Foreign teacher leaves library legacy at Chinese university

Students say goodbye to teacher Esther Snader at Anqing Normal University in Anhui province
as she leaves to return to the United States. CHEN DONG/FOR CHINA DAILY


Esther Snader, a retired foreign teacher, said it was hard to leave the Chinese university she had taught at for more than 19 years, but that leaving her more than 1,200 books to the students was an easy decision.

Snader recently returned from Anqing Normal University in Anhui province to her hometown in the countryside of Pennsylvania, the United States.

She couldn’t help shedding a tear as she waved goodbye to the students, who had spent much of their time not only studying the courses she taught, but also in her living room reading.

Snader arrived at the university in 1998 through the Mennonite Partners in China program, which builds partnerships between education institutions in China and North America.

When she began working at the university, she mostly taught oral English, focusing on correct pronunciation and grammar, but she also taught US history and culture, writing, listening and speaking. However, she found the students didn’t have many English books to read.

“I had already taught for 25 years before coming to China and understood how students who read learn new vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure in addition to all the information in a book,” Snader said.

Wu Cuiping, who began a four-year course at the university’s English department in 2010, said, “The number of English books in the university’s library was limited and the content was not stimulating.”

Snader said she wanted her students to excel, so in 1999, she made her own books available to them every Wednesday afternoon in the living room of her apartment, which was provided by the university.

A consensus reached by the teacher and the students was that they could only borrow a book once and they had to share their thoughts on each book they returned.

Wu said her classmates liked reading Snader’s books and they always enjoyed discussing the books with the teacher.

“Each time I went back to the US in the summer, I would choose some more books I thought would be good for the students and shipped them to my Chinese address,” Snader said.

She bought most of the books, but sometimes her friends would also donate books they were done with, so her library grew year by year.

Before Snader left, the library already had more than 1,200 English publications, including novels, biographies, poetry, and magazines.

“Esther’s Library” was in Snader’s apartment until her last semester of teaching, when it was moved to the English department, with students volunteering to maintain it since then.

Snader estimated that she taught more than 4,000 students at the university during her time there.

“Many students have become very dear friends over the years. Some have returned to Anqing from various provinces to visit me years after graduation, while some have even visited me in the US,” Snader said.

Since returning to the US, Snader has been busy getting her apartment, which is about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, ready to live in.

“I am now planning on finding a part-time job and also want to offer my services as a volunteer,” she said.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don’t represent those of ISAC)


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