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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 289: Victoria Peak and International Style

Hello!

We had two really great days yesterday and today. Both were laid back and filled with our basking in the culture transition and this amazing city.
Yesterday afternoon we decided to go to Victoria’s Peak instead of the escalators and I’m so glad that we did.

From the top of the peak:
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It’s almost like there’s a whole other city on top of the peak!
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For dinner we stopped by Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and I fan-girled Lieutenant Dan:
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From the top of the Sky Terrace:
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Today, we went to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and spent a couple of hours wandering around, enjoying being outside, and watching all the monkeys and birds.

I found Zaboomafoo!
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And signs of “civilized” life:
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After wandering around there, we headed to the mid-levels (the giant escalator system) and grabbed a good Mexican dinner before heading over to a Caribbean bar where we people-watched for a couple of hours.

Look at all the different cuisine types on this one road:
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One of the things that makes Hong Kong so fascinating is how international it is. Everywhere we go, we see people from all over the world, hear so many different languages, and you can find about any cuisine type you could ever want. It’s so much fun and so interesting (not to mention delicious)!

Tomorrow we are making a day trip out of going to see the giant Buddha on Lantau Island and in the evening we might go check out a ferry or a night market.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 288: A Whole New (Hong Kong) World

Alright, the bug has bitten me too – I’m quickly falling in love with Hong Kong. Everywhere you go there is something to do or see or hear. It really is amazing here.

Wednesday we woke up, grabbed some food (I found a muffin!) and coffee and set out on our day’s wanderings. Most of the day was just spent wandering around on Hong Kong Island taking in the sites and sounds.

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A wet market we stumbled into while wandering:
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In the evening, we went to Times Square (a giant, really expensive shopping mall) and saw Maleficent (very good). Outside of the mall was a Tiananmen Square tribute that served to remind us just how much we’re not in Mainland China anymore.

This is the Apple store across the street from Times Square:
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Though our day was great, I had a sad realization – my Chinese speaking days are over. No more feeling accomplished because I ordered my food in Chinese and no more surprising my students when I respond to their questions. Now, I’m back in the world where I don’t feel accomplished for just saying everyday phrases and courtesies. When I go to the grocery store and can pay for my food without any linguistic barriers, no one is going to pat me on the back and say “great job! You really understood what that cashier was saying to you!” But hey, it was a ton of (often times embarrassing) fun and I’m proud of what I did accomplish throughout the year and at least I went out with a linguistic bang when I had a conversation with our bread people letting them know when we were leaving, that we wouldn’t be back, and we’ll miss them.

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I also realized no more special friend prices and no more rides around town on kuai long. I’ve been out of Mainland China for three days now and I’m already missing all of it. But on the up side, we’re enjoying no one staring at us or calling out “laowai”, the shower has water pressure, it took only five minutes to completely update my phone and laptop (compared to the 24+ hours it took in Baoding), and we’ve rediscovered beauty in the world again (compared to smoggy Baoding). We spent an hour yesterday just staring at the clouds rolling over the harbor and we keep stopping to stare at the sky and marvel at how big and blue it is. I’m excited to do more of that when we get to our home in the States.

Thursday, we woke up and (after a pancake breakfast!) went on a jaunt through the city to Victoria Park and along Causeway Bay. Though it was in the 90s and quite humid, we had a really wonderful time strolling around and taking in the scenery. When we were a block from our hostel, on our way back, without any warning the sky just opened up and started pouring. I’ve never seen a rainstorm start and stop so suddenly. We also went to Ikea (my first time) and had a really fun time wandering around and looking at all the Hong Kong living space sized room set-ups. The Ikea set-ups kind of made me want to live in Hong Kong just so I could decorate my tiny space like that.

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Since Hong Kong boasts over 11,000 restaurants, we decided just to take a stroll and see what popped out at us to try for lunch. Without realizing it until we’d sat down and ordered, we picked a Northern China restaurant a couple of blocks from our hostel. Though it was just a little hole in the wall restaurant, it tasted like home (our Northern China home) and was exquisite. It was so good and satisfying we might have to go there again despite the plethora of culinary options.

