Experienced firsthand: BCPS alumna continues studies halfway across the globe


Margaret Ebacher-Rini could choose from several languages offered to Grade 7 students at her middle school but she selected Chinese, thinking that it “sounded intriguing” but understanding that it would be “very difficult.” At first, she mentions, Chinese proved to be just that—“intriguing,” yet “difficult”—but in due time, it came to take on greater significance: her means of exposure to the Baltimore County Public Schools China Cultural Exchange Program.

“I heard about the program when I was still in middle school Chinese classes,” says Ebacher-Rini. “I applied in my freshman year and visited China for the first time in 2012.”

From the courses on calligraphy and tai chi to the trips to the Terracotta warriors and Tiananmen Square, the experiences afforded to Ebacher-Rini during her first visit to China led her not only to return in 2013 but also to spend what would have been her senior year in the country.

“I skipped Grade 11 in order to spend a year abroad,” says Ebacher-Rini. “I contacted [Xi’an Tieyi High School], wondering if its faculty and staff might know of some programs for foreigners in China, and they offered to host me for the year. I knew Tieyi and liked Xi’an so I decided to agree.”

For the past 10 months, Ebacher-Rini has developed her language skills and increased her knowledge of Chinese culture in an environment where the study is “very much self-motivated” and there are “no classes that I have to take, no[r] grades to obtain.” And, while she’s sure that the skills and knowledge that she has cultivated and gained will be “essential to me [because] Chinese is the most spoken language in the world,” she insists that her experiences in the China Cultural Exchange Program and her current study abroad have offered other benefits.

“I think that being in China has taught me important lessons about both living in other cultures and the importance of independence,” says Ebacher-Rini. “Chinese class can teach you Chinese but it cannot teach you how to apply what you have learned. Participating in the BCPS program gave me with the opportunity to learn more about a very different culture that few Americans know much about... [and] being in China again has made it necessary for me to be more independent than I would have been had I merely chosen to remain at home.”

When she returns to the United States later this summer, Ebacher-Rini won’t leave her passion for Chinese culture and language behind. Instead, she’ll embrace it in a major way.

“I will be majoring in Chinese at the University of Maryland, College Park,” she says. “I owe an enormous debt to the program: it has influenced my college plans, it shaped the course of my high school studies, and I have no doubt that it will impact my future.”

Ebacher-Rini hopes that a degree in Chinese will be her ticket to a career in diplomacy, but Katrina Rigby, another past participant in the exchange program and teacher at Arbutus Middle School, followed a different path with hers.

For Rigby’s story, check back Wednesday, July 15. For other participants’ stories, visit

Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photo from the Office of World Languages.
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