BANGOR, Maine — About 40 English teachers from Harbin, China, and the surrounding area spent Friday touring a Bangor high school, meeting city officials and getting a feel for American education.
The Chinese educators represent about a dozen middle and high schools in Harbin, which is Bangor’s sister city, and surrounding towns and cities.
The group spent Friday morning at John Bapst Memorial High School, sitting in on a series of classes, including English as a second language, physics, chemistry and Latin.
Shan “Catherine” Jiang teaches English to high school students in China between the ages of 16 and 19.
She said her students “know a little about American education,” but many are curious to learn more. Many Chinese students aspire to attend American universities, as U.S. education, especially higher education, is held in high esteem in China.
Chinese students’ days are structured very differently from American students. Whereas American students bounce from one classroom to another, Chinese students spend their days in one room with a larger group of classmates. Classes stretch into the evening, and students seldom have “free time,” Jiang said.
Education also is focused very heavily on test results and performance, and that often determines where the student will go to pursue the next level of education.
Jiang said she’s enjoyed the trip to Maine and plans on taking what she learned back to her students.
“We were welcomed very warmly,” she said.
Jiang and her fellow teachers got a tour of Bangor City Hall, led by former City Councilor Gerry Palmer and Councilor Ben Sprague. Many asked to take pictures and selfies with the city representatives, and some recorded the men as they talked so they could share what was said in their English classes.
The group also visited the Bangor office of Sen. Susan Collins and traveled to the Bangor Waterfront for a group photo in front of a sister-city monument dedicated in the summer of 2013.
On Saturday, the delegates are scheduled to attend a workshop on foreign language education at the University of Maine, which has actively recruited foreign students, including from China. Jing Zhang of the Chinese Learning and Culture Center of Maine in Bangor is leading the group.
“I want to continue to work to build the bridges and connect these two powers,” Zhang said of her reasons for organizing the trip.
Harbin, the capital city of the Heilongjiang province in northeastern China, is often called “Ice City” because of its bitterly cold winters and ice sculpture festivals. Nearly 6 million people live in the city’s urban area, which, like Greater Bangor, serves as a cultural, economic and educational hub for the region.
The sister-city relationship between Bangor and Harbin was formed in 2010, when Zhang and former Bangor City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer decided to tie the communities and cultures together as the United States and China continue to forge bonds.
Maine political delegates, including Gov. Paul LePage, have made several trips to China in recent years to swap ideas on trade and education. Maine officials have increasingly looked at China as a valuable trade partner. Maine high schools are drawing students from China each year, as the pool of students to draw from at home dwindles because of an aging population.
Zhang said she’ll be leading a second group of teachers, K-12 educators, around Bangor next week.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.