In the evening we made our way over to Kowloon Island to explore the Avenue of Stars and see the Hong Kong skyline (supposedly the best in the world tied with the NYC skyline). It certainly didn’t let us down.

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As we continued to wander around on Kowloon, we stumbled upon a German restaurant we just couldn’t pass up. It was the perfect way to end a really good day – sitting waterfront, looking at the Hong Kong skyline, while we drank German beer and had a true German feast. It’s tempting to go back there again too.

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Today we had a late start so we are going to save our big touring sites for the evening when we go to Victoria Peak and then go neon sign watching on the largest escalator system in the world!

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in Travel

 

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Day 286: Welcome to Hong Kong

Hello!

After a really long day yesterday, we’ve arrived in Hong Kong and have found ourselves in a completely different world. Since we finished packing Monday night, when we woke up yesterday morning, all we had to do was have our final coffee in Baoding, fold the sheets, and drag our luggage down the four flights of stairs one last time. The school sent a car to pick us up and take us to the train station and with that, along with the company of Li Laoshi, we were on our way. We had no problems getting our tickets or into the train station (other than they stopped us to look at the pocket knife Duncan had in the bag we intend to check at the airport – but they didn’t take it) and soon enough we were in our first class (super comfy) seats on a fast train down the East coast of the country, one final time. We were thrilled to discover that we got complimentary snacks and Cokes as soon as we boarded the train but other than that, the ten-hour ride was uneventful (but very comfortable and quiet). We passed the time by reading, talking, sleeping, and (most interestingly) observing the changing scenery the farther South we traveled. Once again, I was reminded of how gorgeous South China can be, especially compared to the North (and Baoding).

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Traveling the length of the country through the countryside was a fitting (and very enjoyable) way for us to say goodbye to Mainland China.

The problems started when we got off the train and began the long traverse to our hostel. We arrived in Shenzhen at 6:16 but didn’t make it to our hostel until 9:30. What with several money exchanges, multiple checkpoints through customs (twice we had to get out of line to fill out papers we didn’t know we were supposed to have when we got in the line), ten million escalators, metal bars at every entrance and exit spaced about two feet apart (making lugging our six bags of our life in China stuff quite frustrating), and four subway line transfers that resulted in one stubbed toe, one scraped knee, and (today) very sore shoulders, necks, arms, and backs we were pretty grumpy when we got to the hostel. Once we did find the hostel we climbed four flights of stairs to check-in only to discover that they don’t (even though they said they would) accept RMB and we had to use my credit card to check-in (and hope that it didn’t get declined since we’re in a new country). The card went through and we got checked in but then we had move all our luggage back down the four flights of stairs, across the street, and up five more flights of stairs to get into the tiniest room I’ve ever been in (that’s not a closet). Hong Kong is known for having ridiculously tiny housing for ridiculously high prices and considering how much we paid for our “room” at the hostel, I totally believe it. We may be at the second highest rated hostel in Hong Kong but on top of the tiny rooms it also can’t boast a restaurant or a bar – something we were looking forward to after our ten-hour ride on the train and difficult trek through the subway (called the Mass Transit Railway – MTR – in Hong Kong). By the time we’d settled into the hostel and were ready to head out, it was 10pm so the restaurants we’d eyed on the way in were closed. This ended up being just fine because we went to the 24-hour McDonald’s across the street and found “real” Western food – chicken nuggets, French fries, sweet and sour sauce, and an iced coffee have never tasted so good!

