My Freshmen Reveal Their Lives through Essays

My freshmen Class 2, 50 students, visit the English Center for a holiday movie.

Freshmen Class 1, another 50 students, in the Center

At the end of every school year, right before we dismiss for the summer holidays, my top priority is to visit my department’s office and pin down Mr. Chen, in charge of assigning courses to the teachers.

“Don’t forget, Mr. Chen,” I say. “I want to teach the freshmen. Be sure to give me the freshmen English Education classes for the next school year.”

“Yes!” Mr Chen replies with gusto.  “I will not forget.”

“See?” he continues as he catches my skeptical look.  “I am writing it down.”

I watch him carefully do this because one year, he didn’t remember and he had quite some time getting schedules moved about to finally remedy that mistake.  Don’t think he wants to repeat that hassle again!

This Year, More Freshmen than Ever

My Christmas Open Houses with freshmen this year had me dividing every class into two groups, 25 students each group, due to increased enrollment.

Every department at our college has a cap on how many freshmen can be accepted into different majors. The cap for the 3 English majors offered (English Education, Practical English and Business English)  is 266. This number was decided upon by the college office in charge of admissions and has remained the same for quite a few years.

Never in the history of the department has 266 ever been reached. But this year, for the first time ever, we are at almost full capacity for freshmen with 261 now majoring in English.

At present, I am teaching English Education Classes 1, 2, 3, and 5.  The Peace Corp Volunteer, Zuri, is teaching Business English and Class 4.  While I would have loved to have all English Education majors, I was already at full capacity with teaching hours because of the seniors that are always added to my schedule.  I teach methodology courses which require a professional, experienced teacher, thus I am always given those classes rather than those be given to a novice.

Freshmen Voices

 My first homework assignment for the freshmen is a writing assignment, on Page B of their textbook which I create myself: “In the Classroom with my Foreign Language Teacher.”

The assignment is to write a 200-or-more word essay, choosing one of the following topics:  My Family,  An Most Exciting Day in My Life and An Important Lesson in Life I  Learned.  I announce that this assignment is not for a grade but for me to get to know them better. (It’s also a great way for me to assess their writing skills, although I don’t tell them that.)

The topics I devised for three different levels of language skills.  “My Family” is the easiest.  A majority of my students choose that one and give the basics about those closest to them.  “An Exciting Day in my Life” demands a story-telling ability, which is a step above the first prompt.  The last choice, “An Important Lesson in Life I Learned,” requires more depth in thinking, including not only the story of what happened but why it was life-changing.

Those that choose the last I notice outshine the rest of the class during the months that follow.  These are the students I find are natural teachers, those who quickly catch on to methods and have astute observations about classroom management when we do have discussions on what makes an excellent teacher.

As an example of a few of my favorites, I’ll include excerpts below of such students whose essays I found both revealing and thought-provoking.  (I have left them with their errors intact, as they originally wrote them.)


My Mom Learns an Important Lesson by Yu Ruyi

Fortunately, I have a very happy and harmonious family, but I have a very careless mom.

In my childhood, my mom and I went to the market to buy food.  My mom concentrated on buying vegetables, so I played by her side.  At this time, a human trafficker came and took me but my mom was not aware of it.  Just then, the vegetable seller told my mom that I had been taken away.  My mom was very worried so she ran after the human trafficker to the railway station.  Finally, I was saved.  

You see, there is always a careless mom who really hurts! 

My Family by Mao Yiru

Once my family is very rich in 1987.  Everyone admires our family because my grandma owned a hotel.  Our family has a good business, so our hotel is famous.  My dad was a teenager.  Years later, my dad married my mom and soon, I was born.

But my father didn’t like me because I was a girl.  And my dad was cold to me and Mom.  My father bought clothes for my cousin during the New Year.  When my mom knew this, she was very sad.  

My father was a driver.  One day, he had an accident.  He needed a lot of money.  My grandmother had to sell her hotel so our family became poor.  I was only one year old.  No one helped us.

Then my mom left me to make money.  My grandma said my mom left because our family was poor and told me not to call her Mom anymore. I didn’t know anything back then so I hated my mom.

Later, my mom told me the truth.  When I was 9 years old, my dad and mom divorced.  I wanted to follow my mom because I didn’t like my dad.  But my grandmother wouldn’t let me do this.  She said: “I’ve been working hard to bring you up.  What has she done for you?”

So I didn’t want to upset Grandma.  I chose my father and we moved far away from my mom.  I missed her.  I wanted to be loved by my mom.  Although my father found me a stepmother, I was not happy.

