Moncur enjoys life in China

A Lovell High School graduate is having the adventure of a lifetime as he works toward a master’s degree in the People’s Republic of China.

Peter Moncur, the son of Mike and Rebecca Moncur of Lovell and a 2011 graduate of Lovell High School, is living in Shanghai and attending Shanghai Normal (teacher’s) University.

For Moncur, it all started back in high school when the University of Wyoming offered an intensive two-week course in Chinese language and culture through the Startalk Program. Moncur spent two weeks in Laramie immersing himself in Chinese study.

Courtesy Photo
Peter Moncur poses with Buddhist prayer flags hung from trees in preparation for a visit from a Buddhist teacher from Tibet during his nine weeks in Harbin, China, in 2016. He is now studying in Shanghai.

After his graduation from high school he served a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Monterrey West Mission in northern Mexico, and upon his return he attended Northwest College for two years and married Sarah Stanworth of Burlington.

He continued his education at UW, working toward a degree in English literature, and during his first semester found that a class he wanted was not offered. Looking to fill the gap in his schedule, he noticed that the same professor he had for the Startalk Program was still at the university, so he started coursework toward a minor in Chinese. He graduated in 2017 with the English lit major and Chinese minor.

Following his junior year, Moncur spent nine weeks of the summer in Harbin, China, for a capstone project, thus getting his first taste of Chinese life and advancing his Chinese language ability.

“Chinese is deceptive,” he said. “The hardest part is the character system, but as far as grammar goes, it’s pretty simple compared to English. It’s a tonal language. How something is pronounced changes the meaning. You kind of get used to it as you practice.

“I didn’t have any plans (with the Chinese minor), but as I pursued it I grew to like it. Then I found out the Chinese government offers scholarships to come to China and study.”

Moncur was hooked. While working in Laramie following his graduation, he started the scholarship and application process while working in Laramie.

“It’s a very long, drawn-out process,” he said. “It’s difficult communicating back and forth between two countries and getting things right.”

He must have correctly dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s because he received word early last summer that he had been accepted into a program in Shanghai. He obtained a visa and moved in September, enrolling in Shanghai Normal University.

During the first year all students are required to take remedial courses in the Chinese language, placed into coursework based on their language skills coming in. The next step is passing the HSK Chinese Proficiency Test, and if he passes, he will enter a two-year master’s program at SNU to obtain an advanced degree in religious studies.

He said his focus will be on Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, noting that Shanghai Normal University is a famous college in China for training teachers. He will take the HSK test in March and again in May. He is optimistic about his chances.

“I’m interested in language and enjoy studying,” he said. “I have to pass HSK (level) five, with six being the most fluent of the six degrees. It’s a little bit stressful, but every day I have the opportunity after class to interact with people (on the street) and speak the language.”

Meanwhile, Sarah and their two boys, Robert and Wyatt, are living with her parents in Burlington and also spending time with Mike and Rebecca in Lovell. Peter and Sarah are hoping that she and the boys can join him in Shanghai if he is accepted into the master’s program. Meanwhile, they communicate daily through Signal, which is similar to Skype. There’s a 15-hour difference, so when he contacts Sarah around 9 p.m. it’s early morning in Wyoming.

Asked his most amazing experience so far, Moncur said it occurred during his nine-week capstone project in Harbin in 2016. He stayed with different host families on weekends, and one family invited him to attend an event with a visiting Buddhist teacher from Tibet, which
took place in the forest near the city.

Moncur traveled to the woods with the family, where Tibetan prayer flags were hung between trees to honor the visiting teacher. He then was able to sit in a circle and participate in the Buddhist prayers and listen to the chanting of scripture.

“I watched and listened; there was a very special spirit there,” he said. “I was the only foreigner there, and it was a really special experience out in the forest, away from the commotion of the city with people devoted to their religion and the teachings of this man.

“Afterwards, I was able to speak with him. It was a  sight to see flags of all colors with scriptures written on them strung between two pine trees as high as they could get them. That’s why I became interested in religious studies, because of that experience.”

Moncur has been visiting his hometown for about a week during a break for the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

By David Peck