Adventure awaits Washougal couple in China

Ernie and Pat Suggs will teach in Tianjin for one year

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Longtime Washougal residents Ernie and Pat Suggs will soon depart for a yearlong teaching trip to Tianjin, China.

Tossing aside the notion that retirement is a time to slow down and take it easy, a Washougal couple is preparing to set out on what they anticipate will be the adventure of a lifetime.

In a matter of days, Pat and Ernie Suggs will leave their comfortable home and close-knit family, which includes six daughters and seven grandchildren, to spend the next year as English teachers in China. At the moment, they know very little about what lies ahead.

They have yet to be told the specific number of pupils who will be taking their classes, the English knowledge base of those students, or what teaching tools will be available.

“We might just have a chalkboard and a piece of chalk,” Pat said.

What they do know is they will be instructing Tianjin University students, receiving a stipend, and living in a small apartment located within the city of 10 million people that is situated 50 miles south of Bejing.

There will be no oven, no clothes dryer, and no access to Facebook, YouTube or Internet blogs, most of which are censored by the Chinese government. With no vehicle, they plan to bicycle or walk everywhere.

“It’s going to be an adventure — a Chinese adventure,” said Pat, 63.

The endeavor, which includes a total of 70 volunteer educators hailing from cities around the United States, is being organized through the Brigham Young University David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. Since 1989, the program has provided a total of 1,000 teachers who have educated 175,000 students at 45 universities.

The Suggs, both members of the Latter-day Saints Church, recently returned from a training session at BYU, and have since been developing a series of general lesson plans that focus on getting students talking and interacting.

Ernie said teachers who have participated in the program in the past describe the majority of the students as eager to learn, and appreciative of the opportunity to have access to higher education.

“It’s quite a thing to go to the university,” Pat said. “Their parents sacrifice tremendously for them to do that.”

Founded in 1895, the Tianjin University has an enrollment of 29,000 students and 1,700 professors and associate professors.

“It’s the oldest university in modern China,” Ernie said. “It has a lot of history to it.”

Their role as educators will be to inspire the students’ academic development as their English language mentors. Volunteers will not discuss issues such as politics or religion.

“We are being hired by the Chinese government to teach English,” Pat said. “That’s it.”

The Suggs bring with them strong backgrounds in education. Ernie retired four years ago to conclude a more than 30-year career in community education in Camas-Washougal. Pat has experience in elementary education, and spent a decade as a substitute teacher in the Camas and Washougal school districts and four years as a para educator in Washougal.

The couple decided to take a chance and apply for the China teaching positions after spending the past year and a half working at the Latter-day Saints Employment Resource Center in Vancouver as part of a welfare mission.

“We were looking for what we might do next, and this opportunity came up,” Ernie said.

Following an extensive application and interview process, they were notified in April that they had been accepted into the program.

“It will be an international conglomerate of people,” Ernie said of the upcoming experience in China. “It will be fun.”