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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!

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

 

Midterms are coming! Midterms are coming!

It’s midterm season here at Nanchang University. To those of you at home that statement probably seems like a quick jump from “new professor” to MIDTERMS! It is. My fellow Americans and I arrived during the fourth week of the semester, and therefore midterms have arrived very quickly. However, we can’t wait any longer or else we’ll be giving midterm exams back-to-back with finals and that’s just not fair to the students. So here we are.

 

At my university in America midterms meant, “Okay people, here come a few tests to take and papers to write. Make sure you study and write in advance because these are not things that you can cram for the night before!” (I assure you, they are things that you can cram for the night before.) In China midterms mean, “Keep studying! Don’t stop! Here comes an exam that is worth 30% of your grade, so memorize all of the information and spit it all back to me next Monday!” Now, in an English speaking class in China taught by a foreign teacher (me) midterms are somewhere in between my two examples.

 

My wonderful freshmen have been creating dialogues with a partner for the past week and will be presenting them to their classmates on Monday and Tuesday of this coming week. So they are still doing some memorizing, but they also have a chance to be creative in the process. We have been talking about the past and future tenses, pronunciation, and confidence so that is how they will be graded. GASP! “You mean, you aren’t grading the specifics of their grammar?” you ask, horrified at my less-than-expert teaching abilities! But let me ask you this: how often do you use proper grammar in every aspect of your conversations? Grammar is very important, but the students here have spent enough time memorizing grammar and vocabulary! My job is to help them produce their language on the spot. And on the spot? We all make mistakes.

 

It will certainly be an interesting week (I think some of my students secretly hate me) but I’m excited to see what they share! I’ve had a few previews in class and I am impressed with how hard the students are working to perfect their conversations. I am a bit less impressed when they use their phone dictionaries to search for complicated vocabulary that even I don’t know how to use, but all in all I have high expectations of success! That is, until it comes time to do all of the grading… and inputting the grades into the complex spread sheets on my computer… and planning for the second half of the semester…

 

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Though I’ve told you what midterms meant to me in America, and what midterms mean to students here in China, I have yet to tell you what midterms mean for a professor with 5 English conversation classes, one of which has 81 students in attendance. To me, midterms mean: stay up all night grading and don’t stop until you’re done!

 

With all that bearing down on me, I did what any sane person would do: I bought a bottle of wine to sip my way through all of the grading! Happy Midterms, everyone!

 

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11/11

Double 11 is this Saturday and it’s a big day according to my students. It’s the day to celebrate single people (I just heard the echoes of many laughs from my friends and family as they read this)! Due to November 11th being written as 11/11, people here in China think of those individual 1’s as single people. On this day the goal is to bring single people together to not feel so lonely. There are events happening all over the place on Saturday, and most importantly there are huge discounts for online shopping. APPs like “Tabao” (very popular here - similar to Amazon in the United States) are having major sales. That way if you’re single and feeling lonely, at least you can do some cheap online shopping! It’s comparable to what’s become known as “Cyber Monday” in America, but it’s done for a totally different reason. So if you’re single and lonely, come to China this weekend!

 

For me, this Saturday marks other significant things. First of all, it’s Veteran’s Day in the U.S. (A quick thank you to all the veterans back home!) Secondly, it marks one month of being in China! My way to celebrate: pizza! It’s become a living abroad tradition for me (this is only my second time living abroad, but back in London on the 1-month-aversary of being there I ate an American meal as well: Chipotle) so now it’s time for Pizza Hut! Don’t be mistaken: the food here is great! But having a small taste of home is relaxing and it’s a fun way to celebrate being away from that home. So of course, I will drag some American friends along with me to eat that cheesy goodness.

 

During this first month we have learned our own ways of living and teaching successfully here at Nanchang University. One piece of advice I will give future Teach in China participants is this: The difference between your first day in China and your first month in China is that after a month those difficult moments from the beginning seem very small and far away. The adjustment was hectic and frustrating and I swore in those first days that I would maybe never feel comfortable here, but then I pushed on and made friends and planned lessons and started remembering NOT to rinse my toothbrush with the sink water. I started to figure out how to get places on campus and cross the street without getting hit by a bus. I finally took a hot shower after about a week of cold, military style showers. (My colleagues all had hot water from the start, so don’t worry future teachers! This was just my bad luck.) I learned some Chinese words and I’ve even used them out in the real world (barely, but still). And this is only me! My colleagues have made great progress as well. So yes, we had a tough time jumping into everything at the beginning (it’s a lot!!), but here we are a month later feeling (mostly) confident about teaching, eating, and living in China! So Pizza Hut, here we come!

