Some things at Chinese universities are cemented into the rhythm of the school calendar such as department welcome events for freshmen (I missed this year’s because of a scheduling miscommunication), speech competitions, and sports meets. Well, the Foreign Language Department hosting dubbing competitions is no different.
Last year the competition took me by surprise, with everything being new (see my post on “rolling with it“). This year, however, I knew what I was in for, and still enjoyed it.
The highlight of the night was one of my freshmen students winning the competition all by herself. Normally the students dub over movie clips in groups, but this young woman went solo—a courageous undertaking in this place.
She dubbed over anime in Japanese, nailing the voices and, although I don’t personally speak Japanese, seemed fairly accurate (my American colleague who learned some in college thought it was spot on). As a judge, I was blown away, and as a teacher I was certainly proud (her English is good, too, but like most her age she is shy about speaking). Somehow, she learned either to speak it or imitate the language well. English majors here have to learn another language, but they don’t start that until their sophomore year.
I hope she’ll progress that well in English, too.
The hosts of the dubbing competition
A good crowd of students to watch
My student with her first prize next to the Dean and the Party Secretary of the Foreign Language Department
As a Peace Corps Volunteer I have a unique opportunity to represent and share aspects of the United States. In fact, the second goal of the Peace Corps is, “To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.”
Embracing the second goal, I’ve had several opportunities to teach subjects other than English as a guest lecturer, emphasizing different parts of my culture. This has been fulfilling because I can use my experience in teaching and public speaking to reach more students and colleagues. During the past year I’ve given lectures in three different subjects.
Drawing from my work experience in non-profits, homeless shelters, and connecting families experiencing homelessness to housing resources, I gave a lecture on the basics of social work to social work majors. Study and practice of social work is something new in China, so I was able to share perspective on what it’s like in the United States.
Then, utilizing connections to primary school educators in the United States, I gave an introduction to the US education system with specific information and stories from two different elementary schools. I presented that lecture twice–once to fellow English teachers at my college, and again to primary school teachers during a training this past summer.
Most recently, I gave a lecture to sociology majors. The same teacher who invited to teach on social work asked me this semester to teach a chapter from the sociology textbook. I was surprised to find out this class uses a sociology textbook from the USA that has a Chinese translation. He sent me the English copy and told me I could choose any chapter I wanted. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to engage with students about a challenging subject, I chose to teach the chapter about “Sexuality and Society.” I taught a lot of what was in the chapter, but also incorporated specifics about sexuality and culture in the United States.
All of the presentations were well received, and I answered a lot of good questions. Being able to speak about these subjects and sharing culture have been among the more rewarding aspects of my service thus far.
Panzhihua (攀枝花) is a small town–for China–nestled in a mountainous area of southern Sichuan province. Back in July I spent 2 weeks as part of a group of Peace Corps Volunteers offering training to local Primary and Middle School English teachers. It was a 14-hour train ride south from Chengdu through some lovely countryside.
There were 6 Peace Corps Volunteers and 180 teacher trainees. It was a hectic time during which everyone felt exhausted. Although 1 week would have sufficed–the teachers gave up their summer and were already quite capable–it was a success. It was important to be a presence there as a foreigner to share new teaching ideas, exchange culture and fellowship, and to help them improve their own English skills.
Other than being a small mining town, Panzhihua is also known for mangoes, and I had a steady flow of those the whole time. One of the teacher trainees even mailed a box of mangoes to my apartment so I could continue enjoying them at home.
We ate out a lot.
They always had a lot of questions
Blue sky!! (I don’t get to see this often where I live)
Aliens. Robots. Environmental destruction. Pollution loving aliens. Secret agents. Witches. Killer friends. Dystopian futures. Birds engulfed in shadow. These are a few topics students at my college wrote about during the creative writing competition last month. I was honored to host Write On!, an international creative writing competition facilitated by Peace Corps Volunteers around the world. Much of the instruction for Chinese college English majors focuses on memorizing long lists of vocabulary and knowledge of grammar to score high on standardized tests, so this offers them an alternative way to use and improve their English skills.
The rules are simple: students are shown two writing prompts (different at each grade level) and given one hour to respond to one of them without the use of any aid such as cell phone or dictionary. Their entries are judged based on creativity and overall structure rather than on grammar and spelling. As a host I chose 10 entries from each grade level (in my case, University freshmen, sophomore, and junior), and those entries were judged at provincial and national level against other students from other Peace Corps sites. Those national winners were then judged at an international level from other Peace Corps sites across the globe.
Over 170 students from my college came and tapped into their creativity. I was thrilled—and a bit overwhelmed—at such a great turnout especially because many were not my students. Even more thrilling, one student was selected as the National and International winner for 3rd year university (junior) level.
I first met Celina when I told her she was the Write On! National Winner for juniors (we hadn’t yet learned the result of the international judging). I only teach speaking and listening for freshmen and sophomores, so it came as a surprise when 31 juniors attended the competition.
We sat down for a chat in the space known as the “Bookend,” an ongoing project started some years ago by a previous Volunteer. The room features stacks of books in English and Chinese, and ranges from fiction and classics to dictionaries and textbooks all available for checkout. The Bookend also functions as a daily English Corner. As I talked with Celina, a group of 20 students were already engrossed in practicing pronunciation through tongue twisters.
Celina said she hadn’t participated in Write On! last year, but was eager to this year after she heard about it. When she began her study in Mianyang, she wasn’t too interested in English. That changed over time, in part, to having a previous Peace Corps Volunteer as a teacher whom Celina still fondly remembers.
