Nov. 9, 2012
Northwest alumna finds her beat teaching music in China
By Philip Gruenwald, media relations assistant
Rachel Sneed, a 2011 Northwest Missouri State University graduate from Smithville, began her career as a music educator in June by teaching K-12 music for a two-year term in China. For all the teaching Sneed does, however, she also spends significant time learning – learning Chinese, learning how to teach English as a second language and learning about how she reacts to the unpredictable yet extraordinary environment of China.
Sneed regretted not studying abroad during her time at Northwest, but her trumpet instructor Bill Richardson encouraged her to seek professional development internationally. Sneed found the International School of Wuxi, a 155-student international school about a 40-minute train ride from Shanghai. The school needed someone to build an instrumental program and teach music to preschool students. Three months into her two-year term, Sneed already thinks she will stay longer than she first expected.
“At this point in my life, this is where I need to be,” Sneed said. “I can’t say for sure – it’s still awhile away before my first two years are up – but I want to be here for the students. They need consistency, and if teachers leave every two years, it’s hard on them.”
At an international school, Sneed can teach in English. She teaches some of the American songs she grew up with, alongside curriculum in Chinese and Korean. Her students, primarily from Korea and China, are instructed to speak English in the classroom. So Sneed said they enjoy learning and singing Korean songs, including “Gangnam Style,” the viral YouTube sensation by Korean pop artist PSY.
“My kids love that video, partly because it’s in Korean, which is what they speak,” Sneed said. “I don’t understand the words, but they do. At first I thought it was just a Korean thing, but then I heard that people all over the world were listening to it.”
Sneed is required by the school to learn Chinese. She and the school’s other faculty – who come from the United States, Albania, the Philippines and China – take classes from a designated Chinese instructor.
“You can say the letters ‘m-a’ together, and how you say it could mean many different things,” Sneed said. “One of those words is ‘mother’ and one is ‘horse’ and one is ‘rope.’ But immersion is a good way to learn the language, because I’m able to learn when I’m not in school.”
Total immersion in a brand new culture also offers challenges. Sneed will stay in China until a three-week break in June, after an intensive language learning session required for first-year teachers at the school. Despite how much she enjoys her experience, Sneed still misses America sometimes.
“It’s not always easy and there are days where you say, ‘This is not a good China day. I miss America,’” Sneed said. “But I feel like when I eventually come back to America I will have a lot of experience that will be beneficial to helping me find a job. I feel like I could go into any English Learning Language classroom in America for music teaching and I would be comfortable because of just being thrown into this.”
Sneed is still connected with some of her Northwest professors who encouraged her to start this adventure in the first place. Even at a school on the other side of the world, with a 13-hour time difference, she knows her Northwest family remains as a support group for her.
“A lot of my professors in the music department at Northwest have helped me with learning how to teach music, especially my elementary music professor,” Sneed said. “The music professors I’ve been keeping in contact with have been really helpful, giving me ideas, and helping me with first-year teacher questions.”
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