Explore
Questions/Comments?Contact Us

Final Thoughts - 再见中国

With the final week being as busy as it was I’m not surprised that I didn’t find the time to write before I left. The last several days I spent in Nanchang were full of activities, friends, laughter, and a slight pang of regret about leaving.

 

The students I taught and the friends I made are what made this experience so special and valuable. I spent the past 9 months teaching - I threw a lot of information at my students and they took it in stride. I became friends with many of them - this may sound strange, but in China it’s really not - and they had plenty to teach me as well.

 

My Chinese is mediocre at best, but I’ve been encouraged to continue learning (if only to impress my students and friends in the future). All of the hardworking and friendly people I met this year were a major inspiration for me. I would consider myself generally hardworking and friendly to begin with, but the positivity of this experience pushed me to be more than that.

 

I still don’t know what the next chapter of my life will entail, but a few things are clear...

I will keep in touch with all of these wonderful people as much as possible.

I will devote myself to studying Chinese at least to a moderate proficiency.

I will try to harness my positive traits and magnify them, while limiting any negativity.

 

And last, but certainly not least, I WILL return to China in the future!

Time to Fly

It's almost time for me to pack up and head home, so with that in mind I've reflected on my packing from the beginning of the year and I have a few recommendations for future teachers! Next week I will write my final blog post about this year in China, but for now, consider these hints, tips, and suggestions about packing.

  1. TISSUES - of course you can buy these anywhere once you arrive, but it's smart to have at least one pack in your purse or bag because you'll use them everywhere you go... restrooms, restaurants, even to wipe your sweat in the summer heat.
  2. A solid pair of walking shoes - without a car you'll be walking a lot and it can be difficult to find the right size, especially if your size lies outside the average.
  3. An umbrella, especially in Nanchang... I cannot emphasize this enough! I have bought and broken three umbrellas during my time here: bring a strong one!
  4. Clothes that you like - don’t be worried about standing out (as a foreigner in China you will stand out no matter what you do)! Multiple pairs of pants, a balance of work and leisure clothes... A multi-seasonal jacket is also highly recommended. Always a good idea when you’re traveling - it’s quite cold in the winter and quite hot in the summer. Be prepared for all kinds of weather and a range of temperatures.
  5. Smartphone. It seems like everyone these days has a smartphone, but if you don't - invest! APPs like WeChat are your connection to everything in China - messaging, paying, and several other things are done using a smartphone. It's much more convenient to have one!
  6. Headphones - first of all, they're useful for the long-as-can-be plane ride... additionally they're good for walking around campus or the city, getting work done at a cafe, etc. (I'm using mine right now.)
  7. Medications. Obviously you should bring any prescription medication with you, but even basic products like ibuprofen, allergy medicine, and cold medicine are good to have with you. Brands here are different, and if you're not familiar with them or the Chinese characters it can be frustrating to find what you need. If there's something that you prefer a particular brand for (deodorant, contact solution, etc.) bring it!
  8. Solid backpack. Definitely. Even as a teacher you will use it every day. You can not only carry your class materials more easily, but you can also use it to carry things from the grocery store, to hold your umbrella, and to more conveniently go about your daily life.
  9. Something to make you feel at home - a stuffed animal, a book, whatever you prefer! It's a big adjustment, so you might need something that reminds you of home every once in awhile.
  10. A willingness to learn and adapt. Join in cultural activities, learn about Chinese festivals, make an attempt to learn the language if you haven’t already - China has so much to offer, especially to someone completely unfamiliar with this country! I came here with very limited knowledge about what I was getting myself into, and I’m coming out the other side with so much more than I ever could have imagined!

People here are so friendly and willing to help when you need something, but it's important to meet them halfway. Pack thoughtfully and consider that a move to China is a big change (especially coming from a western country). I highly recommend this experience and implore you to pack your best attitude if you plan to teach here in the future!

 

Chinese Food

It can be very difficult to get accustomed to whole new daily cuisine, but during my time in China this difficulty has been made easier by one simple fact: the food here is delicious! I still miss some things that are rarely found here, such as a hearty steak, but I know that when I return home there are many foods that I will have to say goodbye to. So today I'd like to dedicate a post to some food photos, so that everyone else can see the delicious-ness that we experience here every day. (And FYI, it's not at all like the "American Chinese" food that we have at home... though I do like both very much!)

