Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beginning classes

We adjusted well to the time difference in China -- actually it only took a couple of days to sleep at night instead of during the day. The food adjustment took bit longer. The most difficult part was all of the oil used in cooking. We learned to make better choices -- like wonton soup instead of some greasy concoction over rice, but the options in the cafeteria were very limiting. My favorite Chinese food turned out to be peanut butter on Ritz. This year, for the first time, we took a large jar of peanut butter with us -- and used most of it. And yes, we were able to buy Ritz crackers at the little campus store.

We stayed for two sessions this year. June was the last of the "year long" sessions, meaning that the facilitators had been there since August. Even though we normally go just for the month of July, there are sessions once a month all year long. Some year long facilitators were on their annual furlough and some were on the admin staff preparing for the summer, so it was especially helpful to have us there early to actually facilitate a class. We had 31 teachers, mostly from the middle of China in the coal mining areas. Many of their lives had been touched by the tragic accidents we have read about in the news, but they are resilient people who choose to move past what has happened and do their best to do their job. "It is my duty" is a phrase I heard many times in a variety of circumstances and I think it says a lot about the Chinese people.

One of the most important things we try to do with our students is have fun so it's easier to relax and not be so self-conscious. The program is called "total immersion" and is based on how children learn a language -- naturally while living their lives. Since most who attend the program are English teachers, they already know the grammar and basic vocabulary, but in many cases, they have had very little opportunity to actually speak English. As a result, they are afraid to even try because they don't want to make a mistake. "Saving face" is very important in China and our first job is to get our students to just talk -- regardless of how poorly. One way we do that is to play games and sing songs. We stand in a circle, toss a ball around the room and they have to say their name or a simple phrase if they get the ball. Or divide into two teams on each side of the room while the teachers hold up a blanket. The teams choose someone to stand in front of the blanket and when the blanket is dropped, the team who identifies the person from the other team first is the winner and gains a new teammate. In addition to relaxing and feeling more comfortable, we are trying to build a team of people who will help each other and work together.

This picture was from a photo scavenger hunt when they were asked to have as many from their team as possible stand on one sheet of newspaper. They weren't completely successful, but had a great time trying!

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