When I asked Celina about the thought process for her essay, she said she had considered a happy ending, but it wouldn’t have been interesting enough. When I read Celina’s essay, I was struck by the unique approach (She chose to write from this prompt: Every morning, a bird lands on your window and pecks at the glass. It is your alarm clock. One morning, it doesn’t appear. Instead, there is a note. What does it say? What happens next?). To me, her story is mysterious and haunting. Part of what drew me in to select her essay for the university 3rd year top 10 was the ending without a clear resolution, marked by two words: “Save me!”
Celina was quite surprised and humbled by the honor to be a national and international winner. Her face lit up with a bright smile as she softly spoke about her experience and future ambition. She told me she is seriously considering earning a graduate degree. She wants to pursue a career translation, and in fact, had perused the Bookend shelves for a translation textbook before our talk.
We parted ways after taking a photo together; she still seemed a little surprised. She wants to participate again next year, and I told her I would be happy to host another competition. Until then, she will be studying and preparing for the TEM-8, another big examination for English majors.
A few weeks ago I had my sophomore students create a postcard (or use a real one or photo). The assignment started by asking them to think of something that represented themselves. In class they wrote and shared about it, then I asked them to create a postcard for the following week. One-by-one they presented and described the postcard and why it was important to them.
I heard the most fascinating things. Students talked about Paris, beaches, and space travel. They talked about their hometowns and famous sites in China. One told a wonderful story about raising a cow and how it was important in her life. Another student drew a kite and wrote a poem about being like a kite. One brought in a real postcard of Seattle.
Although they have studied many years of English, generally their speaking skills are lacking. This was good practice using a topic they have interest in. So much emphasis has already been placed on testing and filling in correct boxes, that I choose to emphasize enabling fluency, correct use of what they know, and unlearning mistakes they’ve been taught.
Well, video hasn’t quite killed this radio star. During my time teaching at the HKBP Nommensen University last week, I made an appearance on a local radio station. The English program runs every afternoon for one hour. When they have special guests, such as myself, a visiting teacher and native English speaker, it is a big deal. So, I graciously accepted the invitation.
It was a fun experience and I really felt relaxed speaking and answering questions (about myself, American culture, teaching…and I even sang the first verse of “Amazing Grace”). Below is a video of me answering a question from a listener, who happened to be a university student whom I met earlier that morning. )Sorry, no video of me singing)
June was a busy month, and July promises to be another busy month. Although most of the students have left the deaconess school for their practical work, there is still plenty of work to do. Presently, I am working on a schedule and syllabus for an intensive English course for the incoming students due to begin in August, as well as the teaching I’ll do throughout the semester.
And then there is my responsibility at the HKBP Nommensen University in Pematangsiantar. The final week of June I had another busy week of teaching and observing (and being a radio star on an English radio program). For the students there, that was the last week of the Semester. I will return to Siantar on Friday in advance of a rather large seminar on the 7th of July. Somehow, this small deaconess found herself as a speaker in a plenary session of a seminar titled, “English Language Acquisition Paradigm and Integrated Character-Based Learning”. The topic assigned to me is “Models of Teaching.” A post will follow about the event.
I have not forgotten about other stories to share. My time has been short and only recently have I fixed my laptop (well, not fixed. It needed a completely new hard drive, but a clever university student helped me). So, I expect it to be easier to post my reflections.
Until I am finished writing my own stories, I can share this one from the ELCA about myself and the deaconess school in Balige. The LivingLutheran.com is a resource of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is an interactive site that has articles about culture, faith, the church, and more. You can find the article about my school here: A common calling
The reason it is titled “A common calling” is that as a deaconess, I have been called here to be a servant. There are many things that are different about life in the U.S. and life in Indonesia. What is the same, what transcends the language barrier and other differences, is our desire and common calling to love God and love neighbor. Enjoy!
Now, below are some recent photos for your enjoyment
This is a Batak party
A typical scene in a restaurant here. This one is in Siantar, where I ate some delicious mie goreng (fried noodles).
Here are some more photos from the week I was teaching in Siantar. It was a busy week, but a good time. I look forward to returning next month for more:
Above, I’m introducing myself to a English conversation class. This time I was there to observe, but always have the opportunity to say who I am and where I’m from.
I was supposed to observe this class on listening comprehension. However, when the lecturer did not come, it became a time for cultural exchange as I answered there questions and shared about American culture. Then I asked them to sing a Batak song for me.
These lovely students in the above photo, live at the women’s dormitory near campus. The housemother is also a deaconess. Not all of these students are studying English, but they were all happy to talk with me and pose for a photo.
I have had a busy week. I left Balige last Sunday night for Siantar, a city about 2.5 hours away. While in Siantar (full name is Pematang Siantar, but it is commonly referred to as just “Siantar”), I taught English Conversation classes at the HKBP Nommensen University, as well as attended other classes in the English Department. Each day I was busy teaching, observing, and sharing about culture. The students were very happy to have a native speaker of English and had many great questions for me.
I will return to Siantar at the end of June for more teaching and observing. I am in Indonesia primarily to teach at the Deaconess School in Balige, where I have already been for almost 2 months, but I hope to be able to help the students and the teachers in the English Department at Nommensen University in whatever ways I can.
Below is a video. I was supposed to observe in a Listening Comprehension class, but the professor was not there. So, we had a session on cultural exchange instead. I took questions from the students about myself and about American culture. Then I asked them to sing for me. Here they are singing a Batak song.
And here is one photo from my teaching. Technical difficulties on the upload are preventing me from posting more than one at this time. Hopefully that will not continue to be a problem.
Other news to share: I finally have a work visa and residence permit. Last week I also completed paperwork so that I have a re-entry permit into the country again. I am very thankful for all the help from Nommensen, who has sponsored my visa.