U.S. teacher becomes student of Chinese culture

One teaching game that Gabriel Heuton used with his Chinese students was a "telephone game." The students would pass along an English word or phrase from one to the next and see if the end result would be recognizable.

(Editor’s note: The following article was republished with permission of Fayette Publishing. Alumnus Gabe Heuton ’14 majored in mathematics and graduated Cum Laude.)

While we Americans are celebrating New Year’s, 26-year-old Gabe Heuton of rural Wadena may also recall his fond memories of a “new year” that he experienced while living and teaching English in China.

A graduate of Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Gabe decided to teach internationally. He found his d

estined school on craigslist and interviewed via Skype with two American teachers in China. Langston English has three schools located in Shenyang, China, in the Liaoning province.  Heuton was hired to teach English to Chinese children ages 4-15.  He also taught some upper-level math classes.

Heuton said his new school was rather plain at first until he led the students in making decorations for the walls. The Chinese education system is much stricter, but because he is American, Heuton said he got to have a lot more freedom.

The classroom structure was eight children per classroom with two teachers:  one American and one Chinese. The Chinese teacher maintained control of the class, and the American teacher presented the material.  Heuton revealed that “some children were more difficult to manage than others,” but “the parents kept strict control over their children.” Because his school was a more expensive private school, “parents had added incentive to rein in their children.”

The UIU graduate described his students as “a wonderful delight.” They were eager to learn and quite bright. He was especially moved by the successful transformation of a particularly rowdy class of 4- to 5-year-olds.

As part of a promotional event for Langston English School in Shenyang, China, Gabriel Heuton presents one lucky student with a prize of a Lego set.

“They were difficult to manage, but over the course of a year, they changed in front of my eyes,” the young teacher acknowledged.

As they matured and got used to the structure, he noted, “They became one solid unit by the end of the school year.”

Heuton got to experience the thrill of success, as he admitted, “The change from being chaotic to orderly was awesome to witness.”

One teaching technique Mr. Heuton employed was having his students sing English songs. He laughed as he recalled two adorable little girls named Dora.  One, a 4-year-old, would say, “Jigga Dora, Nigga Dora?” which translates “This Dora or that Dora?” Her rhyming singsong would always make Heuton laugh.

A teaching experience that surprised him was that his students had no idea what a sandwich was.

He explained, “We taught the Chinese kids how to make a sandwich. The concept was totally foreign to them. We had to search all over the city to find meat to use for a sandwich, as they did not have deli meat.”

Shenyang is a large city, and Heuton lived in two different high-rise apartment buildings in which he said he “lived like a king in terms of quality.” The apartments were on the 21st and 28th floors of their respective buildings and featured marble floors, a chandelier, and beautiful views.  He could see the Olympic dome where China hosted the Olympics years ago, as well as views of the city and gardens.

However, when the rural Wadena man first arrived, he admitted that he honestly thought he might die due to the heavy smog.

“The air quality was extremely poor…the first five nights I slept in China, I woke up gasping for air in the night. But the smog lessened, and I survived. I didn’t have trouble breathing after those first five days,” he related.

With such a large population living closely together, Heuton said it works because the housing is condensed in skyscrapers.

“Everyone finds a way to live. There is enough food and living space to go around,” he continued.

And he was impressed with the cost of living.

“It felt wonderful buying full meals for a fraction of the price we pay here in America. You could get a high-quality, fancy-restaurant dinner with multiple entrees to feed several people and drinks for $8!” he shared.

“And the food was wonderful! I tried everything I could and enjoyed street food, sushi, and traditional Chinese meals like Hot Pot,” he said.

The young American explained that Hot Pot is a dish in which you cook meat and vegetables in a pot of boiling water placed in front of you. Then you dip the cooked morsels in a personalized seasoning dish.  Heuton’s favorite was a dish called Ma Le Tong, which translates to Hot Hot Hot – hot in temperature, hot in spice, and hot in reference to pain!

Heuton was able to walk to work in 10-15 minutes.  He used taxis often for only 20 kuai, or about three American dollars. For other parts of the city farther away, he used the subway system.

In his free time, he would visit local restaurants, do some extra tutoring, and play video games. He especially enjoyed a type of Asian comics called Manga, as well as Star Trek and space-related themes.

So, it was a “new year” filled with many new experiences. And when the traditional American holidays rolled around, Heuton celebrated Christmas by getting together with Chinese and American teachers and going out for a fancy dinner, hosted by the school.

He had to be more patient for the Chinese New Year, however, for this 15-day festival begins in February.  Heuton arrived in China during the Chinese year 4713, which was 2015 on our Gregorian calendar. While he was there, the Chinese celebrated the Year of the Monkey beginning Feb. 9, 2016.  What he remembers most was the incredible fireworks.

“Fireworks everywhere! All up and down the streets – everywhere throughout the city.  Wow!  It was quite brilliant!” he remarked in awe.

This year marks the Chinese year 4717, the Year of the Pig. On Feb. 5, 2019, people will say “Xin nian kuai le!” or “Happy New Year!”

For Gabe Heuton, it was all a happy new year, teaching in China.

“It was a great experience, and I recommend it to anyone who can go,” he closed.

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