Teacher brings China to Polk County

Maisie Huong is teaching in Dallas for a year

DALLAS -- The woman in the classroom looks perfectly at ease.

Until she speaks and you hear her slight accent, you would never guess that Maisie Huong is 5,000 miles from home.

Huong, a teacher from Xi'an, China, is teaching in Dallas for a year through an exchange program called American Field Service (AFS).

Though local students often participate in the exchange program, AFS coordinator Dale Derouin said Maisie is the first foreign teacher to come to Dallas in 15 years.

Huong has always wanted to visit the United States.

"I studied English at the Foreign Language Institute, and I wanted to know more about English-speaking countries, especially the United States," Huong said.

The Chinese government sends its teachers on exchange programs every year, but this is the first time teachers from Huong's province, Shangzi, had been selected.

Huong teaches English, which made her a good candidate to make the trip.

When she learned that she would have the opportunity to travel to America, she couldn't pass it up, despite the fact that she would be leaving her husband and 7-year-old daughter behind for 10 months.

"It was hard to part with my daughter, but I did not want to lose this opportunity," Huong said.

"This is my most precious time and my hardest time."

While she is here, Huong is teaching classes at schools around the Dallas School District and living with Katy Smith, a Dallas High math teacher.

When Smith learned a foreign teacher needed a host for a year, she volunteered right away.

"I have traveled to other areas of the world, but I've never been to China," she said.

"The idea of somebody from another country staying with me was like the next best thing."

Huong is teaching classes about Chinese language and culture. With elementary school students, she sometimes teaches the Chinese folk art of paper cutting.

"The children are very interested in everything," Huong said.

"They learn so quickly and are so interested."

Dallas High is very different from the Chinese high school Huong teaches at. In Xi'an, school starts at 7:30 a.m. and runs until 5:30 p.m., with a two-and-a-half hour break for lunch. An average class has about 60 students. Other things are different as well.

"At school, the deep impression I have is that here there is more freedom for kids," Huong said.

"Less pressure. Not so many exams."

Huong also enjoys small-town life in Dallas.

"I like it here," she said. "It's peaceful and quiet. There is too much noise in my city. I am used to it, but when I am here, I enjoy it."

She was impressed by the friendliness of local residents.

She often walks to school if it is not raining.

"One day I was walking along, and it began raining a little, and a police car drove by and asked me if I wanted to ride," she explained.

"I said, 'No, no, I am fine.' A few days later, the same thing happened again," she finished with a laugh.

"I am so grateful that everyone is so friendly."

Smith has tried to show her around the state, taking her to Silver Falls and Sisters. The two traveled to Seattle to visit Smith's daughter, and to Florida to visit Smith's son. Smith said the local scenery was what first impressed Huong, though.

"When she first came, she was amazed by all the trees," Smith recalled.

"She would say, 'Oh, look at them! They are so beautiful, and they are everywhere, wherever you go.'"

Huong will return to China in June. For the rest of her time here, she wants to work with as many local teachers as possible and write down an account of her trip to America. Though she misses her family, she is content to be in Dallas.

"I enjoy everything," she said. "In the beginning I was homesick, but now I feel quite good."


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