Student Club ‘Project Pengyou’ Partners With Middlingo to Teach Chinese

By JONAH RYAN

COURTESY PHOTO
Project Pengyou’s logo.

MIDDLEBURY — While -iddlebury College offers its world renowned Language Schools on campus every summer, affordable opportunities in town for Middlebury residents to learn foreign languages are slim. That is why the one-year-old program “Middlingo” has received such tremendous support and recognition from Addison County as an opportunity for the area’s children to learn about Chinese language and culture. 

Middlebury residents May Poduschnick and Joanna Doria founded “Middlingo” at the Aurora Learning Center in town in 2017 as an after school and summer program for kids to learn Chinese. 

“We started this because I have a few friends who have some connection to Chinese culture, whether they have adopted children from China or their children are part Chinese, and [Middlingo] started from that interest in learning Chinese,” Poduschnick told The Campus.

This is only its second year of operation but Middlingo has already managed to attract a group of dedicated students. 

“We have a small but committed group,” Poduschnick said. “I have about thirty students right now, twenty of them were with me last year as well.”

After a successful first year, Middlingo decided to expand its program to begin a collaboration with the college’s chapter of Project Pengyou. Project Pengyou is a national organization that attempts to build bridges between American and Chinese students. Middlebury’s chapter specifically attempts to “provide a platform for international Chinese students, Chinese Americans and anyone else who wishes to engage in dialogue about US-China relations,” according to their webpage. 

For the past semester, the college’s Project Pengyou members have taken part in teaching Chinese classes to Middlingo’s young students. The typical role of Middlebury College students in the Middlingo classroom involves assisting Poduschnick and Doria in teaching and leading small groups of kids. 

“The class usually involves some interactive games and songs as well as a Chinese cultural story and then some character writing practice,” said Emily Uhrynuk ’19, one of the Project Pengyou members and a Chinese minor who has been volunteering at Middlingo for the past several weeks. “Chinese can be a hard language to learn but the kids are all so enthusiastic and excited, which makes it such a fun program to be involved with,” she said.

Poduschnick agreed that so far, the partnership has been a success. 

“They [the Middlebury students] are amazing,” Poduschnick said. “I was overwhelmed and very impressed by the interest from Project Pengyou. They are great role models for the students.”

When Benjy Renton ’21, the president of Middlebury’s Project Pengyou, first reached out to his club members about the Middlingo opportunity, he received an outpouring of interest. 

“May [Poduschnick] reached out to Jessica Teets, who is a political science professor and also our club’s advisor,” Renton said. “She emailed me in August — there’s this woman in town who wants to teach Chinese. I sent [an] email to everyone on [the club’s] email list and I didn’t expect to get anybody, but seven to eight people responded.”

Renton started learning Chinese at the age of six, when he and his family moved to Hong Kong, and has been studying it ever since. He was excited to teach Chinese at Middlingo in part because he finds the experience so rewarding. 

“I have always found the best way to learn is to teach it to somebody,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Poduschnick agreed that “it’s a great way for the college to be involved with the community. It’s a nice way for them to meet some families and kids, and the kids [in the community] are a really nice bunch.”

Though involvement of Project Pengyou members started small, as the college students spend more time with the program, there are more opportunities for them to take on greater roles within Middlingo’s classes.

On the day of The Campus’ interview with Poduschnick, a Middlebury College student was about to lead a lesson for the class. 

“She planned the lesson, and she’s going to teach it,” Poduschnick said. “I’ll be her assistant. And in my other class, I’m not going to be there the last week. I absolutely know they [the college students] can do a perfectly good job,” said Poduschnick.

On top of the success of the partnership so far, Poduschnick also envisions greater possibilities for a future between the two programs. “Maybe we can work collaboratively and do more of an internship project together,” she said. “I would love that.”

More information about Middlingo can be found at www.middlingo.com.

Editor’s Note: Benjy Renton is a sports editor for The Campus. He had no involvement in this article other than providing comment.

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Student Club ‘Project Pengyou’ Partners With Middlingo to Teach Chinese