Experienced firsthand: BCPS teacher discovers her passion half a world away


After years spent studying Spanish, Katrina Rigby was ready to try something new at the start of Grade 11. Enter Chinese.

“I was always interested in languages when I was younger since my mother was a Spanish teacher for BCPS,” says Rigby. “When Chinese came to Dulaney [High School, my alma mater] as an experimental course, I was instantly excited to take the new language and have the possibility of travelling to China.”

And so she did—on both counts. Enrolling in Spanish and Chinese classes during her junior year, Rigby concentrated on the latter in Grade 12. That same year, she applied to the Baltimore County Public Schools China Cultural Exchange Program, then joined four other BCPS students and Matusky on a plane bound for China.

“I went with the first travel group in 2007,” says Rigby. “I was nervous to ask my parents [if I could travel to China] at first, but they were excited for me to have this opportunity and did everything in their power to make sure I was able to go.”

Once the plane touched down in Shaanxi, Rigby describes that reality set in: she was half a world away not only from her family and friends but also from the life to which she had grown so familiar. No longer could she find comfort in commonalities of culture and language; now, she had to “adapt.”

“One of the best lessons I learned from the program was how to adapt,” says Rigby. “I was often in situations where communication was not very clear and I was able to get my message across and learn how to react to different situations.”
In particular, she shares her experiences with her host mother. According to Rigby, each day after school, her host mother would meet her outside the building. As the two walked home, stopping on occasion at corner stores, food shops and parks on the way, they would talk—only, not as they typically would with others.

“[My host mother] didn’t speak much English, and I had a very basic understanding of Chinese, but we would communicate together in our own special way and learn about one another on our walks home,” says Rigby.

Years later, those walks home still stay with Rigby, reminding her of the way that “something small” can have a big impact.
“This exchange program completely changed my life,” says Rigby on the BCPS offering. “It gave me a passion and [a] direction to follow that would affect every aspect of my life. Before the program, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I was ‘good’ at, but the program made me realize how amazing the Chinese language and culture are and that I wanted to dedicate my life to them.”

Today, Rigby holds a degree in Chinese from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a position teaching the language to students at Arbutus Middle School. During her three years at the middle school, she mentions that many of her students have exhibited the same interest that she did to participate in the China Cultural Exchange Program in high school. She hopes that they, too, will take advantage of this unique program.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will never regret,” says Rigby to her students who are curious about the program. “It will change you as a person and open your eyes to the world.”

“Open”—or, as he puts it, “fresh”—eyes is a symptom that Sean McComb, a teacher at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts and the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, also felt as a result of his involvement in the China Cultural Exchange Program.

For McComb’s story, check back Thursday, July 16. For other participants’ stories, visit

Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photos from Katrina Rigby, Chinese teacher, Arbutus Middle School.
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