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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summer part 2: summer project

Saying goodbye to my parents was difficult, but easier than the first time. I didn’t have time to dwell on their departure anyways because the next phase of my summer was upon me. Summer project. Summer project consists of volunteers teaching teachers in various rural locations in our provinces. Since I live and work in Sichuan province, my summer project was also in Sichuan. There were 4 cities in Sichuan for summer project, and Peace Corps staff split us into groups of 5-6 for each city to teach for 2 weeks. I, along with Leo, Joel, Tamarae, Aaron, and Warren, were chosen to go to Dazhou. Dazhou is a relatively small city (in terms of China) with a population of, maybe 600,000 people (we could never get a sure number). The city is in northeastern Sichuan, bordering the municipality of Chongqing.
Living: we all had our own rooms in the same hall of a school “hotel.” I put it in quotes because it was like a hotel, but just one separate floor of a dormitory. So it was a one hall hotel. It was really nice having our own rooms and a floor to ourselves, especially since we were spending a great amount of time each day lesson planning together. The only downside was that we were not allotted keys. Multiple times a day we had to knock on the first door in the hall (which was the apartment of this lady and her family). This lady would then go around and open our doors for us. At least four times a day this lady had to open the doors for us (after class, after lunch, after an activity, after dinner). But apparently the school thought this was a better system than having individual keys, and as long as she didn’t mind us knocking on her apartment door several times a day, it was fine with us.
Teaching: We each had our own class of about 50 primary and middle school English teachers in the Dazhou community. Most of the teachers were from the rural countryside (some never having left Sichuan province). Some of them were fresh from college, never having taught before, while others have been teaching longer than I have been alive. All of them were required to attend the two week training session by their schools. Some had no background in English and could barely say anything to me in English. Others had taught other subjects, but their school decided they would teach English the following year. Most of the young teachers were really energetic and interested in being there and getting information, while, and I don’t blame them, most of the older teachers stopped attending classes by the middle of the first week, or if they did come to class did not participate. It was frustrating at times dealing with teachers that didn’t want to be taught, but there wasn’t anything I could really do about it. All of us tried our best to make it interesting and worthwhile for them. We spent hours every day formulating our lessons, and preparing materials and PPTs. I tried not to get too frustrated with those uninterested because there were always a group that was really engaged and every day stayed after class to ask questions and copy our PPTs.
In the mornings we taught our own classes for 3 hours. The six of us volunteers decided that we would lesson plan together and have the same basic outline of the lesson, but that we could each decide on our activities and teaching style on our own. Joel, Leo, and I did extra lesson planning together and our lessons mirrored each other. At the end of the first week, Joel’s projector stopped working and he asked if his class could join with mine and we could team teach. It turns out that Joel and I have similar teaching methods and we taught really well together. Our students really liked the vibe of the class with us together, and after that we taught every lesson together.
In the afternoons we gave team lectures (so two of us would give a lecture together). The first 3 days I lectured with Warren on the American classroom. Then the last 2 days of the first week I lectured with Aaron and Tamarae on technology in the classroom. The second week I lectured the first 3 days with Leo on Chinglish and body gestures (Chinglish is the botched English that many of our students speak—common errors that they make as a result of direct translations; example: Happy Everyday, I very like you; I ever went there; etc.). The 2nd to last day we all lectured the same topic (creativity in the classroom) because the last day of lectures were cancelled.
What we were trying to accomplish through summer project was giving the teachers real things that they can take back with them to the classroom and use with their students. One issue that is facing China, and that China’s Ministry of Education hopes to change with the help of Peace Corps, is that Chinese students study English from primary school through high school and even into college, and most of them cannot speak English. How can that be? Well because they focus entirely on reading, writing and grammar. Most of their teachers don’t speak English to them, and some of them can’t even speak English themselves. As a result, students can’t understand spoken English very well and have difficulty in speaking English. If I write a word on the board my students all know it, but if I say it they are confused. I remember one time I said a word to a Chinese friend of mine, and she wasn’t sure what I was saying so she asked me to spell it. Once I had spelled it, she immediately knew the word. Her response was, “oh that’s how you say that word. I never knew.” Wow! So you see the dilemma? So during summer project we focused on giving these teachers useful speaking and listening activities that they might integrate into their classroom and give their students more practice with these two skills. I just hope they actually do.
Activities: No Chinese teacher trainee program is complete without activities. Every other day we had a different activity to take part in with the teacher trainees. The first was like a meet and greet. All of the teacher trainees, school staff, and volunteers got together for snacks and drinks and getting to know each other. Not one of the volunteers was able to eat anything. It was a drinking, toasting, and picture taking extravaganza. I can’t think of a hobby Chinese people love more than taking pictures. It started with my class calling me over to have a toast with them. Then my class pulled the other volunteers over. Then they wanted to have a class picture. Then everyone pulled out their cameras and cell phones and wanted individual pictures. By the end my cheeks hurt so much I could barely open my mouth. But that wasn’t the end. One goofy teacher from my class started this dancing activity (I think he might have been a bit drunk at this point), but anyways he had this really complicated dancing game that he got us all involved in. The meet and greet was fun, but extremely exhausting.
Activity two was an evening at a local water park followed by a hotpot dinner. Only a few teachers came since this activity cost money. It was really fun, though. Oh I forgot to mention earlier that the school officials gave us this senior student that worked in the foreign affairs office to help us during our two weeks with whatever we needed. She was sweet, and her English was good. She was really innocent and hadn’t done very much in her life, so the first thing we got her to do was go down these water slides. The water park isn’t anything like you would see in the States. Even the smallest water park in the States is at least twice the size as this one, but it was still fun. There were 3 water slides, and they could only operate two at a time since there were only 2 lifeguards working at the time. There was also this wave pool, and then the craziest thing of all. At one point while we are in the wave pool these 3 girls in a sexy outfit get on the stage at the back of the wave pool and start dancing. It was one of the most random things I have ever seen, but moderately entertaining.
When the water park closed around 7, we walked around the corner to this Communist Hot Pot Restaurant. Literally, the theme and name of the restaurant was communist hot pot. It was pretty good hot pot. None of the teachers joined us for hot pot, so Susie asked what kinds of foods we might want in the hot pot. One of the biggest issues I have with hot pot is that they always put weird foods inside, like blood, stomach, neck, river eels, etc. but this hot pot wasn’t bad since we chose mostly vegetables and meat that we are more accustomed to eating (i.e. the muscle portion of the animal).
Activity three was supposed to be a mountain climbing adventure on our one day off teaching, but most of us respectfully declined since we were spending all of our lunch break and evenings lesson planning. We were hoping to spend the day off catching up and getting ahead on our lesson and lecture plans so that we didn’t have to exhaust ourselves during the week.
Activity four was a Ping-Pong competition! Woah! All of us, but Aaron, got out on the first round. Everyone that participated got a prize, though. Those that were eliminated in the first round got umbrellas, and those eliminated in the 2nd round received nice mugs, and the winner got a knife set I think. Many teachers didn’t participate because it turns out that participating cost quite a bit of an entrance fee.
The fifth activity was a BBQ. BBQs in China aren’t like barbeques in the States. In China, you go to a restaurant and the food is cooked BBQ style and brought to you. It was nice, though. We ate a really good fish dish, and many teachers came and we all ate, drank, and took many more pictures together. The best part was that one teacher brought his daughter with him and she was one of the cutest babies any of us had ever seen. She kept blowing us kisses. Then we started a game with her in which we copied whatever she was doing (if she put her hand on her head, we put our hands on our heads), anyways she found this hilarious and kept playing the game over and over. She was too cute.

