A Visit To the English Center
It was a fair hike to the 6th floor of Teaching Building No. 1.
A small crowd followed behind me as we made our way up the stairwell with our English Center student volunteers in the lead.
This was the semester’s opening day for the campus English Center and I had been invited to welcome the newcomers.
Being a newcomer myself, I was eager to see what materials this school had to offer for students studying English. Most small Chinese colleges have nothing much as far as resource materials or books are concerned. Even the libraries are pretty sparse with ancient, smelly Chinese texts available only for in-house reading. Checking out books or materials is usually not allowed in Chinese schools. The leaders are afraid no one will bring them back.
But the English Center is a different story.
It was started 6 years ago by former Amity teachers. Over the years, more Amity teachers have increased the English reading materials by asking for donations from their home countries or adding more themselves.
Magazines, world country picture albums, novels, short stories, maps, resource books on teaching, listening tapes and over 200 English language DVDs are all available for check-out or just for reading in the small room.
The walls are painted with English phrases and cartoons. There’re plenty of stools for students to sit down and read or watch DVD’s on the TV there in the room. There’s also a water dispenser and paper cups, which are greatly needed in this roasting weather. A fan above blows down cool air to keep the stuffiness and heat down.
There are 15 volunteers who take turns opening the center Monday to Friday, 4 – 6 p.m. when students don’t have classes. No one is allowed to speak anything but English in the Center and the volunteers make sure of that. They are quite strict and shove those who start chattering away in Chinese out the door.
As I sat in the Center, talking with the new visitors and the volunteers, I was so impressed by what Amity had done and then how the students themselves had taken over to make this Center their own.
The volunteers are very particular about who gets to be a Center volunteer member. Last Sunday afternoon, they invited me for their interview sessions for new members. We had 73 who wanted to join and we listened to all of them for 2 ½ hours. They introduced themselves first and then we asked them questions.
My questions were quite simple, such as, “Tell us about a happy memory” or “What’s your favorite animal and why?”
But the current volunteers, in their quest to find the best, were more indepth.
“If you are an English Center member, what are the duties you will have to perform?”
“What will you do if those in the English Center start to speak in Chinese?”
“How will you improve the English Center if you are a member?”
After the first rounds, the top 40 were chosen. This coming Sunday afternoon, we’ll again have our last interview to choose the top 15. Then the current volunteers will invite them to become members.
What I’m quite excited about is adding even more to the books on their shelves. Already, I have Scrabble games and Boggle (an English word game) to add to their shelves, numerous DVDs and over 100 books that have been sent over the years to me in Luzhou. I brought a large number of them with me.
Other books are current arrivals from Paris and Champaigne, Illinois UMCs.
The volunteers are heading over this weekend to pick up all the new materials so they can begin cataloging them next week. I’ve been sifting through them, putting them in order according to difficulty and genre. Then I’ll join our staff to help organize for the shelves.
Definitely a joyful celebration will be in order for our small English Center. Not only will we be increasing our number of volunteers, but the volume of books as well.
Many, many thanks for those of you who have helped to stock the shelves here with new reading materials. They will be greatly appreciated and put to good use.
During the past 2 weeks, students have been learning about the history and customs of our American Halloween traditions.
With a new foreign teacher, it’s always difficult to break-the-ice and get students comfortable enough to talk. The best way to tear down that barrier is to invite everyone over for a visit.
Halloween is always the best enticement to have my new students visit my home. It comes at just the right time, when the foreigner’s teaching methods are starting to become more familiar and students’ ears are attuning themselves to “English-only” for our 2 periods together every week.
And what better way to get these shy, worried language learners into my home than a trick-or-treat venture coupled with promises of candy and a huge photo session in Connie’s apartment?
All week, students have descended upon me in the evening in small groups, carrying their hand-made masks and candy bags.
Carved watermelon Jack-o-lanterns (pumpkins this far south are impossible to find) alighted my balcony for those who didn’t know where I lived.
“Trick-or-Treat! Trick-or-Treat! Trick-or-Treat!” filled the stairwell numerous times, making my neighbors peer from their doorways to see what all the commotion was about.
And my apartment was loaded with excited Chinese youth, digging through my photo albums, clamoring for photo sessions around the decorations and practicing their English, however limited it might be.
After 20 minutes, it was time for the next group to arrive. Off they went, shouting their thank you’s and feeling confident that, yes, they can communicate in English with Connie after all. Wow! What an accomplishment!
Saturday evening, the English Association student group is hosting an outdoor Halloween party. Students will be bobbing for apples, carving Jack-o-lanterns out of watermelons, having costume racing games and dancing to English pop songs as a closure.
What a great way to end October and bring in November!
Wishing you Ping An (peace) for your weekend and hoping yours is as fun-filled and exciting as ours.