Fortunately, now I’m free to go to my mom.  I am a college student now.  My dad and grandma can’t stop me.

My Family by Chen Ju (Jennifer)

I’m from a happy family of 4 members:  father, mother, sister and I.  First, let me introduce my father.  My father is responsible and dotes on me very much.  But last year, he died of a serious illness.  Although it was destiny, I realized that there was no choice for him to die or not to die.  My mom continues to make money by herself for me to go to school.  It is a great burden for her.  She is a very strong woman.  I will be like her some day.

Eager to Improve

This last excerpt shows how desperate students are to improve their English, how they truly wish their teachers to point out their mistakes and make them better in their skills.  At the end of her essay, Guo Chunyan wrote a personal note to me:

“Lastly, I want to say I think it’s interesting that my birthday is the same day as yours.  When I found out your birthday was January 12, I was so excited that I couldn’t believe I’d actually find someone born on the same day as I am.  I’m sorry my English is poor.  If it’s any trouble to you, you can write down my shortcomings on my homework.  Thank you!”



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Our New College Initiative: Trying to Improve Image in the Educational World


At a special choir competition, our entire departmental faculty (combined with the College of Mechanical Engineering) First departmental performed under our new title, the School of International Studies.

The beginning of the 2018 Fall semester ushered in a rather noteworthy change in the college.  It’s  what I call the Impressive Titles Campaign, where every department was  asked to improve its department with a name-change.  To explain this, I’ll first report on why I believe this took place.

Establishing Overseas’ Relationships

Over the past 10 years, the college has been developing overseas’ partner schools. These are small colleges  of similar size and matching majors to ours.  The purpose of partnering with such schools was to build a higher educational reputation  in China, share educational teaching/administration methods and techniques with foreign entities and eventually develop student study exchanges.

The first such partnership was established with East-West University, a private 4-year institution with 2 buildings located on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The school was founded under the British design system, established by a gentleman from India who was also the chancellor (what we call the president).  How someone found him is beyond me but he did come to China to visit our school and many others, most likely trying to increase enrollment by snatching up international students whose tuition would be extremely high: a “reasonable” $34,000 a year with no housing facilities available.

Needless to say, after the signing ceremony of partnership sealed the deal, he didn’t snatch up any of our students.  Our 9,000 can barely afford the 4,000 yuan (roughly $600), which includes a full year (12 months) of housing.

German Trade School a Better Success Story

Of the overseas’ partnerships that the school has established, the most productive has been with a particular vocational trade school in Germany. It regularly sends teachers and experts to our college to introduce new technical methods in mechanics and other  vocational professions.

We’ve also established a German Language program at our school.  This is the 6th year we’ve had a German language major.  Twice a year, 3 German teachers arrive to test the German language majors for their final exams at the end of the semesters.  Other exchanges have involved our teachers, leaders and administrators visiting the school in Germany.

Trying to Impress the Outside World

In August, before the semester began,  every department was requested to submit a new, gloriously-sounding name-change to create a more upscale college image.  All names also had to be translated into English for overseas’ partner schools.

For example,  the Mechanics Department (students majoring in car, factory equipment and office machinery repair and maintenance) became the College of Engineering Sciences.   The Management Department (those trained in business, hotel and restaurant  management and hostessing) became The College of Management Design and Business.

In the English Department, there was great debate concerning what name we should create. Text messages flew continuously within our department text-messaging chat group about what would be appropriate.

As the deadline drew near, the Chinese was chosen (国际学校) but not the English version of this.   Feedback was requested for the top two:  International College  or  International School.  Hmmmm.

I understood the reasoning.  International College or International School  is the direct translation for 国际学校, but while that might be fine for the Chinese, it’s confusing for our overseas’ partner vocational schools.  It seems to suggest we have international students, or that we are a school for expats’ children.

In my mind, those two translation choices fell far short of what was needed.

While not asked, I went ahead and gave my 2-cents’ worth.

“How about School of International Studies, College of International Studies, Department of International Studies or International Studies Department?” I posted.

After some discussion, I’m happy to say that my two-cents’ worth paid off.  Our department is now called the School of International Studies.  (I would have preferred  the word “department” in there somewhere but that was nixed as being too common, less grandiose, plus did not match the other departments’ translations, which all included “college.”)

Now Official

Our first competition of the school year, the English Language Speech Contest, was under the new title of School of International Studies. (In the background, our title is announced on the power point)

All departments across the board at our college have now had approval of their new titles and English documents announcing as such to overseas’ partners have been sent. Also included in the write-up were new departmental designs and seals with our new titles.  No turning back now!