The last activity was a banquet. We all went to a nice buffet restaurant and ate and drank and took more pictures. Seeing the trend? It was a nice way to say goodbye to everyone, and a nice way to wrap up our two weeks in Dazhou. It would have been even nicer if I could have managed to eat more than I did. The entire 2nd week I was sick with some weird stomach issues. Never in my life have I had as many stomach ailments as I have had in China. Oh well, it was also fun for us because Leo decided to announce to everyone that it was Tamarae’s birthday (which it was a couple of days later), and the students surprised her with a cake, party hat, and a round of Happy Birthday. It was pretty funny.

Oh and we decided to add our own little activity into the mix for our own enjoyment…a water balloon fight. We had taken a trip to Wal-Mart to buy supplies for our lectures and lessons, and what did we find? Water balloons. Of course we had to buy them. So we had the best water balloon fight ever! Well maybe not ever, but it was quite fun. During our 2nd week teaching in Dazhou there was simultaneously a kids’ soccer camp. When the kids heard the shouting and laughter they ran down from their dorms, and stared at us. They didn’t join in the water balloon frenzy, but when our water balloon supply was exhausted we involved them in a game of keep away. I don’t know that they’d played that before, but they seemed to enjoy it. Us foreigners and Susie were on one team, and all the kids were on another. Unfortunately for them, our energies were depleted a lot faster than theirs, and we returned to our rooms while they still ran around.
Summer Project ended up being an okay time. We 6 got to know each other a bit better than we did before, had a good time in a new city, got to know some really nice Chinese people, and hopefully made some sort of difference. I doubt any of us will be back to Dazhou anytime soon, but one never knows. One teacher did ask if Leo and I would give a lecture at his school. I said maybe, so we shall see if an email comes our way during the semester.

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