 

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(Lulu or 龚露, Collins from Texas, Nate from Maine, ME, and Nick from North Carolina after a great dinner out in the city and before watching the Nanchang light/fountain show!)

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(Photo of said fountain show...)

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(Hot Pot! Very delicious, but I still miss pizza.)

Holidays Abroad

We have had a busy two weeks in Nanchang. We taught many classes, we attended the opening ceremonies for the sports meetings that took place on Thursday and Friday (and therefore we had no classes), and we celebrated our first major American holiday from the other side of the world!

I have celebrated Halloween in 4 different countries, but I have to say this one was the most unique! As foreign teachers we were invited to two different Halloween parties on campus: the undergraduate party and the graduate school party (both hosted by their respective Oral English Associations). These parties consisted of costumed guests (we went forth with the motto “fake it ’til you make it” in our heads, so I decided that my Taylor Swift t-shirt counted as a costume), party games, candy, dance performances, singing performances, and a lot of new friends!

The three of us *new* foreign teachers all teach undergraduate students, so we knew a lot of people at that party. One of my students showed me a game where we competed to see if we could get a Pringle from our foreheads to our mouths without touching it with our hands or letting it fall to the ground. There was a balloon popping game as well (stomp on the balloons tied to someone else’s feet before they stomp on yours). The music was mostly English songs with a few Chinese songs mixed in. We also got to hear a performance of “Red” by Taylor Swift from one of the students who played guitar and sang beautifully. 

At the graduate school party we knew almost no one - until about 20 minutes into it… then we had so many new friends that it was difficult to keep track of them all! We heard a performance of “Lose Yourself” by Eminem (the student that did this rapped impressively!) We also saw a pumpkin carving competition and Nate participated in a dance game. It was all fantastic!

At one point, another foreign teacher not from the United States approached me to ask, “Is this what prom is like?” No… it wasn’t quite like prom. But it was absolutely as fun!

We left with ~20 new contacts each on QQ (one of the popular messaging/social media APPs here) and pockets full of little candies that we have yet to try. Of course, Halloween is almost over from where I am sitting, but for those in the United States it hasn’t even begun yet! So, without further ado, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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What do you mean "professor"?

It is very strange to be a college professor when less than two years ago I was a college student. I am now the expert on the subject of oral English (even though I say things like gonna, wanna, and occasionally: y'all). 

 

The students are very kind and eager to learn and it makes adjusting to this new place a whole lot easier. They have given me a lot of positive energy to work with, and they complete the tasks I give them without argument. They seem genuinely curious about America and how to speak the English language as an American would (so yes, sometimes I do say "gonna" in class). On the other hand, they are willing to help me as I cautiously approach the Chinese language. It is definitely a need-to-know item while in China, so they've helped me to pronounce a few words to get started. They laugh kindly when I butcher the pronunciation of Nanchang University. And they also give me great recommendations, such as the Milk Tea that I am currently trying (it's delicious by the way!)

IMG_4524It was not all butterflies and roses as I, along with my fellow co-workers, plowed through this first week of classes. We had difficulties when it came to getting classroom doors unlocked, using the technology (or lack thereof in some cases), and charging ahead without a curriculum by which to plan our lessons. Overall, I think we did very well, and I hope that our students feel that way too! Living on the other side of the world does not come without its challenges, but the experience itself may be enough to completely eclipse those small details. We have 9 months to find out!

Step One: Learning

The focus of the last few days was on learning before we go off to do some teaching. Walking through the city of Shanghai I tried to take in as much as possible.

 

The language was the first thing to hit me. I am now cursing the people that told me I didn't need to learn the language ahead of time, but I am also very thankful to my colleagues who have already started me down the path of learning Chinese.

 

The food ranges from things I love to things that I may not try a second time. At the top of the list of delicious tastes are: dumplings (of a variety of flavors/fillings), the fish we tried today (pictured below), some yummy dessert puffs that I can only describe that way since I do not yet know the Chinese name for them, and fried noodles at breakfast time! We've also enjoyed two tea houses and plan to find our favorite one in Nanchang once we get there.

