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Day 291: Farewell, China!

Well, it’s here – our last day in China. How did this happen? Simultaneously, it feels like we’ve been here for a lifetime and that we arrived just a couple of days ago. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that by tomorrow evening, we’ll be back in the States, among friends and family and will stay there for the foreseeable future. But before we say our final farewells to China, we’ve done a little more exploring the past couple of days.

Yesterday was the smoggiest day of the year so far in Hong Kong (with a whopping AQI in the 100s compared to Baoding’s 400s…) so, naturally, we went to the mountains to go sightseeing (not the best planning on our part). We woke up early, headed to the subway, and (after bypassing Disneyland) we ended up on Lantau Island, in a cable car, and headed towards the giant Buddha.

From the cable car:
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Below, is the Dragon’s Back Hike:
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Climbing the steps:
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High five!
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View of Lantau Island on the way back:
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It was a very hot day and the smog disrupted some of the beauty, but we had a good time walking around and seeing the giant Buddha and looking out over the mountains.

Today we tried to make the most of our China time by wandering through the city for a couple of hours, eating in the #2 best restaurant in Hong Kong (with the friendliest staff in the world, in our opinion), and visiting the Ladies’ Market (in the neighborhood with the highest population density in the world).

Cool building we passed by in our wanderings:
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Dumplings:
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Ladies’ Market:
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We’ll be checking out early in the morning and taking the subway to the airport, so I’ll make a post after we arrive and make note of all the culture shock we’re going through. It’s sure to be a whole other adventure just getting used to life in the States.

This year has been the most life-changing year of my life and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’m so glad and so grateful that we took the chance and decided to spend a year living and teaching in China. We’ve seen so many amazing places, eaten so much good food, and learned so much (about the world and ourselves) that it’s impossible to wrap up the entire year in a few words. I’m so proud of the experiences we’ve had and the people we have become.

Thank you very much for following along and supporting and joining in on our adventure with us!

Best wishes,

Alyssa

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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 263: Teaching in (Baoding) China

Nimen hao!

We’re 28 days from leaving and have between one and three classes left with each group of students depending on the grade. Teaching new material is effectively done and now (at least in my classes) we’ll be reviewing, taking my final exam, and saying goodbye. It seems that just as I was getting the hang of “this teaching thing” the WKU teachers got here and now, after they leave on Wednesday (how has their month here already passed?!), the semester and year are officially concluding. We’re in the home stretch.

As I’ve been observing Haley’s classes and advising her as best I can on the “different beast” that is teaching English to Chinese students, I’ve come up with a list of things I’ve learned about teaching (in this specific environment) this year:

-Your class may not count, but you do:
My classes have not been worth a grade or had any “official” impact on the academic careers of my students, which has made engaging disinterested students even more difficult, but as the students realize I’ll be leaving in less than three weeks and that I will not be their teacher next year, there is no doubt that I, personally, matter to (most of) them. Just as relationships with the students have been really rewarding to me, I think the students have relished the personal attention Duncan and I strive to give to them. We interact with the students very differently than their Chinese teachers do (most characteristically by emphasizing positive interactions – whether it be creating a positive, shame-free, and fun learning environment or rewarding correct answers and good behaviour) and making ourselves accessible and welcoming to casual interaction has clearly been important to the students. They’ll miss us as much as we’ll miss them.

-You have to adapt your vocabulary to words and phrases the students have likely encountered or been taught before:
You have to bring yourself, your lesson, and your teaching to a level that is understandable, accessible, and relevant to them. For example, our students were taught “water-closet” or “W.C.” instead of “bathroom” and before I taught them that the American equivalent is “bathroom” or “restroom”, I had to acknowledge that they were correct and that I understood them. I taught them “Earth friendly” rather than “environmentally friendly” because they had already learned the word “Earth”. I have simplified my spoken English in the classroom to make them more able to understand what I’m saying without relying on a translator. My goal with this was to get them understanding and using as much English as possible independently rather than relying on a translator or losing their interest in my class because I was just speaking at them incoherently.