IMG_4529

 

 

Yummy Chinese BBQ! Recently this has made many appearances in my life because of the warm weather. We sit outside, eat some barbecue, drink some beer, and enjoy good company. There are vegetables, meats, and usually an assortment of seafoods as well... snails and crawfish are some favorites.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0360

 

 

麻辣烫 (Pronounced "malatang" and roughly translated to "hot spicy soup"...) Essentially you can choose meats, vegetables, bread, etc. and the restaurant will cook them in a hot, spicy broth for you. You can choose your level of spiciness depending on your personal tastes, hence the rough translation. If you know a little Chinese you don't have to worry about too much spice! 

 

 

 

IMG_E4098

 

These are clams cooked with Chinese style sauces and spices. We've encountered many seafoods here that are the same as those back home, but completely different in taste! The style of cooking here is quite different, and therefore it is very enjoyable to try new things. Though Nanchang is not close to the coast, it still gets quite a bit of fresh seafood from the coastal cities of the south.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4249

 

火锅 (Pronounced "huoguo" this is the name for Chinese "hot pot".) I've been told that Sichuan Province is famous for this dish, but my experiences with it in Nanchang have been quite good too. The menus can sometimes be difficult for me to read, so I like this restaurant in particular where you can choose your food from sight rather than a Chinese menu. On the right sight is a bland broth, and on the left side is a spicy broth. You can put your food in either side to cook and then enjoy!

 

 

IMG_E4203

 

 

The last thing I want to mention is Chinese tea. I am not usually a tea lover, but I have had the opportunity to try many different teas during my time here (and in Fuzhou as well) and I've really liked them! This particular tea is from a gathering of people who taste and enjoy tea weekly. Experiencing this tea along with Chinese singing, dancing, and entertainment was an experience I will not soon forget!

 

 

 

There are many other delicious foods that I could talk about, and I wish I could share them all with you the way that my students share them with me, but instead I recommend taking off to China to experience these exquisite tastes yourself. My students and I all agree that translating the names of foods can be the most difficult because they don't always translate quite right. You may need a translator to accompany you on a food journey through China, but it's certainly worth it! Yum, yum, yum!

Talents

Here at NCU we have some very talented foreign language majors - and I’m not just talking about the work they do in my classes. Not only can my lovely freshmen students have a clear and intelligent conversation with you, but many of them can also serenade you in English! There are a few talented singers in my classes who shocked me when I attended a singing competition this past Sunday night. The competition included performances from other language majors as well, so I spent the evening listening to songs in English, Chinese, and French! 

It was delightful! 好听!Très bien!

Additionally, during my time here at NCU, I have seen students participate in dance performances and speech competitions successfully, so they have continuously blown me away with their talents throughout the year! Many students are members of the Student Union on campus, which helps organize events such as this recent singing competition, and many others probably have hidden talents that I have yet to discover! (Such as their skills in online gaming, an area in which I have very little competence.)

IMG_4040

Nanchang University (南昌大学)

A Family Visit

Sometimes I forget that I haven’t lived in China my whole life. I know this sounds silly because, of course, I’ve only been in China since October, but having my grandparents and their two friends in Nanchang for a few days threw into sharp relief just how much I have assimilated to life here in that short time.

IMG_3053

For instance, I did not even consider that my visitors would be unable to use chopsticks effectively. Nor did I realize that I had become accustomed to the stark language barrier. People in China don’t speak English. They speak Chinese – they all learn Mandarin, but usually they speak the dialect of their own province or city. My students speak English because they are English and translation majors currently attending college. Occasionally there is a hotel manager with English skills, or a cashier at a Western brand store that can use a little English to help you, but mostly people speak Chinese and you have to do your best to communicate when you want or need something. For me, that means learning key words and phrases during my time here, but for my grandparents it meant using body language and hoping for the best (and then relying on me and my poor Chinese skills to translate… yeah, good luck with that).

Considering the rainy weather, the language barrier, and the sudden realization that I would be subjected to a multitude of questions that I didn’t have the answer to, we had quite a good time! We visited Tengwang Pavilion across the river, which I had not previously been to. It is one of the famous sites of Nanchang, and it’s large and beautiful! The only fun fact I knew before visiting is that the structure has been rebuilt several times, so I was able to learn a lot more that day. The site of Tengwang Pavilion includes the pavilion itself filled with artifacts and information, the gardens surrounding the many structures, and a superb view of the river (on a sunnier day). We also visited the Bayi Memorial museum during the weekend, which memorializes the Nanchang Uprising led by the Chinese Communist Party on August 1, 1927. I have now been there three times, but this time I had my trusty colleague present to provide additional information, and four extra Americans to offer their comments. I learn something new every time I go, so I expect to visit at least once more before I leave this city!

