Josiah Mast makes history come alive
After tiring of the verticality of life in his native Colorado, Josiah Mast came to Beijing last year for the experience of teaching at International Academy of Beijing. He sat down with tbjkids to talk about the challenges of teaching history and culture in China, what he misses most about home, and how his students are often the ones teaching him.
What brought you to Beijing?
I just love traveling and being in different places. The idea of teaching somewhere else is a big deal to me. I was teaching for two years part-time back in the U.S., but I had been to China a few times prior on short visits. I really enjoyed China, so I applied for this job, and I’ve been here about nine months.
What do you like about teaching?
I love being able to make history relevant. History can be very boring to some people. They wonder, “Why am I learning about some dead guy 600 years ago? Why does it matter to me?” It may not be particularly relevant to a particular person, but it’s important to learn how people acted 600 years ago and discuss how it is today.
How does being in China affect the way you teach a lesson?
There is so much history almost anywhere you go here – someone is always saying, “This was the old capital of this dynasty.” There’s always something 100 years old everywhere you go. It’s different from teaching about the United States. In China, some dynasties lasted 500 years, and that’s the length of all of American history!
What’s different about teaching history here versus in the United States?
I think it’s easier to teach here because no one at my school is from China. All the students come from somewhere else. They live in and are from a different culture. I will ask a question, and kids from five different countries will teach me something. They can say, “In Korea, we do this” or “In Japan, we do that.” It’s really cool for me because I’ve never been to those places.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Beijing?
I ride my bike a lot. Colorado is geared towards getting outside and getting to the mountains. Here, although there’s nothing like the air in the mountains, everything is available on your bike. I also love trying new cultural foods, and living in an international city in a foreign country means I can try food from all different places.