Course not so foreign to students
By JUDY SHERARD
Some Hays High School students might not mind being called a rat, or even a snake.
It's not a reflection of their character, but the animal associated with their birth year in the Chinese culture.
Students interested in learning about the Chinese culture and its language are meeting once a week for four weeks during seminar period this semester.
Eight students attended a session of China Club last week, which coincided with the Chinese New Year -- the year of the horse.
"In China, we mark years using animals," said Shirley Liu, who was leading the discussion.
Liu, a native of China, graduated from Fort Hays State University in 2007. She taught English in China at the university level before coming back to Hays with her husband in 2012.
The Chinese culture is based on a 12-year cycle, and the animal for each year influences the culture, she said.
The 12 animals in Chinese zodiac are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each appears every 12 years.
Some believe a person's birth year animal is a "good way to tell people's characters," Liu said.
The students learned the attributes of each sign, how to pronounce the name of the animal and the written symbol.
"You don't have to memorize all of them, (but) it's always good to practice your tones," she told the students. "The most difficult thing about (the) Chinese language is the four tones. English doesn't have tones."
The club gives students a taste of learning Chinese, said Ann Adams, who teaches Latin and serves as the Hays High sponsor for the club.
Hays High senior Jill Pokorny has "always been very interested in Asian cultures. It's always been a place I've wanted to go, and a language and a culture I've wanted to learn. So this was just a great opportunity to get myself started in it before I went off to college and maybe took some advanced classes in it."
Administrators are gauging students' interest in Mandarin Chinese classes, HHS Principal Marty Straub told the board of education in December.
"The turnout was not as high as we'd like," Straub said of the China Club.
However, Mandarin Chinese will be among the class choices when students pre-enroll later this month. If enough students enroll, the district will check into adding the class, Straub said.
Even if there aren't enough students to have a class, the school might continue to offer activities such as China Club next year, he said.
"(It) would be a positive addition to our offerings here," Adams said.