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New Deputy Directors Announced for China Teachers Program

Todd and Sherae Forsyth (left) with Judy and Matt Batschi (right)
Photo by Linda Hsiung

Todd and Sherae Forsyth have concluded their time as deputy directors of the China Teachers Program (CTP). Judy and Matt Batschi, who have been part of the program since 2019, will be assuming the role on 1 April.

Todd and Sherae taught at Peking University in Beijing for three years before taking over as deputy directors of the program in 2020, which was a unique experience. Sherae explains that typically the directors will visit the universities and teachers twice a year to build relationships and present potential new teachers. Of course, due to COVID-19, those meetings were held virtually. Todd says, “It was tough on our universities, but I think they appreciated the efforts that we made to keep in touch with them, [which] is helping the program come back now. If we hadn’t been able to maintain those relationships, it would be very difficult to come back and say, ‘Now we’re back in the picture.’ So that’s kind of what our main role was—to try to hold those relationships together so that when the world turned right again, we could come back.” And Sherae saw that their efforts did make a difference when they visited the universities this last year. “We have loved it. And we’re grateful that in the last twelve months, [the program] has become more normal again, and is growing.”

“We’ve learned that the main role that we’re playing is kind of as a bridge between two wonderful countries,” Todd says. “When we went back [to China] last May for the first time in 3.5 years, we shared many tears with the people that we were visiting. And you’re talking about professional relationships, and yet we still shared those tears because we felt like we were home. We had spent a few years living in Beijing, and so to be back amongst the good people that we had kept in contact with was a very emotional thing. And the students felt the same way. It was a very positive experience.”

Photo by Linda Hsiung

After being released as directors of the program, the Forsyths plan to continue serving. “It might be another senior mission, it might be another teaching opportunity overseas,” Todd says. “That’s just what we decided that we’re going to spend most of our life doing, with breaks in between to play with our grandkids.” From their time in the program, Sherae learned that Heavenly Father loves all of his children, especially his children in China. “And there are amazing people who are willing to serve in unusual circumstances and in ways that are not necessarily always easy.”

Reflecting on the last four years, Todd says, “So many people helped us continue this program. We couldn’t have maintained it on our own at all. We were dependent on so many wonderful BYU teachers making the difficult decision to teach in the middle of the night because of the time differential, teaching online even though you don’t have the self-satisfaction you do in person. It’s one thing to do it for one semester, it’s another thing to do it for two or three years. And they were really amazing to continue to do that and help us maintain the program.”

Matt and Judy Batschi were two of those teachers who taught online during COVID under the Forsyths’ direction. The Batschis initially joined the program in the fall semester of 2019 at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, where they taught oral English three to four days a week. “It was just like being a professor of English anywhere,” Matt says. The students’ “English reading and writing was rather proficient. Their oral English needed some work. So our responsibility was to help make sure that they could pronounce all of the English sounds correctly, and help them a little bit with vocabulary.” Their interactions both in and outside of class allowed them to get very close to their students, Judy explains. “I know when we were initially there we tried to be present—go to the plays they were in or support different sports events and other activities. We enjoyed seeing them outside of the classroom.”

Their schedule also allowed for time to travel on the weekends, as well as on the two-month break between semesters. Judy says, “During that winter vacation of the first year, we finished our first semester classes, packed up a carry-on bag and took off for some extensive traveling in southern and western China, and then we had our conference for the BYU China teachers near the end of January. Then we went to India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. By that point, it was early February of 2020. Things were happening in Wuhan and word was getting out about COVID, and we found out that we were not going to be able to return to China.” As a result, “everyone who was teaching that year started spring semester teaching online. The students had to stay at home with their families in their hometown.” This brought new challenges for the teachers to overcome, from experiencing technical issues to adapting teaching styles for online learning. However, after the initial frustrations of that change, Matt believes that the teachers were successful.

Photo by Linda Hsiung

The Batschis continued teaching online in 2021. Then after receiving approval from the BYU Board and Jeff Ringer, the director of the China Teachers Program, the couple returned to China in 2022 for spring semester—“We were sort of guinea pigs or vanguards,” Judy says. They were the only teachers for the program in China at the time in order to get a sense if the rest of the teachers should be sent over.

“There were a number of miracles involved in just getting the visas and the paperwork required to return to China,” she adds. And once they returned to China there were additional miracles: a day after they finished quarantine in Shanghai, they heard that Shanghai was going to initiate a lockdown due to a resurgence of COVID. Matt says, “So that morning we packed our bags, got down to the train station, and we looked at the board displaying the train schedules, and realized that 70 to 80 percent of those trains leaving Shanghai had already been canceled. We were fortunate to get one of the few trains to get out of Shanghai and go to Beijing.”

Meanwhile, the students were told to hold off on coming back to campus for the spring 2022 semester. Judy says, “When we eventually got back to our apartment everything was just like a time machine—we’d gone back in time to the end of December of 2019. We still had Christmas cards on the table that had been delivered after we left. . . . The students never did return to campus. So we still taught online even though we were in China.” Despite the bumps in the road, she says, “we had incredible experiences, many other miracles, and it was good that we were there. But it was a very different teaching experience. We then taught the next year, 2022–2023, online. By then it was a very small CTP group online, but the program was still continuing.”

She notes, “It’s not ideal, but it’s amazing the sort of relationship that you can have and develop with students, even through Zoom, which is what we had been using to teach online—so much so that when we went back this last fall, we had three years’ worth of students whom we had never met in person but were excited to see us.” For example, when everyone came back to campus for the fall 2023 semester, the Batschis told their students to meet them at the cafeteria to visit. Matt says, “We never made it there because all of our students kept coming up to us!” In another instance, the Batschis were in the Singapore Changi airport when Matt received a text from a student asking if Matt was also in the airport—a student he’d taught online a few years before and had never met in person. “I’ve met up with students the same way,” Judy says. “It’s amazing.”

Judy Batschi with one of her classes at China Foreign Affairs University

In spring 2024, the Batschis were asked to take over for the Forsyths as deputy directors of the program. “Our goal is to help others have these incredible life-changing experiences,” Judy says. “We’re really excited to serve here and we believe a hundred percent in the program. We see how it changes lives for the teachers, as well as for the students and any number of other people you interact with in China.”

Another one of their goals is to increase the number of teachers participating in the program. Matt says, “Before COVID, there were seventy-five different teachers in the year that we started, the academic year of 2019–2020. And in post-COVID when we finally went back for this last fall term, there were ten teachers at just four universities in two cities. So it took a large hit. We now see some early renewal of interest, which is really exciting that people understand what the program is all about and want to participate, so we look forward to continue growing it back.” He adds, “We’re very grateful to the Forsyths who have been the program coordinators and really helped us understand the ins and outs of the technical details of the program. They’ve held it together for the last four years, especially during the turmoil of COVID, where they maintained and sustained this program.”

To those who are interested in joining, Judy says, “Do it. You will not regret it. It will change your life forever.” Matt agrees: “We go over there with the expectation of teaching English. In reality, the students and the people that we met taught us so much more.” Are you interested in the program? Check out the website here to learn more about the teaching assignments and application process.