Tian Wang: China to America

Ms. Wang, or Wang Laoshi, has led two successful Chinese programs here in Minnesota, and has created a home away from home.
OPPORTUNIY. Tian Wang stands in front of the Shanghai skyline while on a trip for an interview with the Confucius Institute. Photo Submitted by Tian Wang.
OPPORTUNIY. Tian Wang stands in front of the Shanghai skyline while on a trip for an interview with the Confucius Institute. Photo Submitted by Tian Wang.

Long-time SPA Chinese teacher Tian Wang never intended to be in her current position. In fact, she didn’t even expect to stay in America for more than two years. Yet now, Ms. Wang, or Wang Laoshi, has led two successful Chinese programs here in Minnesota, and has created a home away from home for herself and also a loving environment for her family.

“Many aspects of America are cleaner and more advanced. But, I still really reminisce about my classmates, friends, and relationships in China. I had to completely restart here. I had no friends, no connections. Nevertheless, I have made many new friends in the past 20 years,” Wang said.

Her story starts in 1981 in a small county, Yuan’an, in Hubei, China. As a kid, Wang and her family moved a lot. When she was 10, she moved to Xiaogan, a larger city, also in the Hubei province. Once there, her family settled, and she graduated from high school before going to college in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei. After four years, Wang earned her bachelor’s degree in English and proceeded to teach English at her college for two more years, right before the biggest move in her entire life.

Studying English for four years made Wang wonder: what was America like? Was it indeed like how they described it in books? One day, in 2006, she discovered the Confucius Institute, searching for bilingual teachers willing to travel abroad to teach Chinese in American schools. Wang hopped on the opportunity immediately and went through the examination and interview process, and to her excitement, she was selected. The program is closed due to tensions between the Chinese and American governments. However, its effect can still be seen throughout Minnesota in the numerous Chinese programs and immersion schools.

Wang instantly knew she wanted to travel to America, as she only planned to stay for a year before returning to her previous job in China, teaching English. Her first job in America was at Mounds Park Academy. The school had yet to establish a Chinese program, so Wang got to work creating her own program. She extended her stay for two years until her visa expired but ultimately returned home in 2009. Wang said, “At MPA, the students and community welcomed me very warmly.”

I had to completely restart here. I had no friends, no connections.

— Tian Wang

However, during her three years at Mounds Park, she met her current husband. Wang’s original plan of temporarily staying in America was flipped on its head. Her husband had come to China with her in 2009, and together, they both found positions teaching language at Qinghua University, the most prestigious school in China. Yet, after a lengthy discussion, the pair ultimately decided it would be better for them to move to America, and just like that, Wang found herself back in Minnesota, her husband’s home. “Since me and my husband are from different countries, we can’t both have what we want. One of us has to compromise,” Wang said.

In 2012, after settling down, Wang began to look for another job. Since Mounds Park’s Chinese program had shut down without her, after taking up a job at a smaller charter school, she ended up teaching Chinese at St. Paul Academy, where she is now and has been for 12 years.

Wang still tries to connect with her home back in China, but being halfway across the world and with expensive traveling costs, she feels as if she has left a part of her back there. Through teaching and interacting with students, she has found new ways to love her heritage.

Behind the daily persona of Ms. Wang, there is Tian, a young woman who traveled alone, away from her home, to a new and unknown country. She has gone through it all, restarting her from scratch. From finding new jobs to making new friends to meeting her husband, Wang has done things she never thought she would. She discovered herself in a future she never expected, yet now, she lives it daily.

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