-No matter how ridiculous it feels, talk slowly:
I’m a fast talker with my English-speaking peers so slowing down my speech enough that non-native English speakers could have a chance at understanding me took quite a bit of adjustment. It wasn’t until I really started trying to communicate on my own in Chinese that I realized just how big of a difference it makes in whether or not I can understand and continue to communicate with people. I really appreciate it when people are patient and considerate enough to slow down their speech so I can catch the individual words and phrases in Chinese and so I have made a deliberate effort to do the same with my students learning English. In turn, they’ve even slowed down their Chinese enough to teach me new words and phrases.

-Become a mime:
One of the hardest things to get used to about teaching, other than speaking at (what feels like) a glacially slow pace, is learning to be exaggeratedly expressive. Often to help explain the rules of a game or a concept, I have been very literally demonstrative. Whether it’s just pointing or miming an action with your entire body, expressing yourself with more than just words is very helpful to students. This also took me a while to adjust to, but once I did, my students began understanding me and getting more out of my classes almost immediately.

-Get used to embarrassing yourself:
This applies to pretty much every aspect of living in China, especially if your language ability can’t be categorized as fluent, but it is especially true when teaching kids. Talking slowly and literally acting out everything in your lesson sometimes turns you into a comedic variety show, of sorts, in your classroom, but it’s worth the embarrassment and self-consciousness since it often is beneficial to your students’ learning. One of my lessons was on health words and this meant that for every “cough”, “sneeze”, “help”, “sick”, and “sleep”, I was essentially acting out a charades game by myself. Whereas this benefitted the older kids by their learning the English equivalent to a visual thing rather than to the Chinese translated word, the younger kids joined in on the acting and they learned the new English words through total-body engagement in the lesson. Now, if I asked my students what I’m doing with my hand over my mouth, they know I’m acting out “mask”. It’s weird; it takes some creativity; but it seems to work and makes class more fun.

-There is a ton of variety in your classes:
In all of my classes, I can expect and have found an enormous amount of variety in age, ability, patience, learning style, hygiene, interest in school, background, interest in extracurricular activities, willingness to speak in front of the class, willingness to speak just to me, comprehension, and speed of learning amongst many, many other factors. This is especially true in my older classes in which I have eighth graders who can barely count to twenty in English while their desk partner is having full conversations with me in English and wishing me to “have good dreams” at night when I go to sleep. This makes creating a lesson even more difficult (than it already is considering how infrequently I see the students). While some kids may want only to learn about hobbies and computer games, others want to learn about American culture, others need to be tutored in basics such as colors and numbers, and others could genuinely care less about your class or ever speaking English for that matter. Do I cater lessons to the advanced and interested students or do I cover basics but leave the advanced students bored? This is not a situation unique to ESL teachers in China, but it has presented me with some challenges that I wish I had been better prepared for.

I have also learned a lot about what I would do differently were I to teach these classes again. For one, I would focus more on teaching frameworks rather than vocabulary, at least at first. For example, I wish I’d spent more time teaching phrases like “I like ____”, “I feel ___”, “I want____”. In the long run, I think this would have been very useful for the students and, though what I taught the students certainly was still beneficial, frameworks would have been more universally applicable. I also wish that I had taught phonics from the very beginning. One of my biggest criticisms of how Chinese students learn English, at least from my experience at this school, is that they memorize how to say a new word but since they don’t have a firm grasp on phonics, they are unable to sound out new words they see or how to hypothesize how to spell words they recognize orally but not visually. I wish I had taken the time every time I taught a new word to sound out and focus on the phonics. Maybe that would even eliminate the frustrating “-a” added to the end of every word(-a).

