Sandra McWhirter, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie, will spend a month in China this summer as one of 16 Fulbright-Hays scholarship winners nationwide.
McWhirter, who lived and taught in the Middle East from 1982 to 1988, said she is looking forward to learning about China and to bringing her knowledge back to the school where she has taught for four years.
"I've never traveled in the Far East," she said. "It's an area I'm not that familiar with, and I'd love to learn more about it."
When she returns, she will create a PowerPoint slideshow with scripts "showing similarities and differences in cultures," she said.
The slides could be used by teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and instructors of English as a second language, she said.
Slightly more than 4 percent of Corkran's students are of Asian descent, said Principal Deborah Montgomery. Countywide, the number is closer to 3 percent.
Montgomery said she doesn't know how many of those students are of Chinese descent, but she said the value of McWhirter's experience will be her enhanced ability to understand a new culture.
"Even if we didn't have any Asian students, I think the general value is [that it is] going to create that more accepting climate that we're looking for," Montgomery said.
"How this school is going to benefit is in the category of appreciating cultural diversity, no matter what the culture is," Montgomery said. "She'll bring back very specific cultural information, and I think we can expand this to appreciating differences."
McWhirter, who has lived in Tunisia, Kuwait, Syria and Cyprus with her husband, a Foreign Service officer, first heard of the program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, about two years ago. She was immediately interested.
"My love is trying to bring an understanding of other cultures," she said.
The program pays for airfare, hotels, travel and living expenses, and any fees. It also covers travel throughout the country, along with lectures and events at nearly every stop. Participants pay $350, plus $50 for the Chinese visa, McWhirter said.
The 16 educators who are going to China will meet in San Francisco for a three-day orientation session starting June 27, then depart for Beijing on June 30. The group will visit Beijing, Xi'an, Kunming and Shanghai.
McWhirter paid an additional $200 to sign up for the option of visiting Hong Kong, she said. She will return to the United States July 31.
During the visit, she said, the group will attend lectures, visit historic sites and participate in banquets.
"We will be studying education. We'll be looking at Chinese society in transition, and how it has changed. We'll also be looking at the past, the history," she said
The federal government has offered Fulbright-Hays scholarships since the 1960s, including fellowship programs for doctoral and faculty research abroad, according to the Department of Education Web site.
The seminars abroad program is open to educators teaching at all levels, from kindergarten to college. Applicants must have at least three years of teaching experience.
To be accepted, applicants must send in three recommendations, a resume, an essay on how the trip connects with the applicant's current teaching role and a description of a curriculum-based project that the applicant will complete upon returning.
This year, elementary and secondary school teachers who were accepted into the program are going to Cyprus and Greece; China; Ecuador; Mexico; and South Africa and Botswana. College educators could choose from Australia, Egypt, India and Malaysia-Singapore.
"It's a wonderful program," McWhirter said. "I'm so excited."