When Teresa Chappell ’18 arrived in Wuhan, China, in 2018, she never could have imagined the uncertainties that would unfold two short years later.
Chappell was approaching her final semester as a Princeton in Asia Teaching (PiA) Fellow in January before COVID-19 concerns abruptly ended her stay in the capital of central China’s Hubei province.
Her journey home included an unanticipated 40-day stopover in Japan. Now residing in Connecticut, she’ll continue to teach online courses to freshmen and sophomore students at Wuhan University of Technology through June.
“I wanted to continue teaching and finish my year. That was what I promised to do and a commitment I made,” said Chappell, who double-majored in creative writing and French with a minor in Chinese at Franklin & Marshall.
During Wuhan’s 76-day lockdown, Chappell’s classes provided a welcome routine for students. Video lessons have helped bridge the 7,000 miles between Connecticut and China. For example, an assignment to film food preparation provided a way to learn conversational English and discuss cultural differences between American and Chinese meals.
Chappell is no stranger to China. She studied abroad in Hangzhou her junior year. The experience allowed her to connect further with her Chinese-Indonesian heritage, a journey she documented in video as an Off-Campus Study Ambassador.
“Wuhan is China,” she emphasized. “In Wuhan, you're not going to find other Americans. And that's what I wanted. I wanted more of an immersive experience.”
Home to 35 higher education institutions, Wuhan is a leading educational hub. While fairly metropolitan, the city has less Western influence than cities like Shanghai or Beijing.
Chappell reflected on the simple pleasures that made Wuhan feel like home—watching locals do tai chi in the park she passed en route to school; a pot of white peach oolong tea at Momi Café, her favorite place to do work; sharing a savory Chinese barbecue meal with students.
Laughing, she recalled a story from her second day on the job. After teaching a textbook-driven grammar lesson, “one of my students came up to me and said, ‘Teresa, this is something we learned in primary school.’”
The candid moment empowered her to ditch old syllabi and craft more engaging lessons adapted to student levels and interests.
“I had a lot of freedom in my post,” she said.
“China’s education system is very different from America's. I want them to have fun in class, but I still want them to be challenged,” she added.
Chappell completed 180 hours of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification prior to her fellowship.
While her time in Wuhan ended with uncertainty, the experience helped clarify Chappell’s next chapter. She’ll pursue her master’s degree in effective teaching through The Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education, an alternative graduate school in Boston.
“After my teaching experience in China, I knew that I wanted to be in education,” she said.
"I learned that everywhere people want to make connections, no matter if it is a Western or Eastern country — the core of humanity is the same and laughter truly is a universal language."