Another thing I’ve come to see in a new light is technology in the classroom. When we first arrived at this school, we were frustrated (I was a little panicked) about our classrooms. We were told that we would have multi-media classrooms but lo and behold, when we entered our classrooms for the first time, we found a chalkboard, fifty desks, and about 3 pieces of chalk. Since I can’t even remember the last time I had a class in which the teacher only used a chalkboard, I was dumbfounded on how to teach a class without technology. In the US, teachers and education majors are increasingly expected to use technology such as Smart boards, PowerPoint presentations, and YouTube videos in their classrooms. And before this experience teaching in China, I was fully on board with all of that and more in the classroom – in an increasingly globalized and technological world, of course technology should be utilized. Though I still agree with this, I’ve become aware of a different angle – that maybe we’re too dependent on technology. By writing on the board and making my own flashcards, I’ve effectively taught 25 classes a week without a single electronic aid and now that I look back on it, I’m not sure how a Smart board would have taught the students any more vocabulary than I did without it. I was talking with the other teachers the other day and they mentioned another interesting aspect I hadn’t thought about before – patience. With technology in the classroom, lessons are sped up, students can switch focus (and get distracted) quickly, and, teachers can lose the attention of students even faster. But in our classrooms here, where students are accustomed to waiting the few extra seconds it takes to write a sentence on the chalkboard rather than it almost instantaneously flashing on the screen, students are required to have a little more patience, a little less entertainment, and a little more focus for a longer period of time. Perhaps, in the midst of our ADHD “epidemic”, we should try teaching without instantaneous gratification and flashy Powerpoints, and instead teach our kids, in the classroom, how to listen, how to wait, and how to be behaved and patient while they wait for a few quiet seconds.

To end this post (much longer than I originally intended when I sat down to write it), here are pictures of some of my classes from last week:

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Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 148: Finally in Chengdu

We are in Chengdu!

We spent our final night in Guilin last night hanging out with newly made friends in the common room of the hostel. It was quite a blast talking about life in other countries, our travels, and our mixed perspectives on China among more trivial tidbits. After several hours of drinking and sharing stories, I did a double take as a new guest made his way over to the pool table. To make the world even smaller (especially after our chance meeting at the rice terraces with the Baoding people), the guy that walked in was one of our CIEE orientation leaders in Shanghai in August. What a strange and delightfully surprising experience! We caught up briefly before heading to bed to catch some shuteye before our newest adventure (probably the most anticipated destination for me).

We woke up really early this morning, checked out of the hostel, got a cab to the Guilin airport, and, after a short and uneventful (though very characteristically Chinese) flight, we finally found ourselves in Chengdu city, Sichuan province.

We were dismayed to realize it was actually pretty smoggy here but fortunately it wasn’t as bad as we first originally thought while landing and it progressively cleared up as the day went on. At the hostel by noon, we settled in briefly, before heading out to fulfill a new-city tradition we’ve developed – Pizza Hut and Starbucks as the first meal. Our hostel (Lazy Bones) is smack dab in the middle of downtown and so we only had to walk about two blocks to find our lunch.

Seeing as it was noon (the time for lunch in China without deviation), the place was packed but we were happy to wait until a table was cleared. While we waited we discussed some ways in which our perspectives have changed since our arrival in China.
Before coming here, I had heard that Chinese people think Westerners, such as ourselves, have big noses and are really hairy. Before living in China, I thought that was ridiculous – I don’t have a big nose and I’m not hairy! But now, after almost five months here with limited and sporadic exposure to more Western features, I have to admit that, especially by comparison, we do have big noses and we certainly are hairier than the average Chinese person. Duncan and I have both caught ourselves looking in the mirror or at pictures and wondering, “has my nose gotten bigger? Surely my nose hasn’t always been that big!”
Also before living in China, I have to admit it was sometimes difficult for me to see detailed differences between Asian individuals. After living in China, where Chinese people are increasingly looking more Western/my “normal” to me, I don’t think I’ll say that I can’t tell people apart again. In fact, the longer we’re here, the more I think all Westerners look alike!

