Naturally, I am eager to report on my May 1st adventures with Jason Ji and his family but such stories have been put on hold due to our scholarship venture.
This is quite an unusual case of scholarship creation here at our college by an Amity teacher, which would be me. It’s a one-time venture and has to do with my position as a United Methodist GBGM employee.
How Amity Teachers Are Paid
Amity teachers are rarely full-time employees of a church agency. They are considered as volunteers who give their time for 2 years (or longer) working as English language teachers in China through sponsorship of the Amity Foundation.
Sending agencies (that is, the teacher’s overseas denomination) put in about $6,000 per year for each teacher they send. This $6,000 covers Amity conference and office costs for the teacher and also a supplementary salary of $3,000 per year ($300 per month) for every teacher. This money is in US dollars and is placed into the teacher’s US dollar banking account here in China for personal use.
In addition to the US dollars, an Amity teacher also receives a salary from the school. Because Amity is a partnership organization, the school is required to partner in the payment of their teachers by giving a foreign teachers’ basic salary amount as suggested by the Chinese government. This amount is 3,000 yuan ($447) per month.
So all together, an Amity teacher receives $300 US per month plus 3,000 yuan ($447) per month to cover all their personal costs.
Non-teaching months pay no salary.
How Connie Is Paid
In my case, however, as a full-time employee of the United Methodist GBGM, my entire salary comes from the Methodists. I should not receive any supplementary salary of any kind from another sourc, including Amity and my college.
But under Amity contract, a college must pay for their Amity teacher. If one school doesn’t pay for a teacher, the other schools will then start to question this matter and not understand the complexities of the situation: “What do you mean that teacher is different? How can that be? Why do we have to pay our teacher but the other school doesn’t? That’s not fair!”
Obviously, hard feelings and misunderstandings will result.
So after a lot of discussion from both myself, Amity and the United Methodist office, we decided that this last year, the salary the school pays me will be sent directly to Amity. Amity will hold onto the money and we will decide what to do with it to best benefit everyone at the end of the year.
The Amity and United Methodist GBGM Scholarship Is Created
This is where the Amity Foundation and United Methodist GBGM Scholarship came into being.
On my suggestion, we would create a number of scholarships to be given to the poorest students in the English Language Department who were majoring in English Education.
During the past 3 months, the school’s English language office heads, Amity Foundation Educational Director Liu Ruhong, those in the Methodist Board office and I have been working on the scholarship proposal plan and application form.
It was decided, using my school 2008-2009 salary (38,000 yuan, or $5,670), we would offer 20 scholarships at 1,900 yuan each ($283), only open to this year’s 1st and 2nd year students in the English language department.
The cost per year for our college itself is: 4,000 yuan ($597) tuition, 800 – 1,200 ($120 – $179) housing, 800 – 1,000 ($120 – $150) food, 600 ($90) books for a total of $927 on the low end.
The scramble to pay this amount is a great burden on those from the countryside whose farming income rarely goes beyond 400 yuan ($59) a month, if even that. Although $283 for a scholarship doesn’t sound like much to Americans, it could make the difference between someone staying in school here and having to drop out.
The most needy students were our target winners and those are the ones we’ll be selecting from.
The Scholarship Itself: What It Entails
These scholarships were not at all easy to complete. The 10-page form which we created included: documented proof of financial difficulty, summary of family situation, 1 Chinese essay about need and desire to be a teacher, 1 English essay on a proud moment, a lesson learned or a conquered difficulty, and last of all was an English language service project plan write-up (in English and Chinese) which would be carried out by the student if he/she won.
We added the service project because Amity felt students should earn the scholarship money, not just be handed the money and do nothing in return for the school or community.
To focus and organize the service more, the scholarship offered 5 project plans for the students to choose from: 1) teach 3 English classes at our nearby migrant school 2) create 2 issues of an English language campus newspaper 3) create 6 English language announcement boards on campus 4) devise and carry out a research survey and write-up about language study for non-English majors 5) lead 5 one-on-one tutoring sessions for non-English majors on our campus.
Each project required the student to lead a team of 5 other classmates to complete the service during the year.
And each project required a full write-up and plan how it would be implemented. This was a major part of the scholarship application and was one which would eventually decide our winners from among the financial poorest selected.
The Process of Selection: Long and Arduous
Out of 370 English major students, we had 104 scholarship applications turned in on Friday, May 15.
