foreigners. "I was lucky to get into this field when I did. Every year the number of foreigners studying Chinese seemed to increase exponentially, and there was a new world of opportunity for people like me." Liu Laoshi started teaching at her alma mater right after graduation.
After teaching for a few years, she finally got her chance to leave Beijing and come to America to study second language acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2001, she came to the University of Michigan to teach Chinese.
Here for almost 15 years, she estimates she's taught Chinese to at least 500 different UM students. She was the director of the Chinese Language Program at UM for 5 years, but has since returned to teaching full time. "I cherish my time in the classroom. I love watching students grow. When I first started teaching here, most students saw learning Chinese as more of a personal interest, a hobby. Now, my students are going on to become deeply involved in Chinese society. Seeing students progress in the classroom is a great joy - but the next level is when I see these students use their Chinese to do things like teach English in rural China or get so involved in Chinese communities that they talk like native speakers. Working with these types of student is like nurturing a seedling and watching it become a towering tree."
In addition to teaching various Chinese language classes, Liu Laoshi is also involved in a never ending process of updating learning materials. "Chinese language and culture is constantly evolving. We need to make sure our classes are up to speed."
Liu Laoshi is also passionate about the Chinese education system, and contributes articles to progressive Chinese forums such as AiSixiang 爱思想. A quote from one of her posts:
The UM Chinese Language Program continues to evolve and grow under the love and care of enthusiastic faculty like Liu Laoshi. Stay tuned for more LRCCS faculty spotlights! Next week, we'll write about our interview with Xiaobing Tang • 唐小兵, Helmut F. Stern Professor of Modern Chinese Studies and Comparative Literature.