IMG_3082

In addition to learning a bit of Chinese history during our adventures, my grandparents learned more about Chinese people, especially those who live in a smaller (hah!) city like this one and who rarely see foreigners… they want lots of pictures! For the most part I’ve gotten used to strangers approaching me on the street asking for a selfie, but it was a new experience for my four companions. It was kind of nice to deflect the attention to other people for once. When they visited my classrooms the students attempted to be a bit more discreet, but there were still a handful that approached for photos at the end of class.

It was a great opportunity for my students and my four American companions to be able to meet each other. The students listened to four voices that differ from my own, and benefitted from it in many ways. Not only did they listen to these voices, but they asked questions about daily life in America and my grandparents’ hobbies. In return, my grandparents asked a few questions of their own about the students’ daily lives and activities here in China. We were able to generate some good discussions, and I was very proud of my students who spoke confidently and clearly in a new situation. We’re all hoping that my grandparents and their friends are enjoying the rest of their travels through China. Meanwhile, the students are improving daily!

PBTJE7866

Semester 二 (2)

The Spring Festival vacation was long, long, long, but here we are at the start of a new semester at last! So I think it’s just the right time to discuss the beginning of the two semesters comparatively.

First semester was a whirlwind. That’s the only way to describe it. It took a whole lot of extra time to get my visa and work permit, so my arrival at Nanchang University was quite delayed (about 3-4 weeks into the semester). We showed up here on a Saturday and began teaching two days later with very little information and not nearly enough preparation. I had some general lesson plans drafted up ahead of time, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect from my students nor did I know what courses I would be teaching until that first day in Nanchang. The first week of classes was crucial, not only for getting to know my students and my way around campus, but also for assessing the level of oral English that I needed to gauge my lessons toward for the year. 

The truth is, the students in my classes have a range of oral English levels, which means that sometimes my classes are too challenging for some, while other times my classes are too easy for others. It’s been a real challenge for me to find and establish that middle ground - I’m still not entirely convinced that I have found it. On the plus side, this semester I know my students. I know their different personalities, and those more likely to speak up in class. I know that they like competitive activities, and I know that humor at my own expense is always appreciated. (I’m very willing to embarrass myself for the greater good!) Having that information in advance makes a huge difference between this semester and last.

In truth I was quite nervous to walk into my first day of classes today, mostly because I worried that I would forget my students names after working so hard to memorise all of them last semester. But I got in there and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I saw all these wonderful, familiar faces filled with an eagerness to learn. It was an exciting day for everyone, in my opinion, because the classroom was full of chatter and movement and learning!

My advice to future teachers in China: Plan for anything. Plan for everything. Just think of your best ideas for activities, lessons, lectures, discussions, and all that jazz - and write them all down! That way once you assess your students you will be able to take those ideas and adjust them to the level(s) of your students without feeling like you are in complete disarray. And if you don’t know the specific courses you’ll be teaching ahead of time (like me!) prepare for it all! Reading, writing, oral english, public speaking, cultures of English speaking countries, debate, etc. You won’t always get information far in advance, so it’s important to be willing and able to adapt!

IMG_E1506

(Busy in the city... 南昌 ... Nanchang ...)

IMG_1353

(Yummy dinner in Nanchang 南昌!)

IMG_1480

(The lake on campus - 没有人 ... no one ... )

 

春节 (Spring Festival)

The more I learn about Chinese New Year, the more interesting it becomes. First of all, only people who are not Chinese call it the Chinese New Year... here it’s called Spring Festival or 春节. It’s celebrated based on the lunar calendar, so this year Spring Festival will take place on February 16th. The upcoming year is The Year of the Dog, so this is my year! Any of you born between February 10, 1994 and January 30 1995: This is your year too! Additionally most people born in 2006, 1982, 1970, 1958, 1946…….. this is your year too! (The lunar New Year typically falls somewhere between January and February, so if you have a birthday in one of these two months, you should check other sources to accurately know what your zodiac sign is.

Back to those of us celebrating “our year”: don’t get too excited yet! When I first found out that I would be here in China as the lunar calendar unfolded into another Year of the Dog my reaction was: YIPPEE! I was so excited to be in China during MY year… I thought it was such good fortune that the two things would coincide! But alas, my knowledge of Chinese traditions was limited. Little did I know that your zodiac year is your year of bad luck! When I found this out I was immediately resistant. But then I thought back to 12 years ago (the last time my zodiac year came around) and realized it actually wasn’t a very good year! (It was 7th grade… we all know 7th grade is no fun!) So I was really sad… I don’t want bad luck while I’m in China! Nor do I want bad luck for the duration of the lunar year!

