Tongliao Park

Teacher finds home a world away from Georgetown

Looking for new sights, interesting people, and cultural immersion? How about Inner Mongolia? Travel time from Austin to Beijing runs about twenty-four hours. Then, if weather precludes flights to Tongliao, take the thirteen-hour rail option. Snow still covers the ground in March, so bring fur-lined pants. Americans here number fewer than ten among 500,000, so be prepared for (friendly) curiosity. Marguerite Overs (MO) completed this trek in 2012 to join 1,700 or so staff at Inner Mongolia University for the Nationalities.

She came after much prayer and after mission projects in Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Ukraine, and China, with support from First Baptist Church, Georgetown. Sponsored through The Amity Foundation, a Chinese Christian organization, MO came, like any careful traveler, with proper paperwork: a visa and, in MO’s case, certification to teach English as a second language. However, preparation for Tongliao also meant selling her house, her car, and most other possessions. She brought clothing, computer, projector, speakers, and a Nook. She and a younger teacher, Emily Minter, took a tiny apartment and began their adventure. MO felt she was “the oldest person on campus . . . suspended in an oasis of youth.”

MO faced frustrations such as undecipherable symbols on hot-plate knobs, “awful bathroom conditions” (the less said, the better), endless cold and clouds, brown water from the sink faucet, and intense traffic. MO also experienced successes: mastering chopsticks, “leaping over the firewall” after a month to access her blog, losing weight from all the walking, getting Internet at her apartment, moving confidently on ice, learning ever more Chinese words, and seeing new members baptized at Kerqin Church. After eight months in Tongliao, she taught her students the word commitment, saying she’d felt “hungry, angry, tired, cold, lonely, joyful, scared, troubled, happy, and devoted” to her chosen mission. When students ask why she came to Tongliao, MO replies, “God sent me here to meet you.”

MO’s eager, competitive students cherish time with “Teacher” outside the classroom as they practice conversational English, pose for pictures, discuss cultural differences, and watch American films. She teaches freshmen, sophomores, and Chinese teachers of English. One particularly busy semester saw MO interacting with as many as 700 students! As a special joy, MO claims two young Pakistani medical students as “adopted sons.” She believes that “love does not confine itself to a boundary.” Integrating her different worlds is challenging, but for now, Tongliao is home.

Visit MO’s blog at to see pictures of her sixtieth birthday last November. She hosted 450 people!

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