Thursday, April 12, 2018


Lydia Nordlien left her home five years ago and moved to China with an ambitious goal: to become a Chinese teacher. Her determination led her to unbelievable results.

When Lydia moved from Norway to Suzhou with her family - husband and two daughters - like many others expat wives, she quit her job. She was a Secondary School teacher in Mathematics and loved her students and teaching.

“When I was a child in Finland, I was bored at school, and slept a lot in class or skipped them. Eventually, after moving to Norway age 18, I figured I wanted to be a teacher to teach less boringly.”

Her husband came home from work one day, and she saw that light in his eyes. He had been offered a position in China he really wanted. 

“I knew that whatever he would say, I would agree to. At that time I was in trouble with my new principal, so my husband didn't even get to finish what he was saying before I told him I'm ready.”

The year before moving, she started studying Chinese at an evening school. She soon found out hardly any Chinese teachers in Norway spoke much English or Norwegian. The Chinese lady, a former Secondary Teacher from Shanghai, could only show them pictures and play children's songs for them. Lydia quit and found no better options either.

“After preparing all practical issues and our children for the move, I realized I hadn't made a plan for what I would do in China. The solution came seconds later – I would study Chinese and become a Chinese teacher.”

Once arrived in China, Lydia signed up at the local university. She studied there for three years and spent up to 70 hours a week on the studies. 

“The clash between Chinese education methods and everything I knew about teaching was total. I was in agony, angry, depressed and eventually desperate because the teachers didn`t teach, but mostly told us what to memorize. I had to start teaching myself and invent ways of understanding. I tailored study methods to motivate myself. I also managed to track down an excellent private teacher who could keep up with my intensive studies. She was my light in the dark, and became one of my best friends later.”

After finishing her studies, which included studying up to HSK 6 and HSKK Advanced (highest level of Chinese proficiency exams), she tried to find work, but no one would even consider a foreigner teaching Chinese. She didn’t give up and, and building on the methods she used for her own studies, she put together a system for learning Hanzi, Chinese characters.

“Over the years countless parents and students had complained how hard it is to learn the Chinese characters by only memorizing. I went straight to one of the most influential women in our community and showed her how to learn and remember easier. She was convinced and helped me offer lessons for groups of parents. I also wrote a self-ironical book in Norwegian about my crash landing in the Chinese education system. Eventually, I offered lessons to university students and others, and gained attention.”

However, the path was not easy. Lydia contacted some Chinese Language schools, but after examining all her materials they rejected her. She was also not allowed to volunteer or assist in Chinese classes at an International school, even though she was fully qualified to work as a Substitute teacher at the same school. Lydia nearly lost her faith in the project. She fell back on giving English lessons but wasn’t satisfied.

“One day a friend of mine asked me: Is teaching English what you really want to do? The answer was no. So she pushed me to pursue my dream, and I started up again. I was introduced to a bar where I taught groups and my “Hack Hanzi with Lydia” got a lot of people interested. At this point, the President of the Suzhou branch of the governments International Chinese Language Teachers Association contacted me. She asked me to teach some of the members she was in charge of. I taught Chinese Chinese teachers in Chinese how to teach Chinese characters. That was a «pinch my arm» - moment. What`s more, they liked the class so much I was asked for more.”


She didn’t give up on the first “no,” she worked until she reached a “yes”! This is why she succeeded.

“As to why I did all this might be because I am a nerd, through and through, and just have to challenge myself. I have this life, and I want to look back and know I've lived it, carved out my space and made a difference. The more I learn, the more there is to learn. I'm never better than my next class.”

If you want to attend her classes, just write her on WeChat! Lydia is also InterNations Suzhou Ambassador, and you can get in touch with her on

1 comment:

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