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Day 270: The Last of the Routine

Nimenhao!

The girls have been packed up and shipped back to the US to end their college adventures and we’re here wrapping up our big China adventure.

Tuesday afternoon we had the opportunity to observe a seventh grade Chinese-English class (definitely a unique spectacle) that led to a two hour long conversation with Li Laoshi about the differences between education systems and values in the US versus China. Despite our differences, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and was glad to have been able to have it.

Seventh grade girls giving a performance in class:
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Wednesday, we began solo-teaching again (classes went as well as they ever have), and other than that, not much has happened since the girls left, which is why I haven’t been as frequent with posting. We were pulled out of our own classes (much to our annoyance) to do more photographs for the school but the classes I did go to, were very happy to see me (and I them).

Selfies with fifth graders:
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Friday we went to a brand new restaurant in Baoding with Johnson and tried one of the more popular chicken dishes in China – Spring Chicken. It was tasty and we always have fun talking to Johnson (I swear he knows more about American pop culture than I ever have). We’re definitely going to miss him.

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And this weekend, I was able to get some footage of a Chinese woman in her natural habitat (this went on for about 20 minutes, as it always does):

Today marked the beginning of our second to last week of teaching in China and 21 days until we’re back in the States. This week I’m reviewing with my students in preparation for the exam I’ll give them next week and next week’s lesson with be half exam, half party time/saying goodbye. Farewells will be hard, especially considering how life-changing this year has been, but now that I’m counting down, I’m anxious to begin packing and on to our final adventure in Hong Kong/Macau.

Statue of Liberty (seventh grade creation):
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So with less than nine teaching days left (for me), it’s time to make sure we squeeze the most out of the rest of our time in Baoding, China and begin preparing for the Children’s Day Festival (in which we’re – surprise! – performing) and saying goodbye to life as we’ve known it for the past 270 days.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

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Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Baoding, 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 47: Hello, Goodbye

Since I last posted, we have had three more days of teaching and we are now back in the routine. The thrill and excitement of having a packed day every day in Beijing was a stark contrast to the quiet routine we have here in Baoding and, as a result, we have been bored and a little homesick; the past couple of days. We pushed through the slump, however, and today we had a good day.

Monday, I taught all of my sixth graders and spent the lessons reviewing prepositions and teaching the song “Octopus Garden” by The Beatles. That song has a lot of repetitive prepositions in it and allowed me to teach vocabulary in a more organic manner. Though a simple song, I realized the kids did not know a lot of the vocabulary related to “under the sea” so I spent a good portion of class just drawing an underwater scene on the board and labeling everything. They really enjoyed my drawing of a little fish being chased by a bigger fish with sharp teeth and a pointy dorsal fin like a shark. The kids enjoyed singing with me in class and now they definitely know the phrase, “I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’ garden in the shade”.

My schedule this week and next is a little unusual because of a request by three of my seventh grade classes to have me more. Due to communication difficulties I’m not 100% clear on the whole situation but I believe, from what I have gathered, that these three seventh grade classes were going to have to miss my English class at some point in the future because of exams, but they requested to have my class at a different time this week rather than miss it in the future. Regardless of what the situation actually is, this means my students enjoy my class enough to make sure they don’t miss it! Despite their teenage eye rolling and their angsty teen expressions, I must be teaching them something or at least be enough of an amusement to them to not want to skip. I’m quite touched and very encouraged by this quiet success!

Because of this schedule change, however, Tuesday I taught from 8:00 – 6:00, easily making it the longest teaching day I’ve had. In my seventh grade classes, my lesson used the song “The Reason” by Hoobastank to teach different ways to apologize, ways of expressing regret, and the concept of “I wish”. Though somewhat difficult for them to understand at times, I think it was a great success and I am actually going to use the same lesson on my eighth graders tomorrow and on Friday.

Today, I had all of my fifth graders and they were absolutely delightful. We talked about what they did over the National Day Holiday and went on to learn and sing along together to the song “Hello, Goodbye” by The Beatles. Super easy to hear the English and with an upbeat tune, the kids had a blast singing along and doing outrageous pantomiming with me. I bet The Beatles never imagined that their music would ever be used to teach English to kids in China!

I’ve been encouraged this week by the realization that my kids are enjoying my classes and that I am, in fact, teaching them new English. All of my kids, aged 10+, are now coming up to me in the hallways and attempting to have conversations with me. And I’ve also now realized that any misbehavior from the students’ was an expression of boredom and disinterest in what I was doing and that it is my task, as the teacher, to find ways to engage all of the students as well as to teach them. These students have drills and facts hammered into them all day, every day, all year and they don’t (nor do I) want my class to be the same. It is my task and my responsibility to conduct my class in a way that makes them want to learn English regardless of a grade or other coercion. So if, by the end of this year, I have managed to make one originally disinterested kid somewhat more interested in learning English, even if it’s solely in the context of my class, then I will have been successful.

On that note, I hope that my eighth graders tomorrow will find the use of American pop culture interesting enough to learn the lesson; it definitely worked well on my seventh graders (even on the students who had been disruptive in every prior class).

