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Cheering from China
Jan. 7, 2013
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Winsted siblings use live Internet streaming to stay connected

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

Their daughter, Bethany, is teaching English half a world away, but for Tom and Merrybeth Burkman of Winsted, the world is getting smaller all the time.

Bethany even has the ability to watch her brother’s college basketball games at North Central University (NCU) in Minneapolis – live from China.

“There I was, sitting in my pajamas, eating breakfast on a Tuesday morning, cheering and clapping for something that was taking place on the other side of the world on a Monday night,” Bethany noted, remembering a game just before Thanksgiving.

At the time, Bryce had no idea his older sister was watching him via live Internet streaming.

“I found out afterward, because she had posted a status on Facebook saying, ‘Just eating breakfast and watching my brother Bryce Burkman kill it in his basketball game half a world away. Today, I’m thankful for live streaming. Go Rams’ and had tagged me in the post,” Bryce noted. “I was very happy when I saw that, and was surprised it was even possible.”

Bethany has been teaching in Heifei City, China since late August, after earning a psychology degree from NCU earlier in 2012.

New to Winsted
Bethany’s parents also changed locations recently, purchasing a house on Winsted Lake in June.

“We had been in Maple Grove, and wanted to move a little further out,” Tom said.

And, although Tom has a longer commute to his job as vice president of academic affairs at NCU, the drive is “absolutely worth it.”

“We were looking for a small-town atmosphere, and what we’ve seen, we absolutely love,” he said. “We’ve found the people here to be very friendly.”

Coincidentally, one of Bryce’s schoolmates at NCU (a small private school of about 1,300 students) also lives on Winsted Lake.

“She is a freshman this year, and I had no idea who she was before the school year started,” Bryce noted. “It shows what a small world we live in.”

Bryce lived with his parents over the summer, and enjoys driving home for weekend visits.

“I think the town is very cool,” he said.

Bethany also has high praise for her parents’ new place.

“I’ve shown pictures of the town to my students and friends here in China, and they kept saying how beautiful it was. I’m looking forward to next summer, when I can spend time with my family and friends in Winsted again,” said Bethany, who will finish teaching in China July 2013.

Talks via technology
While in China, Bethany and her parents use the Internet to stay connected.

“She has a ton of photos on Facebook, and we try to Skype about once a week,” Tom said.

“Staying in touch with my family has been both easy and difficult, depending on the week,” Bethany added. “Sometimes the Internet works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I am very thankful that, as of late, the Internet has been working beautifully.”

The Web is censored in China, but according to Bethany, foreigners can access blocked sites (like You Tube and Facebook) through a virtual private network (VPN).

Structured schools
Schools are also different in China. Bethany teaches kindergarten through sixth grade, and students live on campus during the week. Children who don’t go home on weekends have lessons Saturdays and Sundays, as well.

“At my school, the younger kids are in class from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a three-hour nap, a lunch break in the middle, and a dinner break at night. The high school kids are in class from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.,” Bethany said.

The school has no sports or extra curricular activities, and academic pressure is high.

“I teach 20 classes, but I only see each class once a week,” Bethany said. “Because of their intense schedules, I try to make my class as fun as possible.”

Technology at the school is very basic, but Bethany doesn’t mind.

“One or two of my classrooms have projectors in them, but the probability of one working isn’t great,” she said. “I only have chalkboards to work with, but I am completely fine with that. The majority of my students are very engaged and easy to teach, and they make me laugh every day.”

Basketball from afar
At the moment, Bethany is further from home than any of her four siblings.

Her oldest sister, Sundown, has a place in Tennessee, while her other sister, Earlie, lives in Indiana. Her older brother, Eli, lives in St. Louis Park, and Bryce is staying near college in Minneapolis.

The drastic time zone difference in China adds a new dimension to staying in touch.

“Bethany is 13 hours ahead of us,” Tom said.

“Watching Bryce’s game live was amazing and funny at the same time,” Bethany said. “The live feed would cut out at random moments, especially if something exciting was happening, so I was left multiple times staring at the screen in suspense wondering if the ball went in the hoop or not. No doubt my neighbors were wondering why I was yelling and cheering at 9:30 in the morning.”

And, yes, more often than not, the ball did make it in the hoop, with Bryce scoring 21 points, and NCU winning by four.

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