It really is amazing how important perspective can be in shaping your perception and understanding of the world.

While we were eating our pizza, a group of boys aged around eleven came up to us and wanted to talk to us in English. We agreed and they explained that it was a homework assignment of theirs to find a foreigner and have a conversation with them in English and then to have us write down something about the conversation and sign it as proof that they completed the assignment. The boys took turns asking us questions such as “do you like Chinese food?” and “where are you from” while their (I assumed) teacher filmed it on her phone as proof. We wrote them a message that their English was fantastic (it truly was better than any of my eighth grade students and almost all of our school’s Chinese English teachers’) and they were on their very merry way. It made me smile a lot and I would have gotten a picture had my phone not decided it was time to have no memory left.

After a quick coffee break, we set out to explore on foot our newest location (we’ve also developed the tradition of spending our first day in a new place exploring on foot to get a feel for the city and our bearings). We walked quite a long distance but eventually found ourselves over at Sichuan Da Xue (Sichuan University) where Duncan studied almost three years ago. Here, we spent a couple of hours visiting all the sites he frequented daily and now I (ecstatically) have personally-visited visuals to elaborate his stories and memories. It’s a gigantic campus and I completely see the draw – it’s astounding really. We had so much fun just walking around and exploring while Duncan told me more stories of his first time in China and compared what we saw to what it was several years ago.

Though much has changed, much hasn’t changed and we were even able to find the stands where people sell DVDs for very cheap – something I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard stories about life in China. It proved to be a successful venture with us walking away with seven movies and eight seasons of one of my favorite TV shows (Grey’s Anatomy) all for about $30. We could have haggled the price, we realized later, on some of them but figured it wasn’t something worth stressing about because it was still so cheap for us in US dollars.

After our wanderings we took the subway (now it has two lines!) back to the hostel and have spent the rest of the evening relaxing. Today I was the happiest I’ve been in a long time just thrilled with excitement and anticipation to see a city I’ve heard so much about. Duncan, too, has been thoroughly enjoying being back in one of his favorite places on Earth. We miss Guilin and the awesome people at Wada Hostel but are looking forward to our adventures here even more!

Tomorrow we will do some more city exploring and will figure out the rest of our touring for our time here.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 108: Sunshine & Smog

Happy Monday everyone!

It was a good day! Classes went really well for both of us and we had a very productive and enjoyable meeting with Li Laoshi (our waiban/Chinese-at-school mommy) at the end of the day discussing the holiday breaks, upcoming exams, and the problem foreign teachers seem to experience across China – the lack of discipline from Chinese students when there are no grade-related repercussions to bad behavior.

Only hours after my last post, we endured the worst smog conditions we have ever seen and I could have ever imagined. The smog was so bad that while riding down the street on our motorbike after dinner, the buildings across the street were fuzzy looking. Under the street lights we could see the smog clouds billowing like rain during a storm and from our apartment windows we could only barely make out the sidewalk lights directly below our window only four floors down. It was near impossible to see the classroom lights on in the building across from our apartment. When Johnson tried to order a big case of masks for us from the Internet, we discovered that it was impossible – all the masks were sold out. After reading a fact that stated breathing the air in Beijing is like smoking 21 cigarettes a day, we feared the damaging toll on our bodies from our time out (just thirty minutes to and from dinner) in one of the worst smog conditions Saturday night. We periodically wonder how many years have been taken off of our lives already and how much damage we’ll have done to our bodies after living here for a year. It is completely inconceivable to us why masks are not sold at every street corner here in China and even more incomprehensible as to why masks are so difficult to actually find. We have been searching for face-masks since we arrived and have only found them online. Of course, the way internet shopping is set up in China, you must have a Chinese ID card or a Chinese bank account to make a purchase and so any purchases we want to make have to go through a Chinese resident. This requires making sure they have enough money in their account at the time to make a purchase for us, if we did not give them cash ahead of time, and that they are willing to help. Then there must be stock available to ship and if all that works, you still have the risky postal service to deal with. Hopefully, though, by the end of this week, Johnson will have ordered masks and we’ll get them before the smog gets really bad again.

