In September 2016, Isa Smith visited China with her husband. Her love for the country was so strong that she adopted a Chinese son during that trip.
A mother of three children of her own, the 41-year-old Virginian housewife has always loved teaching. She earned a master's degree in education as a reading specialist, studied elementary education as well as English teaching in college, and considered herself "a teacher at heart."
In late January 2018, she joined VIPKid, a Chinese company hiring North American teachers to teach English online. Working from home has enabled her to take care of the five-year-old Chinese son.
Through English teaching, she wanted to maintain her relationships with her Chinese students and create more new ones. "I feel like it is helpful to me both in my career and at my home."
Smith's experience is a snapshot of the people-to-people exchanges between the two countries enhanced by online English education platforms that are currently thriving in China.
Founded in 2013, VIPKid now sees over 700,000 students pay for classes, and the number of its North American teachers has exceeded 100,000 as of November, according to information provided to Xinhua by the company.
The number of classes Smith teaches varies from 15 to 30 per week, with each session lasting for about 25 minutes. She usually teaches in the early mornings, before everybody in her family wakes up on weekdays, and after her children fall asleep during weekends.
Smith fondly remembers her trip in 2018 to the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, where she met two of her most frequently taught students. She went on visiting Nanchang in neighboring Jiangxi Province, adopting another Chinese girl who is now four and a half years old.
Recalling the hospitality of her students and their parents, Smith said that they drove her to the hotel, showed her around the city, and even brought her to the train station to make sure she got on the Nanchang-bound train on the day she left. "They really took care of me the whole time and made sure I had everything I needed."
Smith hangs a Chinese flag in her house, decorates rooms with toys including Chinese zodiac animal figurines, celebrates Chinese holidays at home, and cooks Chinese food once or twice a week by using the recipes her Chinese students sent.
"Two of our family members are Chinese. We're not trying to take that away from them by adopting," Smith said. "I want them to feel like we made efforts to expose them to those things and to build that bridge."
For Smith, this teaching experience is "so much fun" that it "doesn't even feel like a job." Even though the schedule "is a little draining at times," Smith said she hadn't taken a day off in a week and can even start "a few more" classes.
The kids at the Smiths have gotten used to their mother teaching from home. "They'll say, 'Oh mom, what time do you teach tonight?'" Smith said. "It's just a part of our lives."
By talking with the Chinese students via WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging app, and sharing pictures featuring celebrations of traditional Chinese festivals, Smith can "learn more about the Chinese culture" that she can share with her family.
Smith foresees a future in which she will bring her Chinese kids back to their home country someday and let them visit the city where they were each born.
"I want our three biological kids to experience China as well," she said. "I would like for us all to go one day and have those experiences together."
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