Our proud speech winners in the School of International Studies.

Students receive their awards which are signed by our department heads but under the new title.

Here I am! Now the first foreign language teacher listed for the School of International Studies.

Next post, a second big change to our department, now known as the School of International Studies.  Ping an!  (Peace)

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A Hectic Semester; A Silent Website

My 150 seniors take time for graduation pictures. Enjoy your holidays and your job searches, everyone!

Greetings, All!!

Yes, I’m alive!

I’m finally on holiday for Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) with the end of the Fall semester having arrived. The weekend of my birthday, January 12, began the winter break for our 9,000 students on the campus of Luzhou Vocational and Technical College.  The teachers and leaders continued onward with end-of-term meetings, finishing up grades, preparing assessment reports of the school year and completing evaluation forms.  On January 23, Wednesday, they also will be relieved of duties and receive some much-needed rest.

I was fortunate enough to finish my coursework a tad earlier, January 6th, which has given me enough time to begin rejuvenating my spirit from an extremely busy school semester.

Chinese New Year (known as Spring Festival) is February 5 this year, when the Year of the Pig will begin. The campus will soon become extremely quiet with students, faculty and even school workers returning home to enjoy time with family and friends.  We are all to start up the new semester on February 25.

As for me, I have just arrived in America to spend time with my mom in Marshall, Illinois.  Getting over jetlag is no fun but I’m hoping I’ll be back to normal after a few more days.

During the next few weeks, let me see if I can remedy this silence with several posts to catch you up on what’s been going on in China.

Mom-and-Daughter Chicago Trip

At present, my mom and I are off to Chicago for our annual mom-and-daughter winter trip.  We’ll be staying in the frigidly cold Windy City for 5 days where we’ll be enjoying museums,  shows, good food and fun.

Take care, all, and Ping An (Peace) for your holiday weekend.



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It’s Job Fair Day!


At Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, my seniors have been gearing up for our annual school job fair on October 26, today, which began at 9:30 a.m. and will continue for the rest of the day.

Every year, the school organizes this impressive event. On the old campus, it was a bit crowded without a lot of space.  Plus we had limited contacts with prospective employers,   including:  manufacturers, factories, companies, tourism agencies, elementary and secondary schools.  Our school was not so well-known.

But now the number of representatives has grown from a mere 82 (our first job fair years ago) to 324, which was today’s offerings.

All Friday classes were canceled for our senior students in order for them to attend as many booths as possible for their majors.  Without my morning seniors to teach, I took a wander to see all that was going on for our fair this year.

Campus Copy Shops Busy

I cruised by the cafeteria, which has the first floor copy shops.  These were filled to overflowing  as some students made last-minute touches to their resumes using the copy shop computers, then had them printed off  to place in their folders.

Some students dressed to look nice for possible interviews while others just wore their regular school clothes.

We were so fortunate not to have rain this Friday, which plagued us all week and even last year’s job fair, where umbrellas were a must.

A Walk-Through


As I walked along the rows of employers waiting for worthy candidates to stop by, I noticed some were more prepared than others.  Spiffy printed colorful posters and banners adorned some booths.  Signs detailing age needed, education requirements and beginning salaries  enticed our students to booth representatives. Other booths had whiteboards or blackboards posted above their tables which listed the necessary criteria and number of candidates that were being accepted.

In some of the classrooms, interviews were set up.  Students waited in the small, round lecture hall  for their turn to talk to those interviewing.

Some employers are hiring  on-the-spot; others are just giving information about their agencies, institutions, schools or companies and collecting resumes.

My Seniors:  Hardly Recognizable


I spotted several of my seniors in English Education, their faces bright and eager as they excitedly wove their way through booths advertising private weekend training schools for kids,  kindergarten, junior high and high school positions.  What a difference their attitude has been this morning than from my Activities in the Classroom course.  They were hardly recognizable!

Despite my best efforts to keep students active and engaged in class, senioritis, as always, is  a constant annoyance.  My seniors come in late, munching and noisily smacking their lips on breakfast foods.  They yawn loudly with sleepiness at the beginning of early morning classes.  They place their heads on their desks to sleep, talk among themselves when I’m trying to introduce a new activity, mess about on their cell phones (sending messages or ordering desirable items online), and groan with reluctance when I require them to get into groups or ask them to move desks and chairs into a different format.

Through it all, I grin, cajole, joke and manage to keep my cool (barely, sometimes) to manipulate them into doing what I want them to do.  It  takes a very special kind of teacher to deal with seniors.  While I’ve had years of practice at this, some days do hit harder than others with my patience level.

