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EAA Interview with Margot Landman

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Margot Landman is director of the U.S.-China Teachers Exchange Program, established in 1995 with a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation. The one-year exchange brings Chinese teachers to school districts in the United States, and sends American teachers to schools in China. The Chinese counterpart in this thriving exchange is the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE). In summer 2002 the program moved from the American Council of Learned Societies to the National Committee on United States-China Relations. Reaching far beyond the individual classrooms in which participating educators teach, the program has had a lasting impact on the schools and communities beyond. It is a striking example of the positive use of funds and implementation of the outreach efforts of the Freeman Foundation.

Kelly: Margot, can you tell us a bit about how your interest in China developed?

Margot Landman: I inherited my interest in China from my parents, who were correspondents in Shanghai from 1948 to 1950. I was born after their return to the U.S. and grew up hearing about China. I had the good fortune to go to a high school in New York City that offered Chinese. I signed up, thinking that Chinese would be fun and different. It was! The teacher was among the best I have ever encountered. Of the six of us in the first year class, four went on to use Chinese professionally.

I continued language study and added Chinese history at Brown University. I wanted to go to China upon graduation. There was one hitch: it was 1978, before diplomatic recognition, and there were few opportunities for Americans to spend an extended period in China. The Chinese authorities were, however, considering inviting a few Americans to teach English in China.

On December 15, 1978, I received a call from the then-Liaison Office of the PRC asking if I were still interested in going. That night President Jimmy Carter announced to the nation that the U.S. and China would establish diplomatic relations effective January 1, 1979. On January 4 I received an invitation from the Foreign Experts Bureau of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China to spend two years teaching English at Xinxiang Normal College in Henan Province. My teaching experience had consisted of tutoring through a Big Sister program, giving private flute lessons to a friend or two . . . certainly nothing that qualified me to teach English to college students and teachers. Nevertheless, I accepted the invitation, asked when and how I should go (there were no direct flights back then), and hung up the phone. What had I agreed to?! I called my parents, and later my undergraduate advisor, Professor Jerome B. Grieder. Everyone was excited and delighted. Some of us were very nervous! Ten days after receiving the invitation I turned twenty-one years old, and ten days later I left for China.

Living and working there was an extraordinary experience, exciting and thankless, wonderful and painful, full of friends and loneliness. I returned to the U.S. in 1982, having spent two and a half years teaching in Xinxiang and one year in Beijing studying at the Beijing Languages Institute and working part-time at CBS News

Chinese Cities involved in the Exchange

Beijing, Changzhou, Chengdu, Dalian, Hefei, Hohhot, Luoyang, Nanjing, Suzhou, Tongling, Yangzhou

American districts/cities

Colorado: Boulder Valley School District; Cherry Creek School District, Denver; Poudre School District, Fort Collins

Connecticut: Westport Public Schools

Florida: Saint Edward’s School

Maine: Portland High School; Bangor Public Schools

Massachusetts: The school districts of Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Lexington, Longmeadow, Melrose, Milton, Quabbin Regional School District (Barre), Sandwich

Michigan: Ann Arbor Public Schools; Birmingham Public Schools; Royal Oak Public Schools

New Hampshire: Henniker School District; Kearsarge Regional School District

New York: public elementary, junior high, and high schools throughout New York City; two private K-12 schools

Oregon: Portland Public Schools

Pennsylvania: Plum Borough Public Schools

Wisconsin: The School District of La Crosse; Milwaukee Public Schools