An Influx Of Foreigners Chengdu Reviews
Nov 02, 2007
In Chinese family culture, parents frequently decide what activities are beneficial for their children to undertake, even when this involves a young adult on vacation from first or second year university studies, and living away from home. Teachers are often of the same ilk. As a result, either or both of these two sources of influence may “require” homesick offspring to slog it out at an English summer camp. But according to Xue Xue Xei (Sherry), one coordinator of the recent annual three week camp at the University of Electronic Science & Technology of China (UESTC) in Chengdu, kids are kids and don’t have such a strong will to keep themselves at summer camp anyway, especially after just completing a full tertiary academic year with their heads literally buried in text books. They prefer instead to go to an internet café, hang out with friends or stay at home.
The registered participants that actually complete the UESTC summer camp noticeably possess and exhibit much higher motivation. Their greater efforts are rewarded with extra credit points which carry over to the individual’s formal undergraduate record. Sherry believes that most have a mental block in oral English, due to a fear of speaking in public and making mistakes. Written questionnaires seeking feedback about various aspects of teaching, administration and accommodation have been distributed to a representative group of conscientious scholars. There is a plan to collect and collate all course materials, documents and photographs for souvenir purposes as well as for next year’s camp. Foreign teacher Matthew Dick (Matt) has been assisting in an advisory and supervisory capacity. One of the biggest tasks that lay ahead is a redesign of the course for 2007.
Almost forty foreign teachers were recruited this year from countries all round the world including America, Australia, England, Germany, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Africa. Teacher ages ranged from the mid-twenties to around seventy five years of age. More than twelve hundred students registered and were assigned to forty classes. This produced an average class size of thirty. Five Chinese teachers separately conducted writing classes. The foreign faculty directed its energies towards the other three language skills; listening, speaking and reading. The university’s intention was to improve student ability in English learning, not to make money. The only amount payable upon registration was seventy five yuan (less than $US10). This covered the cost of the text books which participants were able to keep and refer to as so desired afterwards.
There has been a lot of very valuable teacher input and suggestions put forward. Matt has advised that much more future emphasis will be placed on what students really need and want; hopefully to achieve a higher attendance rate and to make it more pleasurable for the pupils. A bigger shift towards music and drama is quite possible. Every day, Sherry observed classes in progress. Activities varied from games and songs to playing cricket. Many foreigners taught outside in the campus grounds and gardens, mainly due to the summer heat of Chengdu. This also brought immense delight. It has been concluded that the best classroom atmosphere is created by teachers genuinely interested in developing a personal relationship with students. Although not necessarily the best teaching classes, such group dynamics and interaction is highly conducive to more active involvement.
The foreign teaching of another language is a specialized field that is not always understood completely by the casual or unqualified observer. To be able to intellectually reach out, connect and stimulate the mind of someone else that is not fluent in the same speech as you, is truly a talent that not everyone is endowed with at birth nor acquired through practice. It is important to be aware that attitude plays a major role in effective or successful communication. Identifying and fulfilling the needs of the audience are what it is all about. A usual criticism of teachers generally, is that too much attention is placed on academic excellence in developing language skills, which may be somewhat inappropriate at a short-term voluntary attendance vacation course. Perhaps by firstly aiming at the lowest common denominator, a clear direction for growth may unfold.
Western teaching methods do not rely on having a wonderful relationship or rapport with students. The main objective is to deliver the text, message or theme of the lecture. If the western students happen to have a good or friendly teacher, then that is a bonus. Here in Sichuan, a good relationship is the norm, partly because local students are eager to learn about the foreigner’s culture and background. Many foreign teachers may have initial problems with this. On the other hand, someone who only uses class time to continually express or explore his / her own emotions, could be merely indulging in a form of self-therapy or megalomania. After careful assessment of feedback, the university will invite the excellent foreign teachers to come back next year. This year, eight teachers came from last year’s course. Others were invited but declined due to personal commitments.
Alex Yao is a twenty one year old Chinese-American from Williamsburg, Virginia. He attends Pennsylvania State University, and funded his own journey to voluntarily work as a teaching assistant during the summer camp. Local hospitality was a complete surprise. Alex was invited out every day of his four weeks’ stay. This shattered the illusion that work would be his only interest whilst here. Alex got to sit in on classes and interact positively with students. The foreign teachers seemed laid back, open discussion was encouraged, and class formats were totally relaxed. The first major problem that they faced was with the bottled water the university supplied daily. The foreigners asked for iced water, but there was no refrigeration available. Everyone carried on regardless. Alex Yao thinks it would be great if UESTC allows him to participate next year as a teacher.
Expatriate writer Warren Rodwell has been in China since 2002, and teaches university postgraduates in Chengdu. Many of his feature stories, reviews & photographs have been published online or in hardcopy media form. Warren also narrates documentaries and administers various websites as part of his efforts to promote Chengdu & Sichuan culture(s) more globally.
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