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Christopher Wagner wanted to be a history teacher.

After graduating with an education degree from Kutztown University in 2009, the Newberry Township resident started looking for a position.

He said he was told early that the search would not only be hard in such a popular field, it might be impossible.

"Not what you want to hear," he said.

After years of substitute teaching and working odd jobs, Wagner decided to change up his search.

So he went to China.

New life: In May 2015, Wagner landed in Nantong, a port city about two hours from Shanghai.

After finding an apartment, he began teaching American history at Nantong Middle School, which has about 5,000 high school students attending it.

"It is just a difference in what they call things here," he said. "Most (students) are 14-16 years old."

This fall, he began his first academic year.

He's excited to be able to teach, even if it's halfway across the world.

"When I first told people what I was doing, many were in shock," he said. "Many promise to visit."

Wagner regularly writes about his eye-opening adventures for family and friends.

Check out his blog at http://cwagneradventures.blogspot.com.

"I think the city itself has two thefts a year," he said. "It's incredibly safe compared to bigger places like Beijing."

Wagner teaches a combination of history and American culture classes in the international department of the school, where it's expected many students will study in English-speaking countries after they graduate.

Differences: Wagner and his students explore the differences between the U.S. and China, where many students start their day at 7 a.m. and finish at 6:15 p.m. However, sleeping in class is accepted.

Wagner plays music, coordinates kickball tournaments and discusses American pop culture.

During a talk about Native Americans, he discovered his students were completely lost.

"They have not been exposed to this aspect of American history," he said. "Their minds were blown."

Since many of his students love basketball, he uses NBA teams to show students where U.S. cities are located.

"I tell them I'm from Pennsylvania, like where the 76ers play," he said.

Wagner said he is working to strike a balance so that his students learn and have fun.

This past weekend, he and some students were planning an outing to see an American movie and then go to Burger King.

With the year just starting, Wagner has plans to travel in the region. It's too early to tell if he will stay for more than a year, he said.

He's considering all options.

"For now I'm just living in the moment," he said. "This is one experience I'll never forget."

— Reach Sara Blumberg at sblumberg@yorkdispatch.com.

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