What will you bring to the New Year?

December 28, 2010

January is a time for resolutions, planning and dreaming. What will the New Year bring?  What will I bring to the New Year? We invite you to consider giving a year of service in China through the Columban AITECE program which places people in Chinese universities as teachers of English or other specialized fields like business or engineering. It is a unique opportunity to build bridges and live cross-cultural mission in China.

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This month we share with you a personal reflection from a previous AITECE teacher. Teachers begin their terms in late August, so apply now. May Jane’s experience inspire you to consider a life unlike your own in 2011.

Bringing Language Alive

By Jane Baker

It was 2007, and China was gearing up for the Olympics.  I was 63 years old and was gearing up for retirement but not ready to “retire.”  I had done a lot of traveling in my life, and I thought I would like to live in another country for awhile.  I had a list of countries that I was interested in seeing; China was not on that list!

Jane, at left

Someone introduced me to an issue of the Columban Mission magazine which had an article about teaching English in China. I was not a teacher of English, but I did speak it.  I started the application process and within three months I was in Hong Kong at AITECE (Association for International Teaching, Education and Curriculum Exchange) for orientation.  During four days we were introduced to Chinese culture, language, customs and restrictions.  It was wonderful in every respect from the quality of instructors, to the fellow teachers, to the great Cantonese food.

I remember this year with longing…longing for the Chinese students who so enriched my life.  Even though there was an age and cultural difference, the hunger we felt to bridge the gap made us open to exchanges.  We learned together, traveled together, ate together, cooked together and celebrated each others festivals.  How blessed I was to spend a year in China. It is a large country, but the public transportation is fantastic. The trains and buses will get you to any remote village or large metropolis.  During my year in China, I was fortunate to visit exotic places like Tibet and Xinjiang.  I hiked the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan and celebrated the Chinese New Year at Hangzhou West Lake near Shanghai.  It is a rich country with great geographical diversity.

What about the teaching?  ”Foreign Experts” teach mainly oral English, because the Chinese teachers are far better equipped to teach grammar.  The difficult job is to get the students to talk.  For most of their education, Chinese students memorize and repeat. They are not asked to contribute their thoughts or opinions.  In my classes, I would pose a question that they would then discuss one-on-one, as a group or in a debate.  Their English proficiency ranged from very poor to very good.  Some of the students had a desire to master English and some were there solely because they had been slotted by the educational examination system (which in China is foundational and dates back to the early dynasties).  Based on a student’s test scores they are placed or not placed in a university.  Not all of the students at SISU wanted to be there, but the majority did and were highly motivated.

There is a vast amount of teaching tools for ESL (English as a Second Language) on the internet. Finding a teaching lesson for the day was not difficult.  Imagination is everything. Trying to make a lesson fun yet educational was my goal.   I was there to incite their enthusiasm for speaking English. This was not always easy as there is a certain fear or shyness that inhibits Chinese from participating.  I did my best to bring the language alive…or so I hope.

The institution that I worked for allowed a great deal of academic freedom.  I had a Chinese mentor who introduced me to the University and settled me in my living quarters, which were spacious and ample. I was never given a teaching syllabus.  Sometimes there were books and in other classes there were none.  I never felt any restrictions as to what I could teach, however I always showed respect for my host country and honored their cultural and governmental system.

I was fortunate to have a three day teaching schedule. My mentor was kind enough to arrange for those three days to be together so that I would have free time to travel, as she knew that this is what I loved.  I visited many of my students’ homes because their parents were happy to welcome a foreign teacher into their family. I visited the families in small villages and newly developed towns. In every respect I found the Chinese people to be most gracious and welcoming.  The banquet of food that I enjoyed on these occasions was really sumptuous; Chinese food is absolutely the best in my opinion.

I would not have missed this year for anything.  Bon voyage!

For more information about AITECE, read about the program.