Sunday was not as bad as Saturday night but was bad enough for us to decide to stay inside most of the day watching Harry Potter and preparing for this week’s lessons. Dreading another day of risky breathing, we woke up this morning to find a beautiful blue sky and the warmest weather we’ve had in a while (with weather in the Fahrenheit forties).

Over our lunch break, Duncan wandered around Military School Park taking advantage of the beautiful clear day and practicing his photography skills. A very intrigued older man followed him around for a bit asking him questions and operatically singing. Apparently he was very good and they had fun talking to each other. A couple of days ago, a similar experience happened when a Chinese guy, also practicing his photography, came up to Duncan and they had a conversation in Chinese and shared their pictures with one another. Who knew photography would lead to some of the most interesting conversations Duncan has had this year in Chinese.

I’m grateful we’ve had such a good experience so far with our school, our teachers, and, of course, CIEE. Neither of us have any complaints about going through CIEE, and I would do it again, as well as recommend them to anyone considering teaching abroad (not just in China). The orientation was great, they dealt with the headache-inducing part of officially getting to China, and they offer a 24/7 support system the entire time we’re here. We’ve recently become aware of some people who are very loudly spouting venom against CIEE on various internet forums but it seems that, in most but certainly not all of those cases, the people who are displeased did not think realistically about what life would be like for them in China and are eager to blame anything and everything but their own poor attitude. Coming here requires a very open mind, a willingness to change and adapt, patience, tolerance, and, very importantly, a desire to learn and grow from all experiences. Life in China is not life in the US and those people demanding an American life in China are setting themselves up for disappointment and misery. There are certainly cases where people meet with unforeseen complications they have no control over, no matter their attitude, but I do not believe that is normal. And though unfortunate, this (unlikely) possibility is the best reasoning I can think of to go through an organization like CIEE (though there are others) to take advantage of their ability and preparedness to help you negotiate such unexpected complications. Having said that, we have experienced no situation in which contacting CIEE has ever crossed our mind. We’re blessed to have had such a great experience so far and we don’t foresee any reason why it wouldn’t continue (if not get even better than) the way it has been.

As we wrap up another speedy day of teaching, we are bundled up in our (very well) warmed apartment, thankful once again for the Internet as we continue our holiday-inspired Harry Potter marathon.

Stay warm and thank you for reading!

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 100: An Adventure in Review

We have officially been here for 100 days and a third of our time in China is already over! To celebrate, this post will be a recap of the 100 days we have lived in China!

We have visited:
Shanghai – French Concession, The Bund
ZhouZhuang – “Venice of the East”
Beijing – Tiananmen Square, The Summer Palace, The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Hutong alleys, Olympic Park, Lama Temple, Confucius Temple
Baoding – The Lotus Pond
Tai’an – Taishan
Mutianyu – The Great Wall
Shijiazhuang – The train station
Quyang – Lake trip with other foreign teachers
Pingyao – Pingyao City

We have eaten:
Baozi, jaozi, pigs’ hooves, cow intestines, lots of noodles and rice, kabobs, tofu, strange mushrooms, a lot of street food, and innumerable other things we do not know.

Unique experiences:
We put a lock at the top of Taishan and tied well-wishing ribbons to it inside of a Daoist Temple.
Saw (and heard) a saxophonist in Pingyao playing “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic:

We celebrated Halloween and Thanksgiving (without Trick or Treating and without Turkey).
Fireworks set off in between high-rise apartment buildings were so loud we thought the building was collapsing have woken us up.
We’ve used the Beijing subway system and taken several bullet trains.
We teach more than 2500 students every week:
(Here is one class of my eighth graders playing outside with me)

We have seen more German Shepherds than we can count at an outdoor dog sale every Sunday.
Celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival with moon cakes and our students:

