Wang Zheng, a teacher from Beijing, China, is spending a full academic year at Hilliard's Ridgewood Elementary School teaching students the Chinese language and culture.

Yi, er, san, si, wu ...

The words were spoken by third-grade students at Hilliard's Ridgewood Elementary School as they counted up from one in Mandarin. They were led by Wang Zheng, a teacher from Beijing, China, who is spending a full academic year at Ridgewood teaching students the Chinese language and culture.

Zheng, 36, said she not only is enriching Ridgewood students but will take her yearlong experience of American culture back to her own students and her family in Beijing.

"I love being a teacher," Zheng said.

She said it gives her a sense of satisfaction and contentment.

Zheng is one of 24 teachers from China and Egypt who last summer received a fellowship from the U.S. Department of State to participate in the 2016 Teachers of Critical Languages Program.

Ridgewood Elementary School was chosen to host one of the teachers as part of a nationwide selection process.

"We are so very proud that we received the Teachers of Critical Languages Program grant," Ridgewood principal Tara Grove said. "Mandarin is one of the critical languages of the world and they will learn this language during their special rotations."

Zara Hovhannisyan, senior program director for the Teachers of Critical Languages Program, said the effort goes far beyond the walls of classrooms.

"They are agents of change (who bring a) different dimension of the United States back to their home countries," Hovhannisyan said Oct. 31 from her Washington, D.C., office.

This year, 16 teachers came from China and eight from Egypt.

Only one other school in Ohio -- a school in Mentor -- was selected to participate in this year's program, Hovhannisyan said. Ridgewood was selected, she said, because the school demonstrated "a solid plan for how they wanted to use the teacher" this year and in the future.

Established in 2006, the Teachers of Critical Languages Program is funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Culture Affairs.

"Its purpose is to bring Chinese and Arabic teachers to schools in America to teach their language and culture and to create mutual understandings between their schools and even their countries," Hovhannisyan said.

While in America, visiting teachers are expected to share their cultures and, upon their return home, impart what they have learned.

Teachers without experience outside their home countries are selected purposely, Hovhannisyan said. Although two or three might have experienced a short vacation in the United States, none have extensive experience, she said.

Zheng said she never had been to the United States.

"It is hard for me to be away from my parents, my husband and my (5-year-old) daughter," she said.

She said she sees and speaks to her family daily though a digital platform similar to Skype.

The 12-hour time difference is not inconvenient because early morning in the U.S. is early evening there, she said.

However, Zheng said, she is enjoying her time in America.

"This is a wonderful place," she said, adding that she has discovered great Chinese restaurants in central Ohio.

Zheng visits different classrooms every day and adjusts her lesson plan accordingly, ranging from counting to complete sentences in the Mandarin language.

Third-grade teacher Ben Coe, a 19-year educator, said Zheng is providing students with a unique experience as he watches their language skills increase.

"I would say 'goodbye' to kids in different languages. ... But now they know goodbye in Mandarin and many other words," Coe said.

Third-grader Nora Barrett said she has put her Mandarin to use while she and her father prepare food in the kitchen.

"We pretend we're Chinese chefs and say stuff in Chinese, but I have to teach him the words," Nora said.

Third-grader Noah Wellman said he enjoys learning to write the letters but acknowledged "it's hard to learn some of it."

Grove said the experience will go far beyond learning how to introduce themselves or count to 10 in Mandarin.

"It is important for our elementary students to become global learners and to build international competencies, (and we are) excited for this opportunity to host (Zheng) at our school," Grove said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo