Middlebury seen with a Chinese perspective
Editor’s note: Each summer Middlebury College hosts 10 language schools, which draw students and instructors from around the world. This is the first in a series where the Addison Independent asks some of our foreign guests for their impressions of their temporary summer homes.
MIDDLEBURY — Every summer for the past four years, Qunhu Li makes the more-than-15-hour journey from Tianjin, China, to Middlebury.
A resident of the Middle Kingdom’s sixth largest city, Li is accustomed to the bright lights and modern amenities of China’s northeastern metropolis, which is also one of Asia’s most bustling hubs for trade.
So when Li, a world-class educator who specializes in teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreigners, leaves the vibrant cityscape of home and jets over to Addison County’s shire town in the summer, what does the language instructor at the Middlebury Summer Chinese School make of his surroundings?
“Everywhere I look, I see green and I really like that,” Li said, motioning to the mountains and farmland surrounding Middlebury. “There are many beautiful landscapes around Tianjin, but because there are too many people you can’t feel your surroundings like you can here. There are few people here, the scenery is gorgeous and the environment has been protected extremely well.”
This is the fourth summer Li at the Middlebury College-based language school. He also spent two years teaching at Williams College in the mid-’90s and founded a well-respected Tianjin educational facility called the New Century Language and Culture Center, which he manages much of the year.
When asked what he felt could improve Middlebury and the surrounding area, he replied, “I’m very content with so many elements of life here, but in terms of what foreigners might like to see improved are the sidewalks. You’ll walk on a sidewalk to a park or a store and then suddenly there’s no place to walk but on the road. If the pedestrian infrastructure were a little bit better, it might make this place feel even more perfect than it already is.”
One of the biggest obstacles for foreigners living here for the summer, he explained, is being mobile without a personal car.
“From the Chinese teachers’ perspective, we really feel that there’s a need for better public transportation. The bus to Burlington is fairly convenient, but if you want to go to Boston or New York, it’s not so easy,” he said. “But if foreigners weren’t here, maybe it wouldn’t be an issue. Of course this is a matter that ultimately is up to the local people. Almost all Americans have their own cars and so this system is easy for them.
“But if a company took advantage of the opportunity to provide better transportation for the foreign teachers that come every summer, they might be very successful and make life more convenient.”
Li’s favorite places to go shopping while he’s here are outlet malls and Burlington’s University Mall.
“For stores that are in close proximity, the teachers really like T.J. Maxx,” he said.
Li’s favorite food to eat while here for the summer, he sheepishly admits, is hotdogs; and if Middlebury could open one new business that he thinks would be successful, it would be a more true-to-form Chinese restaurant.
“There’s no authentic Chinese restaurant,” he said. “I think whether you’re from China or from here, people here would really like that kind of food.” He particularly thinks that a dumpling house might enjoy great success.
As far as what he misses about home, said this father of one daughter who is heading off to college, “Of course I miss my family, but because I’m only here for such a short period of time and this place is so beautiful and I have excellent colleagues, I don’t miss my home too much.”
Li is fortunate to be accompanied by 32 Chinese language school teachers, 152 students, 27 master’s degree students and six master’s instructors, all convening for the common purpose of learning and teaching Mandarin Chinese at the highest level.
“The teachers here all share the same ideal, which is to help student’s learn Mandarin Chinese. The fact that we love what we do and are very devoted creates an amazing program, which some people refer to as the best Chinese program in the U.S. and many call the best program in the world,” he said. “Teaching here is exhausting, yet joyful. The teachers are great at supporting one another. When I leave here every summer, one of the main reasons why I miss it so much is because of my colleagues.”
But it’s not just his fellow teachers, he added. What makes this place special for Li are all the people he meets.
“Every year when I leave Middlebury, I feel like the people that I’ve met are unforgettable,” he said. “The people are the most important part about this great place.”
Quotations from this article were translated from Mandarin Chinese into English by reporter Andrew Stein, who can be reached at [email protected].