Monique Costello was placed in Linan, a small suburb of the more well-known Hangzhou, famed for its beauty. “I’m the only foreigner at my school, so the initial reception was like a celebrity,” she recalls, describing the mob scene: “All the students crowded at the front gate and it was like walking through the gauntlet. I had to do the princess wave and all that.” While one might expect the novelty to fade, it has not, says Monique. “I don’t think the magic has died down, really. Everywhere I go on campus, someone will run up to me and ask me how I am or say good afternoon. Many students are not afraid to just come up and ask me random questions, like, “Where are you from?” or “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Perhaps it is Monique’s willingness to put herself in her students’ shoes that makes her students trust her enough to try new skills. Unlike most teachers, Monique takes classes with her students – including her newfound hobby, tea, which is offered as an elective at her school and a major at the nearby agricultural university, where her best friend Alex is a student. Monique describes learning how to serve tea alongside her students: “In the elective class I take with my students, they break us into groups of three and we all have to serve to each other. Usually they want me to go first, because they don’t want to make a mistake in front of me and they like laughing when I make a mistake. I get a lot of practice.”