But today, seeing them all with such high hopes to land a job, or at least try, even the worst of the lot made me proud.

In Closing

Before finishing this off, I’ll post a few more photos below.  Wishing all our school’s seniors, in every major, a very productive day of job hunting!

From China, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your day.



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An October Mystery: Gremlins at play?

I am having a bit of a mystery at present.
 The English Language Resource Center  has a 5-gallon jug water dispenser which has 2 levers:  one for hot (to make tea or instant coffee) and one for cold. In China, we can’t drink water from the tap so many offices have water dispensers and order sanitized water to be delivered.  I have my own water company that I use and I decided to use them for my resource room.
I ordered 2 jugs to get us started.  One was placed on the dispenser and the unused jug beside the dispenser.
During the 1-week National Day holidays, the jug was completely full. No one used it. But when I returned, the 5-gallon jug was empty!  No one uses that room or has keys for the room except me, Zuri (the  Peace Corp volunteer), 2 department administrators and the one used by my volunteer students.
It is a huge mystery as to what happened to the water.  I asked all the key folk and no one knows.  I am pretty certain my students wouldn’t be in the room and lie about it.  Most of them were gone for that week, anyway.  The administrators never go into the room but just hold onto the key for emergencies.  That leaves me and Zuri.  I use the room but Zuri rarely does so . . . .
Where did the water go?!
Someone suggested that maybe the dispenser was broken and all the water had dripped out but in that case, there would be water all over the floor.  5 gallons is a lot of water to drip out.  Don’t think it would evaporate that fast.
My explanation?  I think we have some little American  gremlins who hid themselves in one of those boxes of supplies sent from overseas.  They currently have set up residence someplace in the room.  I bet they have a wonderful time once the lights go out.  They were probably thirsty after the holidays, having a full week of being cooped up in there with nothing to do but run around, party and enjoy themselves.
Ornery little things!
I’m  keeping a close eye on the second jug, now in place on top of the dispenser.  We’ll just see what happens.  Halloween night is fast approaching.  Who knows what mischief those wicked critters  will get themselves into?!
In the meantime, here are some photos from last Monday evening.  It was a rainy , cold night where those not busy attending night classes pretty must stayed inside their dorm rooms, huddled under blankets and doing homework.  While  numbers were slim, those who came had a great time, as you can see.

Little Andy is my teacher’s assistant. I put him to work in the Center stamping “Great!” on homework papers which my seniors completed last week.

Uno is a favorite game for all of us.

My volunteers take over instructing others how to play the games we have available.

One of our teachers brought his son to the Center and ended up watching one of the movies rather than playing a game.

Bruce Li, my co-teacher, is here with his son. He is teaching him vocabulary by drawing pictures.

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New Competitive Swimming Pool Opens in Luzhou

Last winter, a nostalgic swim in my old swimming pool at Eastern Illinois University

If you don’t know, I am one of those die-hard swimmers who never did get rid of the swimming pool bug.  After many years on a swimming team growing up, and also swimming with my university team, I still get excited when I find a new pool.

Luzhou has been a challenge with swimming pools.  Most are winter pools, meaning the water is cold all year round.  This is a sport, winter swimming, which the Chinese love.  Not me!  For my winter swimming ventures, I had a wetsuit that I wore until the water temps hit 60.  Not even the wetsuit could keep me from freezing.  And since there are no hot showers in such pools, there is no way to really warm up after you get out unless you sprint around the pool deck several times.  And even then, it’s still pretty darn cold!

I have waited for 17 years for a heated, competitive pool to land in Luzhou and one finally did this summer.  July 1st was the grand opening.  It is located in a beautiful park area on the other end of the city.  While a bit far, it’s well worth the daily visits I’ve managed so far.

A Christian Sister, Looking Out for Me

Choir member, Huang (red shirt) talks to another choir member during one of our rehearsals.

Not only do I now have a gorgeous pool to swim in, but I received a substantial discount in purchasing a year membership all due to church choir member, Ms. Huang.

Ms. Huang and I sing together in the Luzhou Eternal Love choir at the Luzhou Protestant Church.  She is also an avid swimmer, like myself, and teaches swimming lessons at the Medical College’s outside pool during the summer.  While I was home for the holidays, she texted me that there was a special discount for winter swimmers at the new pool.  Did I want to sign up?  The deadline was fast approaching and 60 swimmers were needed to get the discount.

I was in America, however, and there was no way for me to do this from where I was. Huang , however, was kind enough to fill out my application form and even pay the amount for me, trusting that I’d pay her back when I returned in August.