We have become accustomed to:
Using chopsticks
Squatty potties in public bathrooms
Teaching classes of 50+ students
Street food
The ground is lava! (Seriously, don’t touch the ground.)
Traffic and the constantly blaring horns
(I’m not quite accustomed to the interesting fashion choices)

As a result of living here, I am grateful for:
Heaters and A/C units
Having a refrigerator
Having clean and drinkable tap water
Internet and technology that makes communicating across the globe possible
Our motorbike (even if it got a flat tire last night)
My Kindle

What’s left?
More traveling
A lot more studying of Mandarin Chinese
Cold weather
A haircut at some point
Christmas
Duncan’s birthday
Chinese New Year
Spring Festival
Lantern Festival

My perspective from the back of our motorbike, Kuai Long, of the ride down the road leading to our school:

Thank you so much for taking this journey with us! We’re having a great time and couldn’t be happier with our decision to come here. Thank you, also, for your continued support and encouragement, especially during the homesick holiday season. And, as always, thank you for reading!

Until next time,
Alyssa

A water show in the nearby Military School Park:

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2013 in Baoding, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 78: Baoding in Teaching (Teaching in Baoding)

Hello everyone!
I can’t believe we’ve already been here for 78 days and have completed our tenth week of teaching.
This week’s classes were a lot of fun! We had fewer classes than usual because morning classes on Wednesday for primary school students and Friday morning classes for middle school students were cancelled because the students had exams. This meant that I saw only one fifth grade class on Wednesday and only taught five eighth grade classes this week.
My lesson for the sixth graders covered months, seasons, weather, appropriate clothing, and seasonal things to do outside. Though most of the vocab was review, they seemed to enjoy learning “swim suit” (which they would not stop calling a “swimmy suit”), “umbrella” (aka “umbreller”), “rain boots” and “rain coat” (which they called “rainy boots” and “rainy coat”).
The past several weeks I have been teaching two or three different lessons to my seventh grade because cancelled classes have made it so that all of the classes have not had my class the same number of times. For some classes this week I combined two lessons and for other seventh grade classes I just played games all of class to try to get everyone on the same page. All of my seventh grade classes have now had the same material, but because of the class cancellations this week (and last), now I have one fifth grade class ahead of all the other fifth grade classes and another class two weeks behind the others (on top of them already being the class of transfer students that have a lower English level than the rest of the grade).
I played the same game with all of my classes this week just at varying levels of difficulty appropriate to the most recent lesson material and grade level. It proved to be a very successful game that I will definitely play again in the future. I divided the class into three or four teams depending on size and divided the chalkboard into sections according to the number of teams. I then wrote down some words that the students had to unscramble into a grammatically correct sentence in order for their team to get a point.
Before I played the game I was doubtful that they would see the game as fun and would see it more as a classroom exercise, but their enthusiasm (in all classes) astounded and encouraged me. My most advanced seventh grade class played it almost the entire class period because they were enjoying it so much. It really seems to be a great game because the entire class gets engaged and really into telling their teammate at the board how to write the sentence correctly and they all end up speaking in English without even realizing what they are doing. For this reason, I used more practical sentences for my eighth grade (such as “I would like a ticket to Beijing, please” and “I am learning English”) to give them practice saying phrases they are likely to use in real-life rather than the lesson-appropriate sentences I used with my sixth graders (“Fall is cool” and “I like to go swimming in the Summer”). One of my favorite moments from this week’s game was when I had the students unscramble words to form the sentence “Alyssa is my favorite English teacher”. As I went through checking each team’s sentence I said, “thank you!” as if they had done it on their own and they all thought it was very funny.
On Wednesday when I had my one fifth grade class, the Chinese teaching assistant never showed up so I taught the entire class by myself. I was very proud of my students for how well they did understanding what I was saying and participating in the class without relying on a Chinese translation. When I started the class with my usual routine of asking them what they did over the weekend, one girl told me that it was her birthday. After she sat down, another girl stood up and said in front of the class that she went to her friend’s birthday party. It seems like a simple situation but keep in mind that these are 10 and 11 year olds telling me in correct English about their weekends. They really do astound me.
I’ve started hanging out with my students in their classrooms in the breaks between classes rather than reading in the hallway or in the teacher’s offices and this has proved to be very valuable and a lot of fun. During this time, I always have some girls messing with my hair, some boys pointing at different things either around the room or in books asking me for the English words, and other students just trying to tell me different things in English and Chinese. I get so encouraged by my students’ attempt to speak in English with me about normal everyday things rather than just following a memorized script or only talking in English when they have to in class. The more relaxed interactions with me in between classes rather than just with me as the English teacher at the front of the class is probably more valuable than anything I could teach them as a class.
My eighth grade classes, usually a source of much worrying and anxiety for me, were hugely successful this week and I couldn’t be happier with how they went. Some of the students are still troublemakers and seem to spend the entire class talking, throwing things, or messing with people, but as a whole they were all great. Because of the game I played with them, even the kids that normally sit in the back scowling at me with teenage angst came to the front, participated, and did really well.
I had a lot of funny moments happen in classes this week too. One eighth grader kept trying to flatter me however he could in English so that I would give his team more points and another kid’s voice cracked so loud and high that it scared me and I jumped. One boy, rushing back to his seat after writing on the board, slipped and fell on his back in the middle of the aisle in between desks as if he had slipped on a banana peel. And in another class, in the middle of the game I heard a loud pop like a mini explosion from the back of the room and I couldn’t figure out what it was. There were a group of students (where I suspect the noise originated) that kept looking at me and telling me “don’t worry about it” while all the kids around them were staring and pointing at them. I asked what the noise was (assuming a stool had broken, but no one seemed to be missing a stool) but I still have no idea what happened. It was pretty funny though.
I am so excited about this week because it seems I finally learned how to connect with my older students and play with them at the level they want to play at while (sneakily) forcing them to use English. Next class I am going to take my eighth graders outside – an option I gave them at the end of class that immediately made their eyes bug out of their heads and get super excited and become well-behaved.

