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Building Bridges with the China Teachers Program

Terri Denney teaches Chinese students in 2015.
Terri Denney teaches Chinese students in 2015. Photo by Doran Denney.

“You fall in love with the country because you fall in love with the people. And that combination is incredibly powerful,” says Todd Forsyth, Deputy Director of the China Teachers Program.

The China Teachers Program, a nonprofit outreach program hosted by the BYU Kennedy Center for International Studies, provides participants with the opportunity to teach Chinese university students during an eleven-month assignment (one academic year). After several years of remote teaching due to the pandemic, the China Teachers Program is beginning to accept applications and is working on getting teachers back to China.

The purpose of the program, which began in 1989, is to foster academic and cultural ties for the Kennedy Center and BYU, professional international experiences for teachers, and educational services for the affiliated Chinese universities. Singles and couples ages 45 to 63 (although participants under 45 who meet the other requirements can be considered) are invited to apply.

The process from application to assignment typically looks like this: applicants must return their completed application to the Kennedy Center by 1 February for qualifications screening. They are then interviewed, matched with a Chinese university’s needs, and nominated to the universities. The sixteen Chinese universities then determine which position and university teachers will be given based on their academic qualifications and teaching experience, as well as university need. Most teachers are assigned to teach English, including writing, literature, conversation, and other topics. Increasingly, however, teachers are asked to consult or teach their professional specialty.

Todd and his wife, Sherae, who is also a deputy director of the program, share their enthusiasm for the program: “It’s especially important in these days," says Sherae. "We’re building professional and academic bridges between China and the U.S., especially in these more challenging times.”

Of the benefits that teachers receive by participating, Sherae says, “Any time you serve, you get blessings. And I think the opportunity to meet so many incredible students and to experience a tiny bit of the vast culture and history of China [is a benefit], and also the relationships they build. It’s the relationships, right? It’s not always with students, but with coworkers, with other BYU teachers, with other faculty.” In the past, Sherae says, teachers have said of the program, “Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Just do it. It wasn’t half as hard as I anticipated it being.” She adds, “You’ll never regret it. You’ll never forget a moment of it.”

The Forsyths agree that one of the benefits of the program is that teachers fall in love with the country and the people. “You become a proponent of the program and of the people from that point on,” Todd says. And that goes both ways,” Sherae adds.We have seen and heard reports of Chinese students, particularly lately, standing up for Americans.”

“You think again of the impact you have talking to people individually . . . As teachers, we’re reaching over one hundred students per semester—some are much more than that,” Todd adds. “And we have sixteen weeks with them, two hours a class. That’s thirty hours with individuals that you wouldn’t really reach any other way.”

“In other words, you really have much more of an impact than you think,” he says. “You just share your love. You share your hope for the future, your love of family, your love of loyalty. . . . You’re teaching no matter what, just by virtue of being you. So to me, the impact—and the satisfaction—that you receive is wonderful.”

BYU China teachers almost always rank near the top of all teachers at their universities, not because they’re the best academically, but because they like and care about the students. BYU teachers often become life mentors.

“Come teach in China,” Sherae urges. “It will change your life.”

Applicants must have the following qualifications:

  • active members of the Church in good standing
  • have a bachelor’s or advanced degree
  • available for a full year
  • under 65 years of age
  • do not have dependents who would accompany them to China
  • free from heavy financial obligations
  • willing to go where accepted by a Chinese university
  • in good health

Chinese-language skills are not required for placement. Interested in learning more? Read more about the program, contact the Forsyths, or apply here.