Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Susan - I've been fascinated with your trip and following it since you first went last summer! I would love to hear MORE! Did you have people who could not overcome their hesitance to speak out? What were the people like? What grade level or age did most of the teachers teach? Is almost everyone learning English there? Or how common is it to learn English in school there? At what age does common education cease? Do the people really eat all those weird things that they've been showing on tv? What did you eat when you were there? Barbara O.

Ohhh, I love questions Barbara!

First of all, everyone in the program had some level of English. Many of the teachers were sent by their district and had no choice, but most of them were delighted to improve their English and become better teachers. We also had teachers that didn't actually teach English, but were just trying to improve themselves. Also in that category were university students, business people and a few even as young as middle school students. Our youngest was a 12 year old girl who came with her mother. She was put into a separate class from her mom and was amazing! I'm not aware of anyone who didn't overcome their initial hesitation -- on the other hand, they had no choice but to speak at least sometimes. It would be pretty hard to keep your mouth shut for the entire time. :-) They were given citations for speaking Chinese, and if they were caught speaking Chinese more than four times, they were sent home! (No one has ever been terminated for that reason.) At the end of the session, everyone had to recite a 15 minute speech they had written and memorized in order to get their University of Peking certificate. As far as I know, no one failed to get a certificate for not doing their speech.

The people were delightful. I absolutely LOVE the Chinese people! This is coming from someone who was interested in "helping people" but with no special interest or concern with China before going. They were very caring, loving, helpful, courteous, giving, and just about any other good thing you want to mention. They were beyond grateful that we left our homes and came to China to help them. In fact, they could hardly believe that we would do such a thing! This was the best testimony we could have to begin with. It opened up dozens of opportunities to discuss WHY we would want to do this. (I've removed additional explanation that might cause a problem.)

As far as grade level, we had all levels from pre-kindergarten to senior school. The methods we used were based on how children learn...by fun, games and natural conversation. Some of the senior school teachers felt it was too simplistic for their classrooms, but they still learned and improved their English. The biggest problem that hinders English learning is the rote memorization that is used in many areas of education. They "teach to the test" -- sound familiar? Students learn the vocabulary and grammar rules, but don't learn how to carry on a real conversation. They were from all over China and many rarely encounter native speakers.

Yes Barbara, I think just about everyone in school studies English. As poorly as some of the teachers speak it though, you can guess how much their students learn. Normal Chinese education lasts until the 12th grade. Then they are under HUGE pressure to pass entrance exams for the best universities (if they take a test for U of Peking and don't get in...they are finished. They can't go anywhere else...at least that year.) Their success in getting into a "good" university affects the rest of their lives.

Finally, YES at least SOME people really eat those weird things you saw on TV. We were at the same street market where you saw the scorpions and EVERY part of an animal's body was available to be cooked before your eyes. I'm not convinced many people beside tourists trying to prove something actually eat those scorpions though -- none of the Chinese I talked to would actually do it. However, I have pictures of some of my team mates and other tourists eating them. At the left is teammate Sarah enjoying her snack. YUCK! On the other hand, I ate the duck feet that came with the Peking duck. The method of service is to present the perfectly roasted duck and have the chef carve the slices to be served. Then the remainder of the duck is sent back to the kitchen and part of it is made into soup, while the rest of it -- the bones, etc is deep fried. I can assure you that deep fried duck feet is crunchy and chewy, but has no taste whatsoever! We didn't do the Hot Pot this year...but the restaurant shown on NBC was in Chang Ping, the section of Beijing where we stayed, and a number of our teammates ate there. I think you order what you want to have cooked in the hot pot...and it doesn't have to be intestines! We had Hot Pot last year, and it was mainly mutton. Speaking of mutton, that is my new favorite Chinese food! Apparently, mutton is a popular Muslim food and BBQ mutton sticks are amazing! The meat is cut into thin strips and skewered like shish kabob, then seasoned and grilled over coals. They do the same thing with thick bread slices and they both are delicious. I wonder if it's possible to get them here? Yummmmm! This picture is of our last meal in the village before coming home. I think we ordered about 100 mutton sticks for about eight people.

Actually, we mostly ate in the school cafeteria -- which every student said was bad. There were a few things that were good, but by the end the things *I* would eat were pretty limited. If I couldn't identify the concoctions in the pans, I would stick with fried rice and hard boiled eggs. Brown chicken eggs...not to be confused with green duck eggs! They also had bags of yogurt and nutrition drinks based on yogurt, which were very good. Red date yogurt and red bean ice cream were wonderful, believe it or not! Bottled green tea and milk tea were my favorite drinks. We drank gallons of bottled water too.

