Bonds sealed through years of teaching and learning
Joan Boulerice’s devotion to teaching English in China has helped her strike up a friendship with a Chinese woman who later became Boulerice’s assistant, librarian and roommate.
The American teacher’s devotion and love for her students also has moved many of her former Chinese students, who have established an account they’ve named Joan’s Cottage Fund, to buy a cottage on the coast of Maine, Boulerice’s favorite place, for their teacher after her retirement in China.
While teaching English at Hanzhong Normal University in 1992, Boulerice met Li Jingyuan in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, Li’s hometown. Li, a graduate of Northwest University in Xi’an, was working as a volunteer guide at a local museum. A passionate aficionado of English, Li started learning the language with Boulerice. They became close friends.
As Boulerice prepared to leave Hanzhong to move to Beijing to teach at Beijing International Studies University, she presented Li with an opportunity to pursue two years of advanced studies in English at the college.
After Beijing, Boulerice taught for eight years at Xi’an Foreign Affairs College. Li soon joined her there as an English teacher and the two became colleagues.
At the college in Xi’an, Boulerice opened another Bao Qiong Library and often gave lectures to her students. Li was both a librarian and an interpreter for Boulerice’s lectures. “I don’t need her to translate if I only want students to practice English, but sometimes I want to tell students something very important, and they won’t be able to understand it in English,” Boulerice said.
Li followed Boulerice to Kunming and became her assistant at Yunnan Normal University. “We are kind of like a team,” Li said.
Since she’s not a faculty member at the college, Li has made a living as an English tutor for nearly 20 students in Kunming. She said that her students, aged from 6 to 16, learned English through reading books in English with her.
After teaching in China for 30 years, Boulerice has had thousands of Chinese students. Because of the popularity of social networking apps such as WeChat, many of Boulerice’s former students have remained in contact with their American teacher. They have set up 14 chat groups on WeChat, according to Li.
Last year, 36 of them came from 12 cities across the country to Kunming to celebrate Boulerice’s 60th birthday.
After the birthday party, they set up the cottage fund, hoping to help their teacher afford a small home for her retirement years.
“Joan has never been married, has almost no relatives in the US, and no pension because of working in China,” Li told a local newspaper. “What if she has to return home after her retirement in China? We all worried about the question.”
So they decided to set up the fund, which has raised more than 80,000 yuan ($12,494). Some students told Boulerice that they would put money into the bank account every year.
“I’m just blessed by my students’ behavior,” Boulerice said.
But she is not thinking retirement at all, she said. She wants to work with the university as long as she can.
“The school wants me here, definitely,” she said. “I worked hard, I made a contribution, and therefore they don’t want to lose me.”