But, oh! My students and friends came to my rescue and told me a wonderfully helpful tradition! To ward off bad luck, you must simply wear something red all year until the next Spring Festival takes place. I thought, yeah, I can do that! I just need to buy lots of red clothes and make sure I wear them. I already have a red scarf anyway! Then, I got the best piece of advice I’ve received thus far. One of my friends said: just buy lots of red underwear, then you can always have something red on and not have to worry about it!

There is so much more to say about Spring Festival… traditional foods, activities, customs. But the truth is… every province in China is different, and every family celebrates a little differently too. So my goal is to collect as much information as I can from my students after they go home for the winter holiday and celebrate. Then I will be able to share more diverse information, rather than the tidbits that I know right now. One thing I will share is that a big tradition surrounding this festival is for older relatives to give their younger relatives 压岁钱 (red pocket money). This is a red envelope full of money to symbolize good luck and to ward off evil spirits. The specific traditions regarding red pocket money vary from province to province and between the north and the south of China (similar to how regional differences exist within the United States). However, the general idea remains the same.

Bearing all this in mind, the winter holiday is almost upon us. The students will go home soon, and the festivities will begin. So…. if you’re wondering what my plans are leading up to Spring Festival: Buy red underwear is the first thing on my list!

IMG_1422

*Edited and fact checked by Bella

First Semester Wrap-Up

In the interest of giving a lot of information in a short amount of time I want to share a few moments from my first semester in the style of superlatives. So without further ado…

Best Lesson: My best lesson this semester was the one I previously wrote about on this blog. My classes watched a scene from Harry Potter in silence and created their own ideas about what was happening with the characters. It went well in every single class and I believe the students genuinely enjoyed being creative with each other.

Worst Lesson: My worst lesson was during our formal and informal speech unit. I created a few different lessons to help differentiate between formal and informal vocabulary and expressions. There were some very successful lessons with mock job interviews and a game using “slang” words, but one lesson fell flat. We discussed how diary style writing influences informal speech, and how casual videos can show informal relationships. However, the lesson did not have enough substance, so I’ve put it on the blacklist for the future.

Funniest Moment: I can’t pull out one specific funny moment from my memory because the students all say humorous things quite often in my class. One of the most fun weeks though was when the students were learning raps for their pronunciation and intonation class and they came into my classroom mumbling the lyrics to “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas under their breath. I forced them all to tell me which raps they were learning and many were throwbacks to my middle school days, so we listened on QQmusic and I rapped right along with them.

Scariest Moment: The scariest moment is a toss-up between two memorable incidents. One: during our Harry Potter acting class two of the boys were such good actors that I was convinced they were actually going to fist fight each other. Fortunately, they played nicely. Two: in two of our classes a computer began smoking in the middle of class and scared the students half to death. We have since marked that computer as the computer of death and NO ONE is allowed to touch it EVER again! ~Fun times!

Most Memorable Class: Again, difficult to choose, but we have now acted for two class lessons and I think those are the most fun. We did our Harry Potter scene lesson, and we also did a class that focused on improvisation. Improvising in a second language is so difficult because it strains your mental capacity to remember vocabulary and sentence construction. Buuuuut… this is how spoken English is used – we don’t plan out everything we say on paper before we say it. So we did a class-wide improv game and the students were once again creative and successful!

Most Difficult Parts of Learning English: Everything. Just kidding – the students are actually quite good at memorizing vocabulary and using it in their writing. They also know a lot more English grammar than I do, which stinks because native English speakers tend not to use grammar appropriately when they speak. The pronunciation is also difficult because it’s so different from the pronunciation of Chinese. There are many sounds that exist in one language, but not the other and vice versa.

Most Interesting Discussion: We spent time one class discussing winters in our hometowns. This was just after a big storm in New Hampshire, so I decided to share my typical winter experience with my classes (Nanchang does not get any snow). It became interesting when I opened up the floor to all the students and had them share with each other about their own hometowns in winter. Many are from this province (Jiangxi) but there are also many from more northern or southern provinces that had cool things to share with their classmates.