For non-teaching news, it’s really cold here. I clearly wasn’t using my brain when I packed because I left my smurf suit (a blue wool body suit), leather gloves, and long underwear in the States. It seems that I forgot I was moving to the North of the globe when I was packing and, for a reason I cannot explain, decided it was better to pack a couple of sundresses rather than my winter coat. I’ve always thought I was a good and practical packer but after this oversight, I’ve decided I’m never allowed to pack by myself again.
But, we do now have heat in the room and it is the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever experienced. We were getting so cold at night before our heat was working that we were genuinely concerned for our safety come winter. Our washer was also fixed this week and now we can do a load of laundry in half the time and without the bathroom flooding because there is no longer a missing pipe on the underside of the sink (you have to turn the faucet on to get water in the washer). We discovered how to dry our clothes fast when we moved the drying rack by the window in our living room and turned on a fan that sucks air out of the room (like bathrooms in the States).
And though happy baozi man still hasn’t returned, as we’ve seen more and more street vendors disappear with the changing weather, we have become more confident that we will see him again in the Spring.

We’re spending the weekend in Baoding again just resting and staying warm. Soon, I am going to make another post about cultural differences I’ve noticed and more about what it’s like living in China as a meiguoren (American).

Have a good weekend and thank you for reading!

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 70: Halloween

Happy Halloween and Happy November! We’ve finished another week of teaching and along side it another month. Truly the time is flying by!