 

On that note, time for bed! We have an early flight in the morning.

 

IMG_4327A hidden tea house - delicious tea!

IMG_4341Number one rule: don't knock it 'till you try it! Yummy!

One week until Take Off

My passport is ready and so am I! One week from today I will be on my way to the other side of the world. I can’t wait to share my experiences with all of you, as well as my colleagues’ experiences. I have been dragged across the United States by my parents, I have traversed through Europe many times, and now it is time for a whole new adventure. Stay tuned for photos, stories, and hopefully a whole lot of fun as we take on the task of Teaching English in China!

~Kimberly

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Teacher Spotlight: Caitlin Van Voorst

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Meet Caitlin from Teach Abroad China 2016-2017! She’s super excited to share her experience with teachers past, present and future. Check out what she has to say:

Where are you from?

I’m from San Diego California!

What was it like to work at your school?

I taught at a bilingual boarding school in the Northeast of China. I taught 28 classes a week of Kindergartners through fourth grade. The students were fun loving and diligent, and loved to play hangman! My favorite thing about my school was the atmosphere. Since it was a boarding school we all lived on campus, so it was fun to see my students outside of class.

Grade 2 Class 3

Why did you decide to teach abroad?

Like a lot of people, I decided to teach abroad for the adventure of it. I thought it would be a good way to travel and learn about another culture. What I didn't realize was the insight I would gain into the working world. Coming from college jobs, it was so great to feel valued in a job where you are making a difference in the kids' lives.

What was your favorite place in China?

One of my favorite places I visited during my year in China were the terracotta warriors in Xi'an. They were commissioned by the first emperor of China, and buried with him in 210 BCE. It was an amazing piece of history to see.

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What is the funniest thing a student said while you were teaching?

One time I had an older student ask why American women never wore underwear! She meant to ask why it isn't common for Americans to wear tights under their shorts and dresses.

What was the biggest challenge of teaching and living abroad?

For me, the hardest part was the language barrier. Although most days I was able to see the challenge in it, there were moments when it was very difficult.

What will you miss the most about teaching abroad?

The challenge of it! I loved lesson planning and thinking of the most interesting way to teach my lessons.

How did teaching abroad influence your career and life path?

It taught me the value in good, creative education. It also gave me valuable work experience that I could bring back to my next job.

Caitlin pic stitch

Tips For Teaching

We are in our 7th week now teaching. I am still learning so much every single day. Previously coming to China, I taught some music lessons here and there. This is was I am familiar with. I am a musician. I can say it is much easier teaching one on one to a student about how to play the guitar than teaching 30 kids English. With that being said, teaching English is so much fun. Again, I am still learning every day about new ways to approach the classroom. I want to share some of these discoveries with you!

First, you cannot always expect your teaching plan to work perfectly. You have to make yourself flexible.. Sometimes your plan can go completely opposite of the way you imagined it. You have to just go with the flow and adapt to your students. How are they feeling? Are they responding to your lesson? If not, try changing your teaching method. Some classes are different. Every student does not learn the same, so I recommend you study your student's behavior. Second, improvisation might knock at your door sometimes. Your class may end a little early and you don't know what to do. Think about your lesson and try to tie a filler exercise to practice. I have had to improvise a good bit this semester. I learned very quickly to think on my feet. Lastly, I want to stress to always have fun and smile. Your students will always feed off your energy. This will keep your classroom happy and comfortable for your students. I think it is very important because remember that you are here for them.. You are here to give them an opportunity to open more doors in their lives.

I have learned a lot teaching in China, and I hope these tips can help you when you start your careers abroad.

 

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Starting Something New

A message to everyone thinking on teaching abroad in China!

The first initial thought when I left for China was I have to start over.  I knew I would go into this without knowing anyone and living in a new country/city I don't know anything about.  This was one of the best and worst feelings.  I was nervous, scared, and excited all at the same time.  I can say the excitement over powered the nerves and fright.  CIEE really supported me through this process too.  You may have some thoughts about moving and trying something new.. I am here to tell you that teaching abroad has been so rewarding since I got here.  I have learned a lot about myself and a complete new way of life.  Everyone has been incredibly helpful and gracious.  They are always willing to help.  When I say they, I mean the staff and students especially.  I honestly can say I have no regrets since I have been here.  Teaching abroad in China was the smartest decision I have made in my life.  Now it is your turn to start something new! 

 

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