Adding Chinese to her quiver of languages wasn’t “a very well-thought-out plan,” Liberty Bell High School Chinese teacher Eveline Wathen says, but it is something she has ended up using throughout her life so far.
When Eveline entered Leiden University in the Netherlands in 1987, she knew she wanted to learn a new language, as well as studying business. In addition to her native Dutch, Eveline already had Greek, Latin, German, and English under her belt from her high school’s regular curriculum and Chinese seemed like a good complement to her interest in business. “I was intrigued by China and it was an up-and-coming country in the business world,” Eveline said.
Eveline got a scholarship to study in China, but the Tiananmen Square demonstrations — during which thousands of protesters were killed by the Chinese army — caused the Dutch government to cancel all scholarships to China. She found her way there eventually, though, and ended up working in Taiwan for more than a decade.
Eveline began teaching Chinese at Liberty Bell in 2010. As the school’s only Chinese teacher, she teaches 7th-12th graders who choose Chinese as their world language.
In 2012, Eveline decided it was time to take Chinese language learning out of the classroom and into the country, and led a 10-day trip for high school students. Since then, she has done the trip every year with the exception of two COVID years.
Although most of the trips in the early years took place in mainland China, lately Eveline has been working Taiwan into the repertoire, with the eventual goal of alternating between mainland China and Taiwan every year. This year’s trip, the first one since COVID, took place in northern Taiwan.
Instead of working with a professional tour guide or scheduling the itinerary herself, Eveline leads the students through trip planning. Each kid plans a day, including transportation, food, activities, lodging, and budget. “The kids think of things that I wouldn’t,” Eveline says. “They know what they like best. I fill in with little 5-minute tidbits about history and culture, but mostly they learn by just immersing themselves in the place and doing the activities in each area.”
This year some of the highlights were attending the night markets in each city, doing the river tracing activity, and e-biking around Sun Moon Lake. “The kids were very adventuresome,” Eveline says. “Even right when we got off the plane in Taipei and they were all jet-lagged, some of them wanted to go out for a run on their own.” According to Eveline, Taipei is the third-safest city in the world; she let them go.
Eveline says the best part of these trips is seeing the kids put together their classroom learning and their in-country experiences. “Even on the first day they recognized the language and the food that we’ve cooked in class,” she says. “They were leading the way in the subway and in restaurants.”
Many of the students had never been abroad and a couple had never been on an airplane. “But these Methow kids are just so bold and inquisitive,” Eveline says. “They really put themselves out there.”