After sending some 850 American adults to instruct tens of thousands of university students in the People's Republic of China, Brigham Young University's China Teachers Program is set to celebrate its 20th year with another 80-plus teachers at 19 Chinese institutions this fall.
"Teaching in China has been a life-changing and a life-enriching experience," said Ray Harrison, a retired Provo elementary school teacher who with his wife taught several years at Shanghai's Tongji University. "The Chinese people are much like us simple, kind people with similar hopes, dreams and goals."
And Carol Kewish, a former California high school teacher who moved to Provo with her husband after retirement, loved her interactions with the Chinese students in Beijing, home of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
"They revere learning, they revere teachers," she said, adding "they really want to learn; they want to listen they're so engaged."
With its roots traced back to a dozen different BYU instructors making their arrangements to teach in mainland China during the 1980s, the China Teachers Program was proposed in 1988 and approved in 1989, sending an inaugural contingent of 19 teachers in the fall of 1989 for two semesters.
Bound for eight different cities, this year's group includes 74 teachers and 12 "friends of the program" former CTP instructors who want to return after the usual two-year maximum and have made their own arrangements with Chinese universities to teach.
Administered by the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, the China Teachers Program has been certified by the Chinese government's State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs.
While the program over the years has included younger couples, single men and women and midcareer couples on sabbaticals, the program's pool of teachers is composed primarily of retired couples.
Beyond simply providing teachers to teach English or instruct specialized courses in English at Chinese universities, the China Teachers Program helps solidify ties of exchange and trust between BYU and the Chinese institutions.
It also provides both groups the visiting American instructors and the Chinese students an opportunity to develop friendships and cultivate understanding and respect for the other's country and culture.
CTP teachers "will go teach for 11 months and live in a small apartment, and then they come back and say it was their happiest 11 months and that they don't know why they have so much stuff," said Jeffrey R. Ringer, who doubles as director for both the Kennedy Center and the China Teachers Program.
And Chinese students get to see and interact with Americans who are a far cry from those they see portrayed on TV or in film.
"They see through our teachers that there's a different side of Americans," Ringer said.
Although sponsored by BYU, the program draws upon interested applicants from throughout Utah and the United States.
CTP participants are not missionaries for BYU's sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rather, as BYU representatives, they become employees of the Chinese university where they teach.
Teachers for the coming year will begin the program with an intense two-week training seminar in August at the Kennedy Center.
Later in the fall, program facilitators Ray and Maryann Andrus themselves CTP teaching veterans from several years ago will take a six-week tour in China to visit and observe each teacher and to meet with the Chinese university Foreign Expert Affairs officers and academic officials.
Round-trip airfare and housing is provided to CTP teachers as well as a small salary sufficient to meet most needs.Between semesters, CTP teachers gather in Hong Kong for additional training and to exchange experiences. And in May, Ringer makes his rounds in China to meet again with officials "the formality trip, the handshake trip," he said.