Barb Cheshier has good memories of a very enthusiastic math student.
At the time, Cheshier, who lives in Fremont, was in the Peace Corps, teaching an adult literacy course in the Solomon Islands. A young mother, probably in her 30s, came each day after class and Cheshier would work to teach her basic math, using coconuts.
“I was trying to teach her how to add and she’d get so frustrated — and one day it just clicked,” Cheshier said. “You could see it happen in her face. She jumped up and threw her arms around me and said, ‘I got it, Barb! I got it!’”
The experience became a turning point for Cheshier.
“That’s why I became a teacher,” Cheshier said. “I’d not taught before I went to the Solomon Islands. That one moment did it for me. I said, ‘This is what I need to do. This is my career.’”
Cheshier returned to the United States and taught. Now, she is headed for a new teaching adventure with the Peace Corps — this time in China. And Cheshier, who leaves Fremont on Wednesday, is excited about a new opportunity to teach more exuberant students.
The local woman became interested in teaching overseas in the 1990s. At the time, Cheshier was working what she calls a “dead-end job” when she came across a Peace Corps recruiter on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
“I’d always wanted to travel,” said Cheshier, a Bergan High School graduate. “I wanted to go to other places and be around other cultures and other languages and be in a job where it was more fulfilling.”
She left in 1995 and went to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific for two years. There, she taught English, business, math and adult literacy.
“It was a great experience,” she said.
Cheshier appreciated her students’ thirst for knowledge.
“I teach in the U.S. and sometimes we don’t have the same drive to want to learn and get ahead,” she said.
The islands, themselves, were stunning.
“It was like going back in time, about 50 to 70 years, and seeing things before pollution and technology had come in. It was wonderful,” she said.
Cheshier returned to the U.S., earned a master’s degree in English and creative writing and taught at UNL and Union College. She then went to Oregon and worked for Mobility International, which helps people with disabilities become exchange students. She returned to Fremont in 2006, taught at Metropolitan Community College and worked parttime at Fremont Area Medical Center.
Then the immigration issue arose in Fremont.
“I got a little irritated,” she said. “I was very much into diversity and I thought it was targeting a certain group of people.”
Cheshier decided that she needed to be out helping different cultures and being in a diverse group of people. She also loves languages and has studied French, Spanish and Russian.
She applied for the Peace Corps and was offered the opportunity to go to China where she will be at a university, instructing people who will become English teachers. Cheshier will head to Chicago for a quick session before going to China, where she will spend the first three months in training.
During that time, she will live with a host family to become fully immersed in the country’s language and culture, a Peace Corps press release stated. Cheshier also said she would work with a Chinese teacher for two to four hours a day at that time. After acquiring the language and cultural skills necessary, she will serve in China for two years.
She looks forward to learning a new language and seeing that quest for knowledge.
“There’s nothing like it,” she said. “Anybody who’s ever taught overseas will understand what I mean — especially in countries that are still developing and have a real emphasis on education such as China does. There’s nothing like having 20 students who are just eager to learn.”