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FHSU professors stateside, but China still calls

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Both teachers taught in China.

Both teachers are back in the United States.

Both teachers would like to go back, someday.

Sharon Graham, 44, who has been in the U.S. since last summer, will teach English composition classes on the Fort Hays State University campus this school year. She had been teaching the same subject in China for nearly 10 years, and for FHSU from 2004 to 2011.

"I would (return), if things work out with Hays, or another capacity," Graham said of returning to China. "Definitely at least to visit, and possibly to live and work some more."

Patricia Blanton, who just got back a few weeks ago, taught leadership studies and service learning while in China. She will teach online this school year for FHSU after living in China the past three years.

Blanton returned to Arizona to be closer to her parents and help her sister take care of their mother. Blanton will make a return visit in the spring to train new staff.

"If it wasn't for my parents, I probably would have stayed in China another two or three years," Blanton said. "Who knows, maybe in the future I'll go back again."

FHSU has partnerships with SIAS International University in Xinzheng, Henan Province, and with Shenyang Normal University in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. Graham first taught in Beijing at a school FHSU no longer is a partner with, then taught at Shenyang. Blanton taught at both SIAS International and Shenyang.

Both teachers found Chinese people curious about Americans. Graham, who first taught in China in 1992, said it has evolved through the years as the country has had more exposure to Western culture.

"You were like a movie star," in 1992, Graham said. "People would run up on the street, take a picture and dash off. Or they would ask to take a picture with you, (and you) have no idea who they are."

Blanton said the Chinese people were helpful.

"They love Americans," she said. "They want to know about America, know about our lives. They have a lot of curiosity about the way we live, our thinking."

There is a difference in how the Chinese learn. In China, the emphasis has been on memorization, while in the U.S., it's communication and critical thinking.

Blanton was thinking she was ready for a change when she decided to teach in China.

"It was just the next stage of my life," said Blanton, 58. "I had been working in K-12 education for 32 years.

"I didn't want to be a principal anymore. I just wanted to do something very different."

Graham returned to the U.S. approximately once a year while she was there. She always wanted to get Mexican food.

When Blanton returned to the U.S., one of the first things she did was have a Caesar salad and a burger.

"It's just the little things," she said, in comparing the U.S. to China, "like being around hot water 24/7, you can drink the tap water if you want to; you don't have to buy bottled water."

Graham noticed differences, too, in China.

"Of course, the food takes a little getting used to," she said. "Luckily, I've always been pretty adventurous with that.

"It's almost like a challenge: What interesting dish have I eaten this month that I can tell friends and family about?"

Both teachers gave high marks to FHSU's China initiative.

"I think the partnership is a really great thing," Blanton said.

FHSU has developed a good relationship with the Chinese.

"I think Fort Hays has done an overall good job adapting to changes, whether it's requirements from the Chinese government or partner schools," Graham said. "I've seen brands be very rigid or not as adaptable, and they end up closing the doors."

But the door remains open for a return to China. Graham's first trip there, 20 years ago, is one she never will forget.

"It was truly a life-changing experience," she said. "After that, it was a goal of mine to try to get back.

"The opportunity with Fort Hays was a dream come true."