A tiny change before a BIG trip!

I was warned when I first signed on to this program that I would need to be flexible. The Chinese (or so my contact with CCEC informs me) are much more lax with their scheduling than we’re used to in the States, and our itineraries are constantly evolving.

It came, then, as no real surprise when my program coordinator e-mailed me last week to tell me that I would not be teaching content as I’d originally been told: instead, I would be teaching roughly the same age group in an ESL setting.  No big deal, right?

WRONG! That is, it’s not really a big deal — I am nothing if not amenable to change, and I’ve had the benefit of teaching a year of ESL in a public school here in Charlotte and then tutoring a native Spanish speaker in English for about a year and a half. But change can be scary, and when you’re already on the brink of a major trip, any little adjustment is call for some trepidation. Am I right?

My nervousness stems largely from two main concerns. Firstly, am I ready to teach a class of 20-30 native Chinese speakers with some English familiarity but limited proficiency? After all, it’s one thing to tutor one or two students, slowing down and rephrasing instructions as the need arises. It’s another entirely to stand in front of two dozen teenagers with blank faces wondering what on earth you’ve said and why you’ve thought to say it. Second, ESL is definitely outside of my comfort zone; I’ve been teaching English literature for 6 years, and with few exceptions, all of those students were fluent in English.

I will, of course, persist, and I have time left to tweak my (still-developing) lesson plans and to consult with my friends here in Charlotte who are actually licensed ESL professionals. I have every hope that my students and I will get to know each other and develop our own form of communication, even if it means I have to take lots of deep breaths, repeat constantly, and use energetic hand gestures to get my point across.

One other small thing changes as a result of this new placement: my actual location in China. Instead of starting my journey in Beijing, I will be stationed in Shijiazhuang. I’m actually quite excited about this development: the thought of staying half my time in Beijing, a major city known for overpopulation and pollution, never quite struck me as the most exciting and culturally-meaningful experience. Although Shijiazhuang is the capital and largest city of China’s Hebei province, it still seems like a favorable alternative.

I’m looking into must-see locations in the area, so if anyone has any knowledge of Hebei, send me some recommendations! In the meantime, I’m scrambling to finalize my lesson plans, get my last-minute, pre-trip shopping done, and prepare for my choir’s performances this weekend. Wish me luck!

To Hebei — and beyond!

If you had asked me three months ago whether I ever thought that I would find myself traveling to China, the answer would have been a pretty resounding “no.” It isn’t that the country doesn’t fascinate me, but my own travels have been almost completely motivated by unique opportunities: to visit friends abroad, to see a favorite show in the West End, to attend a wedding. China just didn’t seem to hold any of those opportunities for me.

A few months ago, a family friend turned me on to the work of the Chinese Culture and Education Center (CCEC). They knew I was a teacher, and they thought (rightly so) that with my interest in travel, I might be a good candidate for their summer teaching programs. I did a bit of research, and the details sounded too good to be true. I sent my application in back in March, and I heard back pretty quickly. It’s been a whirlwind since then!

Visa applied for and received. Orientation meeting attended. Travel plans made. IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING!

I leave July first and fly into Beijing. From there, I’ll be teaching in the capital for 10 days, instructing high school students in British literature. The chance to provide content knowledge to ELLs (English Language Learners) is both exciting and terrifying as I consider the language barrier and how the cultural divide will play out in the classroom, but my contact with CCEC assures me that my experience teaching Brit Lit here in the US has more than equipped me for the job and that the school in Beijing is eager to provide the summer course to their students.

After those 10 days of project-based learning, I’m off to Handan to instruct Chinese English teachers in an abbreviated course of professional development. Again, project-based learning is encouraged, the goal being to provide local teachers of English language with strategies for innovation to implement in their own classrooms in the fall.

I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m cautiously optimistic. All-in-all, a recipe for pedagogical success!


***Image above courtesy of mapsoftheworld.com