Things I Learned: My biggest learning moment (in class) this semester was about the education system in China. We discussed high school, applying for college, and admittance. In China the Gaokao is the college entrance exam (similar to the SAT… except not… the Gaokao score can decide a student’s future entirely). Everyone takes the Gaokao and sends their scores to the universities of their choice, along with their requests for a major. You get 6 choices. Then, a while later you receive information telling you which school you will attend and which major you will be, almost solely based on your Gaokao score. This is very different from receiving several (hopefully) acceptance letters from colleges in the U.S. and choosing one along with your major. It was a big learning moment for me, and it helped me to understand my students even more.

Well, classes are over. Exams take place during the next two weeks. And then it’s time for the students to go home and relax and celebrate Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year) with their families. More on that later!

 

My Taobao Review

Taobao is the Amazon of China, except in the words of Kanye West: it’s better, faster, and stronger. Now, personally, I had a unique experience because I ordered a pair of sweatpants from Taobao that took several days to arrive. BUT typically packages are received in about 2 days. Ultra-fast! In my opinion, my problem occurred because I made a minor mistake... I placed my order the day after 12/12 or “Double 12” which is another major day for online discounts in China similar to “Double 11” back in November. I’ve been told, “Save everything you want into your shopping cart and then buy it all on one of those days so that you get the sale prices!” Unfortunately, I missed both my chances.

 

But Taobao is great! It only has one minor fallback for an English speaking American with little to no knowledge of the Chinese language: the APP is almost entirely in Chinese. Certainly I can search for items in English, but as I add them to my cart, purchase them, and track them during shipping I have to rely on my students and friends to guide me. (I got a message yesterday and I thought it said my package got to campus so I jumped up and basically ran to the pick-up station, but alas I was wrong. It still had a little ways to go to get sorted and delivered, but then it arrived late last night!)

 

 

My sweatpants are comfy, my legs are warm, and Taobao has my approval. (I’m trying to learn more Chinese too, so that maybe next time I won’t prematurely run for my package!)

 

 

My Student-Actors

Today one of my lessons went even better than I could have imagined! I was very hesitant at first because from my (minimal) experience here the students have a lot of difficulty being creative and imaginative. Many students prefer to ask a question, get the answer, and then memorize the answer. There is right and wrong without much opportunity for individual thought within the classroom. BUT TODAY we did an activity that involved watching a silent scene from a movie and then creating a dialogue to match the scene.

Last class we discussed body language, facial expressions, and how to use your voice to carry your meaning (all things that support the actual language of conversation - whether it is in English OR Chinese). For our purposes, of course, we were discussing the value of these tools in English. The scene we watched today was from Harry Potter (duh, I love Harry Potter) and it was rather emotional. Two characters are talking, then a third one joins them, and an argument ensues! It’s very clear that they are having an argument due to their body language and facial expressions (aka good acting). So the students grouped up, we watched the scene, and then I allowed them free reign to create a dialogue - or at least to create an idea of what was happening in the scene. It didn’t have to be TRUE as long as it realistically MATCHED the emotions, actions, etc.

We took some time. We discussed a few words along with their meanings and pronunciations as a class. I roamed the room listening to their ideas and guiding them toward speaking in English rather than the Chinese that they are so used to. AND THEN a few groups were chosen to share with the class. And boy, oh boy, was it AWESOME! They had us all laughing, and smiling, and one group even had a few of us feeling afraid - it seemed like the two boys in the group were actually going to start fighting. The first group decided the argument was about money - the third character in the scene was the next-door neighbor and he came over to ask for some money. The second group pretended that two of the characters were practicing their lines for a play and the third one didn’t believe them because it was so late at night! The third group decided that the two first characters were studying together and the character that entered the scene was a jealous boyfriend that didn’t believe they were “just studying”. DID I MENTION THAT THESE STUDENTS ACTED OUT THESE SCENES?

It was wonderful to watch and listen to. All of the groups seemed to enjoy hearing from one another because they all had different ideas about the scene. Most importantly, as the teacher, all of their ideas matched up with the body language that we saw. It was a great way to watch the students apply their knowledge rather than regurgitate what they learned last class onto a piece of paper in the form of a test or quiz. All in all, a great lesson and highly recommended to future TEFL teachers! (I actually got this idea from another TEFL teacher who had to DO this during her own high school French class.)

Written on November 29, 2017

Published later to see how this lesson fared in the other 3 classes - same results! Excellent lesson. Highly recommended!

IMG_0425

(This photo was taken by a student during our Thanksgiving lesson the previous week. #InTheClassroom)

 

Keep Me Updated