Other than teaching, Duncan and I have just been getting back into our daily routine. Violin is coming slower to me than I’d like (mainly because I have no dexterity in my left hand) but my Chinese is coming along swimmingly. I got my hands on a workbook used by the international students here learning English and I am going to do some of it every night so I can start learning characters along with my oral language skills.

One final note about cultural differences that I noticed in one of my classes today – bodily noises are not nearly as humorous here as they are in the States. For example, today in one of my classes, a kid burped really loudly and I kind of started laughing but none of the other kids in the least. Whereas bodily noises like sneezing, yawning, burping, and farting are considered impolite social breaches in the US, not much attention is paid to them here. This made it pretty clear that the reason we laugh, especially middle school students in the States, laugh when someone burps or farts in class, is not because the noise is particularly interesting, but rather because someone of breaking a social norm. This tiny moment in one class had me thinking about the social construction of humor the rest of the day. I wonder what other situations are similar that I just haven’t noticed yet…

I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes in a couple of days. Have a good rest of your week and thank you for reading!
Alyssa

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 34: Blue Autumn Skies

Yesterday and today were two more beautiful days in the neighborhood. The sky was cloudless blue, the sun was shining brilliantly, and the air was crisp with tinges of fall. It was so nice outside all the windows in the school were opened to let the autumn breeze fill the classrooms. Taking advantage of the nice (and smog-less) weather, we turned the AC off and opened the windows in our apartment as well. We ate our dinner outside in the Military Square Park and watched as dozens of high-flying kites filled the sky.

Yesterday, I taught all fifth graders today and all of my classes were great successes. I’ve been pretty pleased the past few days being able to conduct class without the need for a translator regardless of whether or not they are in the room. We talked about the parts of the family, how to correctly say whether or not you have siblings and how many, and how to describe people. In my last class, the kids generously described Ms. Alyssa as having blonde hair, big eyes, a big mouth, and a big nose! Another kid, mispronouncing a word, said that another classmate had blue ears! They all also thought it was great fun that I included great grandparents and great aunts and uncles on the family tree we created on the board. I have no criticism about yesterday’s classes; they were all wonderful and I enjoyed them a lot. Plus, I found out that some students from my classes told one of the administrators that they enjoy my classes because they have a lot of opportunity to practice their oral English. Thus, as far as the students are concerned, I’m doing my job right!

Today I didn’t teach until 2:30 and then I only had three seventh grade classes, which went well. I finished teaching basic greetings and started teaching idioms. Today I taught the kids that “break a leg” means “good luck”. Because they were so great, I told them that next class I would teach them an American song. What song should I teach?

Duncan’s problem from the other day has been handled better than we could have expected. The administration listened to both sides, agreed with Duncan, and, after observing one of Duncan’s classes, told him he is one of the school’s best teachers. On top of this, they are going to encourage the other Chinese teachers to sit in on his classes to learn from him how he conducts his classes and interacts with the students. Administrators openly agreed that positive reinforcement is the best way for students to learn and they acknowledged that too little of it happens in China, in general, and they would like to encourage more positive reinforcement in this school. The entire situation has been handled professionally, personally, and efficiently. Maybe we really can make a lasting impact on our school!

And as I sit here writing this I keep asking myself, “Have we really been in China for 34 days?” I still can’t believe it – we’re living in China! This adventure has been nothing like what I imagined it would be, but now that I’m in it and living it every day, I cannot say what would have to change to make it more like my previous expectations. Despite the challenges we’ve had already, I wouldn’t change a thing, because even in this short amount of time, I can tell I have grown and changed through these experiences. I am certainly becoming more patient and my tolerance for the unexpected, unplanned, and nonsensical increases everyday. This journey, even only one month in, is making me a better person and I couldn’t be more grateful that we have the opportunity to partake in on this life-changing adventure. Thank you to everyone who encouraged us, supports us, and helped make it possible.

The next two days are weird because of our week off next week for National Day. We will both be teaching next Monday’s class schedule tomorrow and this Friday’s schedule on Saturday. We have high-speed rail tickets to Beijing for Monday morning and our first big travel adventure will begin with our friends from back home, Lindsay and Steven. We are all very excited and many pictures are sure to follow!

Thanks for reading!

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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Day 19: Teaching & Food

Yesterday and today were both good days again.

On Tuesday I taught half of the seventh grade classes and had a really good time with them. Apparently it was Teacher’s Day in China so every time I asked the students what today was, hoping for the answer “Tuesday”, I got “Teacher’s Day!” I’m not really sure what it means but I had several students come up to me in the hallways and say “Hello, teacher; Happy Teacher’s Day!” and then walk away. I thought it was nice and it got them speaking English in an organic way, which is the point of my job.

The seventh grade classes are good. They clearly have a smaller vocabulary than the eighth graders and communication is more difficult since this is their first year without a Chinese speaking assistant in the English speaking classroom, but they all did a very good job and I enjoyed teaching them. All of my classes were very engaged in the class activities and, a couple of times, students were even climbing over each other trying to make their hand higher so I would call on them to answer a question. One kid even started yelling “Beautiful teacher! Beautiful teacher!” trying to get me to focus on him instead. Their enthusiasm made me laugh and made the classes very fun for me to teach.

