20 Questions with Rui Shu, Mandarin Teacher

Thanks to Rui Shu’s legendary green thumb, cheery porthos, succulents, peace lilies, and other plants fill Commonwealth’s halls. She turns that same nurturing spirit—and appreciation for growth and resilience—to her Mandarin classes as well. Learn a little bit more about her via the twenty questions below. 

1. What three words best describe Commonwealth? 

Bright, bold, and the best—though I’m probably biased!

2. What’s your #1 piece of advice for Commonwealth students? 

Stop and smell the magnolias.

3. What does your ideal afternoon entail? 

A long nap. 

4. If you could teach any class aside from your own, what would it be? 

Math, maybe? I got to work with Dive In students on math last summer, and it was fun. But I’m more interested in continuing to build our Mandarin courses; there are so many interesting things we have yet to cover!

5. Whom do you most admire? 

Hard to pick. I admire different people—and sometimes things!—for different reasons. Just to give one example: I admire how resilient some of my plants are, and when I see resilience in people, I admire that, too.

6. Which word or phrase do you most overuse? 

说中文, which means “speak Chinese.” As my students sometimes default to English, I need to gently remind them that they should take every opportunity to practice their Chinese! 

7. What do you find is the biggest misconception about teaching? 

Teaching is so much more than imparting specific knowledge and specific skills.

8. What is your favorite aspect of your work? 

Like my colleagues, I find it gratifying to watch students grow—to find their own paths and become their wonderful selves over the course of four years—and to believe that I have something to do with it. I also find it exciting when I see growth in myself, whether it’s learning something new when I prepare for a new course or becoming more effective and skilful at teaching and advising.

9. What language would you like to learn?

Japanese. I have the books and the people; I just need to find the time!

10. How do you define success in your classes? 

I think it depends on the class and the student, but, in general, as long as students had fun while learning something new, that’s success.

11. What are people surprised to learn about you? 

That my last name is actually 树, which means “tree” in Chinese. It’s a very rare surname in China (about 7,000 people have the same surname as me).

12. Coffee or tea? 


13. Fall, winter, spring, or summer? 

I like them all! I like seasons and I’m glad that Boston has all four of them. 

14. What is your favorite museum? 

Locally, the MFA. I notice something new each time I visit. And I like their Art in Bloom event in April—what a nice way to welcome spring!

15. What is your favorite mode of transportation? 

It depends on where I go. I like walking and biking when in the city. Long train rides can be pretty fun, too.

16. What do you bring to a potluck?

Probably dumplings.

17. What is your go-to Boston eatery?

Pho Viet’s (or any pho place, really). Pho is my comfort food; it makes you feel warm and fuzzy, especially on a cold winter/rainy day or when you’re sick.

18. What is the best gift you have ever received?

It’s hard to pick just one! Any gift that the giver put lots of thought into. I also think health is a gift, and I’m grateful for the fact that I’m physically and mentally able to do what I do and to experience what I experience.

19. If you could have dinner with one person—alive or dead—who would it be? 

My grandma on my mom’s side. She passed away when I was too little to know or remember her. From what I hear from my mom, she sounds like an amazing person. It’d be nice to get to know her more.

20. If you could live as a local for 48 hours anywhere in the world, where would you go? 

Forty-eight hours isn’t quite long enough! I’d like to go back to Yosemite. When you stand in front of a giant mountain or a giant tree that was there long before you, and will be there long after you’re gone, it really puts things in perspective.

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