Fed, clean, settled, and caffeinated we were much happier and went on a mini-wander around our block to see what Hong Kong was all about and we’ve concluded that Hong Kong and Mainland China are truly different places. We feel like we are more in the west (I think it feels just like NYC) than any part of the world we’ve been in for the past ten months. And the things we are noticing (culture shock) are so fascinating and kind of hilarious to us. First off, Hong Kong is definitely an international city. In a five-minute walk down the block we heard Mandarin, Cantonese, English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Everything is written in English and in Chinese (traditional characters) and (a big deal for us) everything we’ve done (ordering food, exchanging money, going through customs) has been done in spoken English. We were so taken aback by the process of ordering our food in English that Duncan and I both (separately) misunderstood what the people behind the counter were saying to us because we were expecting Chinese instead of English (Duncan kept thinking the guy behind the counter was saying “what’s that” so he kept repeating his order and I responded with “Alyssa” when the lady asked me if I wanted whipped cream and I thought she asked me for my name on the order). Another thing that has really shocked us is the nudity in advertising – it seems like there are naked women everywhere! We’ve also been shocked by the Internet (fastest Internet in the world and no more firewall of China!), flushing toilet paper (instead of throwing it away), people wearing baseball hats, and “civilized” behaviour. People wait for lights to change, no one is hawking loogies, people say “sorry” and “excuse me” when they bump into you, they clean up after themselves in restaurants, there’s no honking (and people drive on the “wrong” side of the road), there’s no burning plastic, and people smell like perfume and cologne. The hardest thing we have to deal with right now is the fact that almost everyone speaks English so when we talk to each other, other people are likely to understand us. We’ve developed a bad habit of just talking to each other about anything and everything around us (since it’s pretty likely that people wouldn’t understand us in Baoding) and we’re making a conscious effort to end that here in Hong Kong.

Overall, I think it was a good idea for us to come to Hong Kong before arriving in the US because it will serve as a culture-shock transition period. I’m really enjoying taking note of all the similarities and differences between our life in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and the US.

We found clouds!
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The hustle and bustle of a 24-hour, international city:
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Hong Kong is more vertical and horizontal:
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View from our hostel room (I see the ocean!):
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The rest of today will be spent wandering around and getting our bearings and tomorrow we will begin exploring and touring. As a side note, today is the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident, and international media has said that there are massive protests going on all over Hong Kong. We have not seen nor heard anything about protests since we’ve been here and the only thing we know about is a candlelight vigil scheduled for tonight. We are staying safe and all is well!

Thanks for following along and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2014 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Day 282: Bye-bye, Baoding!

Nimenhao!

We’re three days out from departing Baoding and making our final touring journey to Hong Kong. This week has been eventful and filled with last classes, exams, goodbyes, pictures, Children’s Day festivities, packing, and last suppers. We even ran into Samantha at QLH (a change of her plans meant that we get to see her one more time before leaving – yay)!

We’ve received multiple gifts of thanks from the primary and junior middle schools on campus as well as from boss man at QLH and some individual teacher friends. Earlier this week, the primary school took us out to a really delicious lunch and we had a great time hanging out with most of the primary school teachers and Li Laoshi. And last night, we had our “last supper” with Enkui and his family before we spent the evening together in a typical Chinese park soaking up the communal love and dancing fun that is a unique Chinese experience and one that we will sorely miss.

Instead of narrating a week of events, here are some of my favorite pictures from the week:

P6-3:
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Fifth grade notes (the top one drew what I drew on the board that day and the bottom note drew one of the games we played frequently):
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“Bey-bey”:
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Love notes from fifth grade:
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Selfie with fifth graders:
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P5-1:
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This is a camera with a picture of Alyssa Laoshi inside plus a note from the student underneath that – how creative!:
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Lots of girls from one class signed this:
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Special letter from a fifth grader:
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Chinese fortune tellers:
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P5-5:
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J1-3:
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J1-5:
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P6-2:
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P6-4:
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P6-6:
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Selfies with sixth grade boys:
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P6-1:
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P6-2:
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Video compilations I made of the Children’s Day performances Thursday and Friday –

Kindergarten: 

Primary: 

Art Classes: 

We will spend the rest of this weekend packing, cleaning, and saying goodbyes and then we’re off to Hong Kong. My next post will probably be when we’re no longer in mainland China, so join us in saying farewell to Baoding.

Thank you for reading and until next time,

Alyssa

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Baoding, Uncategorized

 

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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 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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