Sure enough, all was taken care of by my Sister in Christ, Huang.  When I returned, I picked up my yearly card and paid Huang my discounted amount which I never would have received had it not been for her diligence in helping me.

As you can see, swimmers look after one another, but more especially in this case, Christian swimmers.  A huge “thank you”, Sister Huang!  You really made my day.

From Luzhou, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your weekend.


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The English Language Resource Center Finally Up and Running!

It’s been awhile since a last update.  What with the school year starting, daily pool swims, organizing new lessons for the freshmen, and currently a 1-week holiday from Oct 1 – 7 (dubbed Golden Week) commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic of China, just hasn’t been a lot of time to write.
What my main time-consuming efforts have entailed has been the English Language Resource Center which, I am proud to say, is finally under way to regular use.
The Plan and Set-Up
After returning to China in mid-August, I spent the entire time getting the English Center in working order.


My Center plans for the beginning of the semester included: Hosting a grand opening for teachers and leaders, having regular “Open Door” hours 2-3 times a week, enlisting student volunteers to help clean, monitor and assist in the room, and creating a classroom material development section.That particular area I hoped to constantly supply with free materials (English reward stickers, construction paper, glue, markers, crayons, tape) for the 3rd year English Education majors to use during their weeks of practice teaching, or what we in the States call Student Teaching.Many create their own visual aids but have to pay for those out-of-pocket.Not in the Center.All materials would be free, with plenty of space for our future English teachers to develop their teaching aids with advice, suggestions or help from others.


With such plans in my head, I’ve spent the last 6 weeks getting those into a reality situation.

With funding from UMW groups and others, I purchased a very nice flatscreen TV.  A tabletop printer/copier will follow soon.  I also picked up a few other furniture items that I felt were still needed, stocked the Arts and Crafts area with lots of extra supplies and the sticker drawers, free for all student use, are overflowing.
I also brought quite a few books in my suitcase back with me to stock the shelves but I really need more.  Seems the children’s illustrated storybooks are a great level for my students and visitors who are non-English majors.  I will be working on those additions over the next few years.
The First Intro Visits:  Seniors First
My 3rd year (senior) classes started Sept. 3 in which I teach Activities in the Classroom.
That first week was my big introduction to the English Center.  I had students divided into groups and mandatory visits which included filling out worksheets of all the Center had to offer.  My 140 seniors were required to find things in all the different sections of the room that I set up.  Once they finished the sheet, they could hand it in and go.
I thought most would hurry up to get out of there as they have things to do but . . . . so many stayed and spent a lot of time enjoying the room.
One Thursday, I monitored the room from 2:30 – 6:30 p.m. and the next day, I was there from 2:30 – 7 p.m.  No one wanted to leave!
One comment made by a senior on her worksheet was this:  “I feel like the room is a sea of English.  There are so many books, magazines and games to play.  It is wonderful!!”
My Freshmen, Yet to Come
While the school year started for underclassmen on Sept. 3, the freshmen were still in the process of orientation, which includes doing military training for 3 weeks.  This is mandatory for all college and high school freshmen.
A local army base is used and sends young soldiers to be the sergeants to direct students in this sort of thing.  Basically, the new students march around in their departmental platoons early morning to late at night on the sports’ field.  They learn how to function well  in an environment that has a lot of freedom (more than they’re used to). They are instructed how to independently live on their own, how to work together as a team, get along with others, be united as a class and take their studies seriously.
Of course, I’ve been eager to meet my 150 freshmen but that had to wait until Sept. 24.  And after that week, we now are having another full week of holiday time before we can finally start up in earnest on Oct. 8.
I haven’t had time to show the first years all that the Center has to offer but will be doing that in a week or so.
Center Volunteers 
In the meantime, the day before the holidays, I enlisted the help of Ice (seated, center), the president of the English Association, to find me volunteers who are free Monday evening, from 7 – 9 p.m., to help me with our first Open Hours of Center visiting times.

I have an eager group of young people who have already signed up for being in the room with me to help when students appear to see what we have to offer.

We start on Monday, right after the holidays.  I’m not sure how many will come or if many will come.  It depends on how much the word has gotten out but I do hope we have a good turn-out.

We had a great crowd for movie night, as you can see below.  I showed Mrs. Doubtfire for Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a holiday devoted to family reunions.  It fit in well with the theme and even if their English wasn’t up to it, the English subtitles and the acting itself made up for those with poorer listening skills than others.
In Closing
Here is the slideshow of the Center.  For all who have helped stock this with supplies, many, many thanks for all your contributions!!

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