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How trips to Israel and North Korea made her a better teacher


Bukit View Secondary School Chinese language teacher Tea Hui Wen wishes to help students understand that learning another language builds a bridge that connects people with one another.  PHOTO: FRENCHESCAR LIM


By Tan Shuwei 

While enrolled in a one-year master’s degree programme in East Asian Studies at Yale University, Ms Tea Hui Wen had the opportunity to embark on several academic trips, including one to Israel.  There, she listened to the experiences of social activists, military strategists and holocaust survivors. 

Her experience in seeing how competing ideological claims can cause disputes, made her realise the importance of developing empathy and cross-cultural understanding. 

Since becoming a Chinese language teacher in 2016, the Education Merit Scholar has integrated what she has learnt during her travels into her lessons with her students, by teaching them to embrace diversity, understand and respect the beliefs, cultures and practices of others, and be considerate in their interactions with people from different socio-cultural backgrounds.


Building a bridge to Chinese culture 

In widening the perspectives of her students and encouraging them to keep an open mind, the 29-year-old teacher at Bukit View Secondary School hopes to break barriers to learning about Chinese language and culture. 

“Instead of perceiving Chinese as just another academic subject, I want to help them see that learning another language builds a bridge that connects people with one another. For students coming from English-speaking backgrounds, I find it helpful to highlight differences in the syntax of English and Chinese. For instance, in English, there is a distinction between singular and plural for countable nouns, but this is not the case in Chinese language. Instead, classifiers are used,” Ms Tea explains.  

“In relation to this, I also share anecdotes regarding the cultural differences I experienced in China and the US, and link them to the values we want to inculcate. An example would be how the Asian culture accords greater value to filial piety as compared to the Western culture.”

Ms Tea’s ability to connect with her students has led her to forge close bonds with them, and she is encouraged by their appreciation for her, such as when they reach out to her for advice, even after they have graduated.

“Besides the strong sense of purpose in what I do, I derive much enjoyment from the day-to-day interaction with my students. They bring me both joy and tears, and life in school would never be boring with them around,” she says.


A passion that turned into a calling      

When she took up the Education Merit Scholarship, which was awarded to her after she completed her A levels, Ms Tea pursued a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and literature at China’s Peking University in 2010. This paved the way for her to study towards a master’s degree in East Asian Studies after graduating from Peking in 2014. 

“I was passionate about education as a career choice and decided to take up this scholarship, which aligned with my long-term goals,” she says.

Growing up in a Mandarin-speaking household, she discovered she had a strong affinity for the Chinese language. Her participation in the Bicultural Studies Programme and Chinese Language Elective Programme during her secondary school years at Dunman High School transformed this passion into a calling. 

The opportunity to study abroad also contributed to her personal growth and independence. “Before, I was someone who would be reluctant to even take the MRT beyond Bugis from Changi, where I lived,” she says. 

During the four-year programme at Peking University, Ms Tea had increased her self-confidence by taking part in summer school and exchange programmes in New Zealand, South Korea and Canada. She had also served as the vice-president of the Beijing Asean Student Games during her final year at the university.

“Being the vice-president taught me how to lead a team with diverse backgrounds. Such experiences broadened my horizons and increased my understanding of different cultures,” she says.

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