Yao Hong plays an integral role in Webb’s growing Chinese language program where she teaches 2nd, 3rd and 4th year Chinese to non-native speakers and stresses that she is persistent in her efforts to help students recognize Chinese characters.
“Pinyin is important,” she said, employing the term for the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet in China. “But students also must learn the Chinese characters – students shouldn’t be afraid to use the characters.”
She describes her classes as comprehensive: “When students can analyze the characters – whose components indicate meaning and characterization – it helps them be more confident of writing and reading.”
She also introduces Chinese cultural traditions. Second year students enjoy Chinese New Year by crafting traditional lanterns, reciting poems and decorating the halls and library at Webb. Third year students hold an annual Chinese cuisine competition (with recipes and an instructional video crafted by students in Chinese) as well as a poster project in which they research and present the symbols of the Chinese zodiac. Fourth year students are introduced to Chinese cultural influences such as WeChat, a Chinese messaging app.
Yao was educated in China and graduated from Nanjing University. She came to the United States in 1990 as an exchange visiting scholar at Grinnell College; she then moved to Beijing with her American husband, Gregory Kulacki, an expert on cross-cultural communication between the United States and China. During her time there, she was a resident director of the Council on International Educational Exchange, an international exchange program.
When her husband returned to the U.S., first to a post at Green Mountain College in Vermont (where she helped to start a Chinese program), and then to a position at Pitzer College in Claremont, she taught Chinese at nearby Pomona College. From 2002 to 2013, she also co-founded a study abroad program affiliated with Peking University. She joined the Webb faculty in September 2013. Her son Alexander graduated from Carleton College last year.
In her spare time, Yao likes to cook and develop her own recipes, learning the different skills required for each new cuisine she samples.
Yao is especially appreciative of the ways Webb supports her professional development including, in 2015, a two-week trip to Taiwan where she was able attended a Mandarin Teaching Program presented by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan at National Cheng Kung University. And, thankful for the support of her colleagues
“Everyone lends a hand,” she said of the Foreign Language Department, and most importantly – “they give me lots of flexibility to try new things. They trust in my ability to teach and to manage the class.”