From Chaoyang to Wurruk

Liz Bell

WHEN Sale newcomer and teacher Jim Fidler and his wife Karen left their small Tasmanian town to teach in a large city in China, it really was a giant leap of faith for a couple in their mid-40s.

Almost 20 years later, both are still there, loving the joys of teaching in well resourced schools, jetsetting to exotic destinations all over the world for professional development (pre-COVID-19), and occasionally coming back for a break in their new home in Wurruk, where they will eventually retire.

Not sure what to expect after landing in a strange country far away from the comforts of small-town Tasmanian life in 2000, Jim said he quickly discovered “teaching heaven” in China, and developed a whole new appreciation of his industry and his career.

Both Jim and Karen teach in privately-run international schools that cater mainly for the children of foreign workers from a range of western, European and Asian countries.

The schools operate with healthy budgets and modern facilities, while affording their teachers incredible opportunities.

“With these great resources come high expectations, and the schools provide wonderful opportunities to learn and grow professionally,” Jim said.

Of all the opportunities, Jim says he is most grateful for being able to start a school-based fundraising campaign at the International School Beijing in 2005 to support Chinese babies born with cleft palates.

Through a range of fundraising activities involving students and parents, and an annual ‘Smile Week’ held at the school, he and other teachers raise money to bring babies to Beijing for surgery to help them live a better life.

Their efforts have allowed about six babies – many of whom are abandoned by parents who can’t afford to care for them – to be operated on each year. Almost 60 patients have been funded since the program began.

One particularly successful and “self-indulgent” fundraising project Jim began was creating and publishing a book of his own photographs that tell the story of his family’s time in China.

The book raised more than $20,000 to fund not only cleft palate surgeries, but other lifesaving operations.

So successful was the book there was an immediate call for a second one, prompting Jim and the campaign team to put together an equally impressive collection of images by 24 photographers documenting their own experiences in Beijing.

It’s a project Jim is proud to be a part of, providing money to the Holt Ping An Medical Foster Home to give babies a hope of a better future, while teaching his students compassion and giving them hands-on learning experiences in social equality and humanity.

Back in Wurruk for a break before returning to his position as elementary principal at the 3e International School where he began last year, Jim said his whole family had been enriched by the China experience.

His two adult children have taken up international school teaching positions in Beijing, and all four bilingual grandchildren are fully immersed in life there.

He said he and his wife were surprised at how much they enjoyed living in China, despite having to battle through the COVID-19 lockdown and the challenges of online learning like schools everywhere, and he credits his students’ success in adapting to their willingness to learn.

“They are fabulous students who really want to learn; it’s really important in Asia for students and parents to show respect to their teachers,” he said.

“I’ll never forget, at one of my first school events, all the Korean parents stood up and bowed to me; it was something I never expected,” he said.

Jim said the experiences and the adventures he and his wife had enjoyed since jumping into the unknown in 2000 had been life-changing.

“I am so grateful to have met and worked with so many talented people in and out of school.

“I’ve travelled all over the world for work-related professional development, and done things I probably would never have had the chance to do if I hadn’t grabbed the opportunity,” he said.

Jim and Karen are impressed with the excellent facilities in Sale, the great environment and the friendly community, and are looking forward to living in Sale on their permanent return from China, possibly next year.

People interested in viewing the fundraising photographic books can view them online.