During the breaks I was swarmed by seventh grade girls who wanted to touch my hair and let me know that it is long and blonde and wanted to tell me “laoshi (teacher), you’re very beautiful”.
At one point in class I realized most of the students had their dictionaries or textbooks out earnestly trying to find new vocabulary to fit into my categories game as fast as they could and I consider that subtle encouragement of learning new words a huge success!

Today was also a good teaching day. I taught all of the fifth grade classes for the second time, making today my first repeat day of classes. We have officially been teaching English in China for one week! I played some review games with the kids to see where they are on vocabulary and to see if they learned what they should have learned last year. Fortunately, it seems that they are caught up and I can start teaching new things from their “textbook” lessons. Next week I will begin giving the students English names if they want one and don’t already have one. I have a whole list of English names and their respective meanings compiled so that I can give thought to the naming process since names in China are such a big deal. I’ve been looking forward to this naming activity since we found out we had teaching jobs.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot since we arrived in China (indeed, it was one of the things I was most excited about coming to China). The whole eating experience and the thoughts toward food are so different here than in America. For one, eating is a communal activity. In the States, I have actively resisted the campaigns trying to reinvigorate the idea of family dinnertime seeing it as an unpleasant way to force people who don’t like each other and don’t communicate well with one another to be together in an artificial bonding scenario. Here, though, communal eating seems so natural. Just last night, we ate dinner at a small table, amongst many other small tables, sitting on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant. Though we were clearly having dinner by ourselves, sharing the outdoor eating experience with other people doing the same thing as us really made me feel a sense of community that I can’t remember experiencing in America. The street food is probably my favorite, not just for taste, but also for the communal experience. That may be why I love the happy baozi man stand so much! You go underneath a tent that is set up on the side of the road, order shi baozi (ten baozi) and sit down at a small table right next to the cook/owner. From your seat, you can see all the other food stands/tents on that street, all the people sharing their mealtime, and you see your food prepared, cooked, and served to you within five minutes.

The food here, even the street food that would be condemned in America, is also healthier than most things I find in the US. In America, heart disease is one of the primary killers of adults and we blame meat, eggs, and fats. This has led to a nation that can be deathly afraid of animal products, yet health rates have not improved. In China, however, all the foods that we condemn as essentially evil, are staples and the Chinese people, in general, are exceeding us and other nations in health and longevity. Clearly, the animal products are not the problem. It’s interesting comparing the food because once you’re eating a diet like I am now, you realize just how much of our food in America is highly processed, far from the source, and just overloaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. Here the food is organic, close to the original source, very rarely sweetened, and more delicious. I know many people will disagree with me but I am sharing the China experience through my individual perspective. And as I see it, I love the food here and I know I’m going to miss it, especially the street vendors, once I’m back in the US.

On another note, we got paid for the first time yesterday (in cash) and we now have a bathmat and a new showerhead in our apartment. It really is amazing how much those two simple additions can enhance the feel of a bathroom. Though we don’t have a squatty potty in our bathroom (there are two down the hall for us to use as we please), with our Western toilet we cannot flush toilet paper or it will clog. So toilet paper gets thrown away and collected in a trashcan rather than flushed away. It really is something I had never thought about before but I am now very appreciative of flushing toilet paper without clogging the toilet. Our sink, just like every sink I’ve encountered in Baoding, leaks tremendously from the pipes, and thus has low water pressure. Our bathroom sink can only turn on if the faucet handle is directly in the middle of the fixture and not to the sides of the faucet so we only have cold water from the sink. This means the dish cleaning will probably start happening at the same time as shower time.

To finish today’s reflections on Baoding/Chinese oddities, fireworks are pretty much constantly going off in the mornings and at night. We asked a Chinese friend and Baoding native what all the fireworks were about and he said that when people get married they set off fireworks in the morning and when there is a funeral fireworks are set off in the evening so that’s probably what we’re hearing. When you have a regional population of eleven million there is a large allowance for marriages, funerals, and, consequently, fireworks.

We’ve quickly become adjusted to life here in Baoding and, now that we have somewhat of a routine established, we are beginning to itch for more. This weekend we will probably both start studying Chinese more actively. Duncan’s first language mastery goal is food so that we can order off of non-picture menus in restaurants. I will be contented when I am confident with a solid grasp on survival Chinese. We are also going to begin traveling soon. Our first longer weekend is this weekend and we are planning a trip to the famous Baoding Lotus Pond Garden and, hopefully, a trip to Beijing to visit with American friends. We found a map of Baoding that will be super helpful for getting around locally and I am still searching for a high-speed rail map and schedule to plan our future trips. Our first holiday is coming up soon and we are planning to leave Baoding for a few days then but we haven’t decided where yet.

Tomorrow I only have three afternoon classes and then I have no classes Friday so my week is almost over! Everything is going well and we are very happy!

Thank you for reading and keeping in touch! I’m very excited I’ve been able to take you on this journey with us.
And for one more parting note: You know you’ve mastered chopsticks when you can ride the back of a moving motorbike at night, holding on with your legs, and eating a bowl of street noodles successfully as you go. 😉

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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