April 11, 2022

Building Bridges

Emily Vallejo

Hong Ding. Mandarin teacher, leans on the railing on the second floor of the Upper School.


As Glenelg Country School (GCS) entered the 21st century, Kingdon Gould, Jr., one of the school’s founders, dreamed of offering a new language option to students. Through a mutual friend, Gould met Hong Ding, who in 2004 became GCS’ Mandarin teacher. Well-versed in several languages—Ding is fluent in Korean, Mandarin, and English, and is now learning French—her journey to the United States and GCS is equally diverse. 


As a Chinese person with a Korean heritage, Ding grew up in Beijing, China. She attended college in DaLian and majored in economics. Shortly after graduating, Ding married and worked for a time with the Chinese government’s Tax Bureau. Ding and her husband, Chengri, often talked about moving to the US after marrying. Passionate about freedom, the couple participated in student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. 


“I rode my bike to the square daily as traffic in the capital was paralyzed during that time,” Ding recalls. On June 4, 1989, the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre, her ride was cut short. “I could not enter the square as tanks blocked it,” remembers Ding. Soon after, the Dings began a lengthy immigration process to move to the United States. In 1992, they arrived.


It would be another 12 years before she would meet Gould. To the school’s benefit, she did, as her generosity of spirit and knowledge has touched many lives. Working daily to build a bridge between Eastern and Western cultures, Ding is not only the Upper School’s Mandarin teacher, but she has also filled other vital roles. She is the international student-parent liaison, international student club coordinator, and the Chinese Honor Society sponsor. Recently, she collaborated with Sheena Jordan, diversity coordinator, in outreach and inclusion efforts with Asian families in the GCS community.


As a valuable member of the World and Classical Languages department, Ding constantly updates her teaching skills and looks for ways to improve her craft. She established a Mandarin language club in the Middle School during an enrichment period. Ding has also taught Chinese language and culture classes to lower and primary grades. And she actively works to incorporate new language teaching methods and encourages students to consider learning Mandarin. 


Ding’s students learn about many aspects of the culture. They study and practice Chinese calligraphy as well as Chinese history. Students talk about tea in Mandarin and appreciate its relaxing qualities while enjoying a cup during class. She makes lasting connections with students in her small classes as she encourages them to focus on doing their best academically and on their mental and physical health.


Ding has served—officially and unofficially—as the international student/parent liaison for the Admissions Office for many years. Her efforts to connect, communicate, and counsel have been essential to the success of many international students. She explains, “I like to contact parents first  through a video call to give them a face to which they can connect and feel comfortable speaking their language.” In her conversations with international parents, Ding helps them understand the educational philosophy of GCS so they can better support their students and helps them understand their student’s progress and grades. She counsels international students to embrace the opportunity to connect with their teachers, ask questions, and build a relationship. 


Her impact on students is profound. Graduates are very grateful for their positive experiences while at GCS, especially their connection to teachers. Faythe Cooper ’20, who earned the Seal of Biliteracy in Mandarin after completing level four and studied abroad in China in the summer before her senior year, is a testament to Ding’s influence. 


Ding contributes invaluable opportunities and support to students outside of the classroom. She has led cultural immersion trips to China during spring and summer breaks. As the international student club coordinator, Ding organizes opportunities for international students to connect, learn, and reflect on their shared experiences in a new country. She encourages students to bring Lunar New Year celebrations to the Upper School in fun and memorable ways. She also participates in the International Holiday Bazaar by helping to coordinate student volunteers and vendors. 


Ding is also a parent of a GCS graduate, George Ding ’16. She is deeply grateful and appreciative of the opportunities and experiences available to her son. George himself credits GCS with his strong academic and character-building foundation to succeed in college and beyond. 


As she reflects on her years of work and dedication to the GCS community, Ding is proud of establishing the Mandarin language program and is motivated to ensure that the bridges she has built will be maintained. “My goal is to continue building a strong and robust Chinese and international student program to allow future generations of students to explore and embrace both the American and Chinese experience and cultures.”

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