In My Students’ Shoes

By Rebecca Wise, Director of International Student Services

Last week, I did a grammar activity with my Advanced English as a Second Language students to review the past perfect tense. I put up photographs from my Spring Break and they called out sentences starting with “Before Spring Break, Ms. Wise had never….”

I started with a photo of an airplane screen showing our route over the Arctic Circle.

“Before Spring Break, Ms. Wise had never flown over the Arctic Circle.”

Next was a photograph of Cathy and Read McGehee smiling over a kimchi pancake in a Seoul street market.

“Before Spring Break, Ms. Wise had never eaten street food in Korea with Mrs. and Dr. McGehee.”

It went on: Ms. Wise had never ridden a gondola in a traditional Shanghai water village with Sabrina and her family; had never gone shopping in a narrow Beijing hutong with Florence, Maya, Finy, Catherine, and Claire; had never walked the Great Wall. She had never met her advisee Maya’s mischievous little brother and had never spoken with so many amazing Foxcroft alumnae who could tell touching, funny stories and about life as an international student at Foxcroft “back in the day.” 

It was fun, doing this grammar activity in my classroom with the very girls I had traveled to visit over break. Just a few days earlier, we had been eating rose cakes and drinking tea together, browsing Chinese folk art, walking past Joseon-era palaces in Seoul, and driving around Beijing to see the Forbidden City lit up at night.

I have been teaching international students for more than ten years. I am well-versed in the things students find confounding and frustrating about American culture. I have fielded countless questions and cases of homesickness. But this trip to Seoul, Shanghai, and Beijing was the first time I had the opportunity to really step into my students’ shoes and let them be the teachers.

There were moments of discomfort, and I leaned on the students for help. I was constantly asking the girls questions like “is there meat in this?” and “what does that sign say?” and “can you call me a taxi? Can you like, tell the driver exactly where to take me?”

The students rose to the challenge with grace. They, and their parents, were wonderful hosts. Thanks to their hospitality, we had unforgettable experiences and lots of incredible meals. Cathy and I felt connected to our alumnae and parents in China and Korea in a totally new way, and we cannot wait to return and see more of our Foxcroft family in Asia. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to represent Foxcroft on this trip, and I am grateful to have had such an exciting Spring Break.

More than anything, though, I am grateful for those moments of helplessness, when one of my students had to guide me through a menu, jump in a taxi with me so I wouldn’t get lost, or explain a plaque at a museum so I could learn something new.

I never want to forget how brave our girls are for leaving everything they know at age 14 and immersing themselves in a new language and culture. My travels over break took only a fraction of the courage our international girls demonstrate when they choose to make Foxcroft their home for four years. I am grateful for the reminder, because it helps me do my job better and strengthens our international student program.

When we got back to school last week, the girls gave me knowing nods in the hallways: they knew that, for once, I was as jet-lagged as they were — head pounding, desperate to curl up in bed. I was miserable, and I was so grateful.

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