This week was probably the most fun to teach so far but it did also feel like one of the slowest. Hopefully, now, all kids aged K-8 at the Shuang Yu Xue Xiao know that Halloween is an American holiday on October 31st every year when a lot of people have parties, you eat candy, you do not get gifts, and some people, especially kids, like to get dressed up in costumes and play pretend. All of that, my kids understood just fine but explaining the concept of trick-or-treating was a little more difficult. Why do kids get dressed up in costumes, go door-to-door knocking and screaming “trick-or-treat”, and then get candy from adults? Halloween rituals seemed so normal in my mind having grown up in the US, but when I started explaining it to my kids and the international class, I found myself saying “what an absurd tradition! Why would anyone do that?!” And as I question our traditions I remember all the times I couldn’t wait to go trick or treating as a kid and how, even now, I wish I was in the States so I could dress up and go out with my friends.
Yesterday and today, Duncan gave his kids candy in class after teaching them how to say “trick or treat” – that’s over 200 pieces of candy in less than 2 days! We took some candy corn sent to us by a cousin of mine to QLH and introduced Samantha and Johnson to Halloween candy. They’d never had it before and they really enjoyed it, though they did say it was very sweet.

On Tuesday when I explained Halloween to my international adult students, I also taught them about Dia de Los Muertos/Day of the Dead – a Mexican holiday on October 31-November 2, famous for sugar skulls and ornately decorated skeletons intended to remember and celebrate the lives of passed loved ones.
In China, there is a holiday similar to Dia de Los Muertos – Chinese Ghost Festival. At this festival, people visit the tombs of their loved ones, light candles and incense, and place out their passed loved ones’ favorite foods in remembrance.
On this November 1st, a day of celebration for the new beginnings that start with the new month, and since I will not be in China for Ghost Festival this summer, I want to remember all of those we love who are no longer physically with us.

The most important Halloween flashcards from my classes this week –

The pirate some older students referred to as Jack Sparrow (Disney would be proud):IMG_2115

Taught with rolling eyes, slow walking, and groaning noises:
IMG_2114

Mùnǎiyī! (“Mummy” in Mandarin:
IMG_2113

Complete with flailing arms and Spongebob “Ooolooloo” sounds:
IMG_2112

The vampire everyone thought was a monkey:
IMG_2116

The weather today has been just plain gross. Whereas every day last week was blue and beautiful, every day this week has gotten progressively smoggier, colder, and wetter. Truly, the worst kinds of weather all rolled into one. We still can’t get the heat working in our apartment and the washer piping is faulty so the bathroom floods every time we try to wash our clothes – making the process very cold and several hours long for only a couple of loads of laundry. We will get these things fixed, however, as soon as we can find our waiban (who seems to be everywhere when we don’t need her and no where when we do need her, of course).

I did have a realization the other day that is quite amusing. Before coming to China one of the things I was most worried about was the actual teaching part because I was scared and clueless how to stand in front of a class of 50+ students and teach them for 45 minutes at a time, all day every day. But this week, as I was writing on the chalkboard in one of my seventh grade classes, I realized “Wow! I’m doing this teaching thing without even thinking about being in front of students all day every day!” Despite my history with performing dance, I can be shy and very nervous when speaking publicly. I remember quite clearly many times in high school and in college when I stressed for days about a ten-minute power point presentation I had to give to a class. This seems absolutely ridiculous and comical now! Not only do those presentations seem laughably short now in comparison, but also they were almost always about topics I was passionate about and could talk about almost nonstop with friends and colleagues.
This is one way I have definitely already changed as a result of my time in china – I have gained confidence in my ability to talk capably in front of an audience (be that an audience of 50-55 students between the ages of 10 and 14). So take heart dear friends in college and who otherwise might be nervous about presentations – at least you aren’t stumbling around acting like a zombie in front of classes of very judgmental and scowling 13 year olds 14 times a week!

Our quiet weekend in Baoding has begun now that all of the students are no longer at school (all grades got to go home this weekend) and I have been a lazy bum all day. Tomorrow we are meeting our new friend Mei Li Xin again for coffee and I’m sure she will talk our ears off again in the most tiresome and agreeable way.

Until next time,
Zai jian!

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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