Getting to Know the Students
As the students appeared at my doorway last week, I ushered them in to my spacious sitting room where they plopped themselves down on the furnishings. This was their first visit to a foreigner’s apartment and they were getting the full treatment. Drinks, candy, cookies, and Connie’s family photo albums adorned the coffee tables. Fun gadgets, such as a mini Etch-n-Sketch and battery-operated toys (Kung Fu Hamster, a favorite), were displayed for use. Picture books of America and China were within easy reach.
The evening groups that came to my home in waves were quiet, overly polite and shy at first but within 30 minutes, the place was alive with laughter and chatter. The fear of speaking in English began to melt away. Little Flower added even more to our time together with her insistence on squeaking toys at everyone’s feet. In Little Flower’s mind, playtime is always a must for every guest who wanders into her home. Her basket of doggie toys attests to that.
Getting to Know My Colleagues
Others who have been enjoying my hospitality efforts are my colleagues.
I invited the Chinese English teachers here on our Longzhou campus (about 21) to meet me last Friday afternoon after they finished classes. Those who weren’t busy came, including our vice-dean (Ms. Liang), Kate (my co-teacher) and several others. Two in our numbers were expectant mothers so much of the conversation was given to joking with them about their upcoming babies and the work that will involve. A lot!
In reciprocation of my invite, Grace (3 months pregnant) invited me to attend her 26th birthday party last Monday night at her home. Co-teacher Kate came to pick me up and together, we walked to the teachers’ apartment building behind my own where the younger staff are living.
Grace and her husband had pulled out tables and stools to set up outside their small 1-room apartment, furnished by the school. Snacks of pumpkin seeds, shelled peanuts, peanut brittle, dried squid, cooked chicken wings, kabobs of tofu and mutton, candy, tangerines, bananas and juicy watermelon slices greeted us upon our arrival.
The stools began to fill as their friends gathered around to wish her a happy birthday. Her husband presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a huge birthday cake.
After lighting the candles and making a wish, Grace served big pieces of cake which we certainly weren’t about to turn down. Some even had second helpings.
In the cool night air, we entertained one another with stories and teasing anecdotes about family members and friends.
I just remember thinking how very welcomed I felt and how very grateful I am for being here.
Meeting the Neighbors
As for my new neighborhoods, it seems the children have taken a liking to me. I have two sweet little girls (Huang Ya Wei, age 10, and Yao Xiao, age 6) who have come for afternoon Saturday and Sunday visits to play with my stash of kids’ toys, draw pictures and talk to the foreigner. Both of these girls are from the poorer families on our campus. Yao Xiao’s father, for example, is a watchman at our front gate.
I am very impressed by their polite manners and their understanding of what it is to be a guest. On their second visit, Huang Ya Wei brought a cooked squab from the nearby fast food joint (KMC, a Chinese knock-off of KFC) to share with all three of us. I poured us drinks, pulled out a plate, cut up the chicken, brought out the chopsticks and we dug in with glee.
The highlight of their afternoon was dressing them up in Halloween paraphernalia. Masks, foil hair and witches hats were their attire. Since this tradition is alien for most Chinese, I didn’t bother explaining. We just enjoyed the fun of dress-up and I left it at that.
The Classroom Teaching Situation
As an Amity Foundation language teacher, a majority of my classes are to be English education majors. Amity stresses that its foreign language experts concentrate on those who will be teachers, not working in other English related fields. However, I find myself currently in the situation of teaching 6 classes of Business English and Practical English majors (tourism – service industry) and only 2 classes of English Education majors. All of these are the 1st year students (total 260), just beginning their college studies away from home.
While this is not the purpose of Amity, I’m sure that next semester, we can rearrange the schedule to fulfill the organization’s goals.
In the meantime, I am very happy to do what I can for those struggling with their choice of major. My classes are smaller than in Luzhou, giving me 30 – 35 in the room at a time. This is certainly needed due to the low level of English I have been finding. My education majors, who will one day be teachers, I am not worried about. They have enough of a skill level to build upon. But in my Business English and Practical English classes, a large number don’t even know simple English vocabulary, such as their colors, names of countries, common animals and even basic phrases. The books we are using, O.K. starts for those with a foundation, are quite a challenge. In many cases, the units are a bit useless because they center on these students being in America, which will most likely never happen.
More appropriate dialogues and vocabulary would have them here in China, not abroad.
Due to this problem, I have compiled my own textbook which has already been distributed to everyone. A local photo copier and I bargained for a decent price and 300 books came off her copy machines in 4-days’ time.
Although my own materials and lessons are a challenge, at least they are more useful for the students’ fields. My units center on traditions and holidays, and are an integrated approach to learning with writing prompts, dialogues, vocabulary building, listening exercises (movies, songs) and pronunciation practices.
Coupling my textbook with the one they currently have will satisfy my needs and theirs, or so I hope.
At present, we’re digging deep into the Halloween traditions of America. This past week, we’ve done the history, vocabulary and pronunciation of new words. Next week, we’ll be diving into the fun activities of trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, bobbing for apples and creating plus wearing costumes.
Sound like fun? You bet!
After only 3 weeks in my new home, I am already feeling settled and quite excited about future activities with students and new friends. Watch this space for more reports of our times together!
From Connie and Little Flower, here’s sending you Ping An (peace) from Longzhou, small town along the Li River.