Two days later on Sunday afternoon, the head teachers for all 8 first and second year classes and I sat down to select the top 30 for our interviews.
Why the head teachers and not the dean or other administrative staff?
The 4 head teachers are in charge of students’ needs and are somewhat like dorm mothers as well as advisors. They hold weekly meetings to talk about new study requirements. They help with study or emotional problems students might have. They approve leaves for sickness, illnesses or deaths in the family or other personal matters. They write letters of recommendation if needed.
The head teachers know the true financial situation of students and can see through those who either make up stories about how poor they are or make their family finances seem more dire than they are.
From the 104, we had 4 piles: not that poor, poor, poorer and poorest.
We started with the poorest (36), read over their materials to determine if they had completed their forms well or not, then planned to select 30 for the interview stage.
But in the final minutes of our completed work, we all had a change of heart. We decided even if their applications weren’t that great, we should give all the poorest a chance to have the interview.
So instead of the 30 we had originally agreed upon, we went ahead and added the 6 whose applications were just so-so as we felt that was fair.
Thus we had a total of 36 to interview, which was the next stage of our selection process.
The Interviews: How Conducted
All week, four of us have been conducting 15 minute interviews with the selected 36.
Dean Hou (Horace), Vice Dean Li (Marty), English office party secretary Mr. Hu and I settled ourselves in the English office and began talking to students one by one as they came for their appointed times.
The Chinese men did the Chinese part of the interview and I did the English.
Mr. Hu always began by asking them to talk more about their family situation and questioning their income plus spending habits at school.
Dean Horace was next with usually a few questions about difficulties they had in their studies or about their current classwork.
Marty followed by analyzing their service project plans and asking them to explain more about how they expected to carry these out.
My part of the interview was to have them re-tell parts of their English essay and explain more about it, and then to just ask a few questions about their service plan.
The purpose of the English part of the interview was just to make sure they could communicate well enough to be a teacher in the classroom. I know that sounds silly, as one would think as English majors they should be able to answer simple questions and express some thoughts in the language, but that’s not always the case.
We have quite a few students who can’t speak a stitch of English nor understand it, even though this is their major. Their test grades are so low that one does wonder if they can even pass examination, not just our college tests but the national tests that are required for them to be English teachers. I know of many who take these national exams several times yet still can’t get the average score needed to qualify them in English as teachers.
In our 36, I’m happy to say 33 could communicate somewhat in the language but we did have 3 who couldn’t. One was completely hopeless, which was sad as her family was extremely poor.
When it comes down to choosing the top 20 on Monday, we’ve decided to go with the poorest whom we know will succeed in becoming English teachers in the future.
Final Thoughts: Putting a Human Face on China’s Poor
Before it began, I personally thought this would be a fairly straightforward scholarship selection process. It was just a matter of choosing the best from the poorest, right?
But reading over everyone’s applications, their personal essays, and their service plans, plus actually talking to them face-to-face about these things, truly enlightened me to the plight of the poor in China.
All our interviewees were young women, 19 – 22. They told of parents’ deaths, tragic family illnesses, floods and earthquakes, sex discrimination (male relatives who insisted not wasting money on their education), financial difficulties, and private worries.
They shared a great deal, pouring themselves out through their writings and speech in a way which foreigners rarely have an opportunity to experience.
Some cried during their family stories, leading me to bring a tissue box with me to every interview session.
Language teachers such as myself so often hear, “My family is very poor,” but it usually doesn’t go any further than that. We can only guess what “poor” means compared to our own cultural standards.
Now, through my students, I have a human face to place on that word. All 104 applicants were willing to bare all for a $283 scholarship which would allow them to continue with their education.
At present, we have our 36 who this weekend are going about their school life, their nerves less frazzled now that the interviews are over. I imagine they are worrying, wondering and hoping that they will be the ones chosen to receive the money we have to offer.
And here we can only choose 20.
Oh, yes. Such a fairly straightforward scholarship selection process. Just choose the best from the poorest, right?
Come Monday afternoon, when our committee sits down to truly decide our winners, I think I will find this more different than I had ever imagined.
Please think of our committee as we meet to make our decisions. Your thoughts and good wishes will be greatly appreciated.
From Luzhou, here’s wishing you a Ping An (peace) for your weekend.