BTW, when I came back last year, I announced that Chinese people don't eat sweets. WRONG! There was an amazing bakery next to the church we attended that did the most exquisite desserts which was very popular. Also, candy and ice cream were in abundance -- even chocolate. It was not served with meals, however.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Now that we are home, it's time to sort out the events of the past six weeks. We had such an amazing summer that it's difficult to know where to begin. To start with, last year we went to China and saw the country. This year, we met the people -- and they are delightful. It was SO sad to leave.

We went to teach Engli
sh, and teach we did. The program was called T.I.P. - Total Immersion Program, and the goal was to create a totally English environment for 3 1/2 weeks. There were about 40 of us from America (pictured, below) and about 400 students. We were on the far outskirts of Beijing on a satellite campus of the University of Peking. The campus is perfect for the program because it is quite isolated -- and a little overgrown like the Secret Garden. It is no longer used by the UP for classes, but instead the property is leased to other educational groups. Our students were not allowed to leave campus the entire time except with special permission, and they signed a commitment card to not use any Chinese while they were in the program (day or night, in public or private). TIP is based on the way children learn best...using language in natural everyday situations. For the most part Chinese classes are based on memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules with very little opportunity to actually speak English. Many Chinese people have never met a native speaker and are afraid to speak up for fear of making a mistake. Most of our students were high school English teachers and had many years of book learning but depending on the university the attended, knew very little actual language. In addition to the teachers there were some college professors and university students, as well as a few high school and even middle school students. Their level of oral English varied greatly, so we did an entrance interview and assigned them to classes based on the results -- although some were so nervous that they didn't exhibit their true ability. I was assigned to a class of 17 Low+ (meaning lower verbal skill) students and Paul taught High. One of our first goals was to get them to relax and feel comfortable so they would speak out. We did this by playing games and making the classes as student centered as possible. The first week, we concentrated on getting them to speak...no matter how badly, and to help each other overcome their nervousness. The second week was devoted to listening and helping them to better understand spoken English. The final week focused on activities to get them to think in English. At the end of the program, each student had to recite a 15 minute speech ... no matter how poor their oral English.

In order to build confidence, we worked very hard to get the class to bond and work together toward the common goal. What an experience! Even though they were from all parts of China (one had a 43 hour train ride to get there) we were all best of friends within just a few days. It was a good thing ... in Susan's class, (pictured left) one favorite activity was a "pretend" game. The idea was that they were on a sinking ship and the only thing left for everyone to stand on was a piece of the ship the size of a small square of paper. The men and women played separately, and at the end, 6 adult men managed to stand on a piece of paper about 12"x14". The 11 women were on a piece about 18" x 24". Talk about close fellowship! Paul taught a Science club (below, left) for higher level students, and they also had a lot of fun. One of the projects was for a team of four students to build a bridge that could span a 14" gap – using only 8 chopsticks and 2 plastic chopstick wrappers. The winners were determined by piling journals (college blue books) on top to see which bridge could hold the most. The first week, we were amazed that one bridge could hold 150 books! When he did it the next week with a different group of students, the winning bridge could hold 250 books – a stack about two feet tall!

We were overwhelmed by their love and concern for each other and us as the classes progressed. In addition, we could never have imagined how much their English would improve in such a short time. Even Susan's poorest speaker was able to communicate in understandable English before we left. Obviously, they all had a long way to go to sound like native speakers, but we tried to give them the tools to take home and continue learning on their own. One of my favorite phrases was "You are your own best teacher." As a result, you take your best teacher home with you and continue learning! In addition, since most were English teachers, we offered methods for helping their students improve their English.

I have removed a discussion that may be of concern to certain officials. If you would like further information, please email us when we return.

All in all, the inconveniences of living in a third world country (and there are some) are minor in comparison with the reward of the relationships that we developed. Probably the most significant thing we learned is that people are people no matter where on earth they live. There may be some cultural differences, but their desires, needs and concerns as individuals are the same.

If you are interested in further information about this program look up the websites http://www.esec.org/TIP.htm http://www.teachoverseas.org or contact us.

Thank you for your interest and support as we participated in this amazing adventure.