Home again, home again

I’ve been back in the States for approximately 40 hours, and boy, is it good to be home! I’m going to miss my new Chinese friends and the other American teachers, but I think that this experience has definitely taught me that one month is my travel max. There’s something immensely satisfying about sleeping in your own bed, and I’ve missed my family and friends.

The nine days we spent teaching in Handan were pretty wonderful. I find I really enjoy teaching teachers, as strange as that sounds, especially when they’re actually eager to learn and ready to engage. I still can’t get over the fact that Chinese English teachers don’t have to be fluent (or even conversational) in English in order to teach, but it’s true: many of the teachers in my class of 32 had lower proficiency than my high school students back in Shijiazhuang! Communication was definitely an issue, but I’m pretty good at modulating my speech so I’m slower and clearer, and if they seemed to be having problems understanding, paraphrasing and charades were my friend.

The Chinese teachers were very interested in learning about classroom management and improving student engagement. Behavior isn’t an issue in their classes so much as student apathy, and they’re anxious to find ways to get their students excited about learning English. For high school English teachers, this is a particular problem, as teaching in secondary school there is geared 100% towards preparing them for their college entrance exam, so things like conversational English take a backseat to grammar and writing since the goal is to make sure that they score high. We spent a lot of time in our professional development classes sharing and playing games and activities that the teachers could take back to their schools to help change that: games like “Hello, Neighbor” and classmate BINGO.

On Friday, our last official day, all of the teachers presented what they learned at a grand, final performance in front of coworkers, family, friends, and local government officials. My group performed Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” demonstrated one of our listening skill games, and sang “Auld Lang Syne.” I think they did beautifully, but I’m biased. Still, we were definitely one of the best groups, and I don’t think it’s bragging to say so.

Our final night in Beijing was… interesting? Odd? Nightmarish? We arrived by high-speed train around 7 o’clock, and by the time we got to our hotel, we were all quite ready to eat dinner and make an early night of it. However, that proved problematic when we retired to our rooms to find mold on the walls, water damage on the ceilings, dirty bed sheets, and stained towels. What the what?? Turns out, our original hotel booted us because it decided that some of its Chinese guests were more important and needed our rooms, and this hotel was our last-minute replacement. Luckily, we were able to relocate, but we didn’t get to bed until well after midnight. But hey, sleep is for the weak, right?

Flying home the next day was grueling, but ultimately uneventful. The flight from Beijing to Newark is 10 and a half hours and then it’s another 2 to get in to Charlotte. By the time my mom picked me up (around 12:30 in the morning) I was dead on my feet and quite ready to sleep for days.

This past month has definitely been an incredible experience, one I won’t forget in a hurry. I feel that I’ve grown as a traveler and a teacher, and I’m looking forward to seeing how what I learned in China will benefit me when I return to the classroom at the end of the August.

I’ll continue to post pictures and I’m sure I’ll have a few more posts to make about the trip as a whole. In the meantime, I’m so glad I kept this blog, and I hope that my readers have enjoyed following my adventures!

For anyone interested, my friend Mary Beth wrote an article about my (then-upcoming) trip for the Mint Hill Times.

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