Saying “goodbye”

June 26, 2012

Things are warming up here in Zhengzhou. Summer weather has finally come to Zhengzhou, but this means that we are outta here! As much as we enjoyed teaching and living here in Henan’s capital, we still have other important matters to attend to back in Seattle. So, in a few days, we will be on a flight back across the Pacific Ocean. We have made many great memories and friends and we hope to return someday. So, for now, we say, “goodbye,” to China.

Alonso Torres

lonso559@yahoo.com

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Updates

May 14, 2012

The school is treating me very well. I do experience some culture shock, but the orientation at Buckland really prepared me for what I would deal with. During the orientation I was skeptical, thinking to myself, “No you can’t possibly run an organization like that.” What I was told is all true. Here are a few things that are standard in China and very different from the US:

  • Time management is a much more laissez-faire affair, things neither end nor begin at the designated time.
  • Departures from events are much more abrupt, usually someone just says, “ok let’s go” and everyone picks up and leaves quite suddenly.
  • Cleanliness is not the same as in America, things are simply less sanitary.
  • Invariably wherever you go people will openly stare at you.

All in all I’m having a good time, although I do miss freedom and steaks.

Daniel Casaletto

dancasaletto@gmail.com

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May 20, 2012

It’s been a while since I last sent an update so this entry will be pretty lengthy.

By the end of February, Samantha and I had already moved into our apartment after staying about a week and a half in a hotel. Our apartment complex is 30 stories tall, with about 20 apartments on each floor, and six elevators to reach each story. Our apartment is a decent size for two people and it is fixed up quite nicely. Wooden floors cover our 24th floor apartment from the entrance to the apartment and all the way to the entrances of the bathroom and the kitchen. Originally, the apartment was already furnished with two very comfortable couches, a 40 inch LED television, a bed, a wooden coffee table, 2 wooden drawers. a shoe cabinet, two water jugs, a washer, a heating unit, an air conditioning unit, a stove, a water boiler, a microwave, a small refrigerator, a frying pan, a pot, and a couple of dishes, bowls, glasses, and utensils. Over the past few months we have acquired many kitchen appliances, Internet, a desktop, two bikes, bedding, and many other small things that are required for someone to live here comfortably. We still look forward to acquiring a small dining table with two chairs. For the kitchen and hot water, the stove and water boiler use gas. The gas consumption is maintained by a meter in the kitchen. It starts out with 80 credits, which is about 180 RMB. On average, we consume about 20 credits a month. Whenever it runs out, a gas card is refilled at the gas department and then inserted into the meter to reactivate it.

Our apartment complex is very safe. There is always at least one security guard downstairs in the lobby. Also, right outside the lobby, there is a water delivering machine. That is where we get our drinking water from. We have a card which, fortunately for us, was filled up with 100 RMB and given to us when we moved in. The card is inserted into the machine to activate it. It’s been about three months since we’ve moved in and the water card has been depleted to about 40 RMB.

So, we have to go all the way downstairs with our empty water jugs to get drinking water. On our way back up to our apartment, we are usually met at the elevators with scooters, dogs, bikes, and neighbors. The elevators are large enough to fit a scooter into them. This theory has been tested and proven over and over again. Also, the location of our apartment complex is pretty awesome because we have a recreation center just in front of our apartment complex and a food and street market around it which starts at about 1700 everyday. I would describe our whole apartment, but the pictures I’ve attached are, I think, self-explanatory.

What isn’t self-explanatory are the adventures, the people, and the culture my wife and I have encountered. Teaching here in China has been incomparable to any other teaching experience I’ve ever encountered. Over the past few months, we have been doing demonstrations to attract students and we have also been teaching at a public school as well as technical schools. I have progressed in my teaching ability from taking two days to make a lesson plan during orientation at Buckland to drawing up a lesson plan in five minutes before an unexpected class.

Samantha and I represent RJYW, which is a technical school that children come to in the evening or on the weekend when they don’t have public school. Therefore, our days off our not set. Sometimes they alternate from week to week, but for the most part, our FAO (foreign affairs officer) understands if we have plans that have been set up ahead of time with him and the company. He is extremely helpful with even the simplest things. He has definitely made our experience more enjoyable. Along with our FAO, the Buckland Group back in Yangshuo continues to help us when we have problems. So, there is nothing that can’t be resolved between the two companies.

A typical week of work goes as follows; Sundays, I have evening classes at one branch on the west side of the city. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays are usually off for me, but whenever there is a special assignment, it’s usually on one or two of these days. Usually, I get two of these days off a week. On Wednesdays, I have classes in the morning at a public elementary school in southern Zhengzhou. Fridays, I have morning Kindergarten at the same school. Saturdays, I have English corner once a month at the same school in southern Zhengzhou and in the afternoon, I teach at the RJYW headquarters near my apartment.

We still have about two more months to go in our contract. Travel plans for our trip back home are coming together and we will be back in Seattle before we know it. It feels like we just arrived in Zhengzhou and our time here just flew by. But we continue to make the best of it.

Attached are some pictures of the apartment, the view of the recreation center and downtown from our window, and a picture of us from when we visited the Yellow River Geological Park that is about 40 minutes out of the city.

Alonso Torres

lonso559@yahoo.com

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A learning experience

April 5, 2012

The thing that makes teaching here so hard is that the Chinese English teachers don’t speak the language very well. At our school in Mianyang, it seems that 1 teacher per grade level speaks the language well enough to have a conversation with, but most of the others I can’t really talk to. And I think that’s really sad because these kids don’t know they are learning improper language. I think that every school that has foreign teachers should provide a class where the native English speaker teaches the Chinese teachers of English proper pronunciation. There are many, many mistakes. I think these mistakes could be corrected if the teachers could speak better English themselves.

Across the board, I’ve heard from other teachers around the country that the students are out of control/undisciplined. I have trouble controlling my classes, and the attitude that our classes aren’t important because there is no grade or formal test at the end is very widespread. That attitude– and learning how to have good classroom management with large classes of undisciplined students–is something that foreign teachers need to be better prepared for. There is a school in Chengdu where my friend works where the Chinese teachers told her not to take her job too seriously and to let the kids play. Another school in Chengdu doesn’t have a Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO), so that teacher is left on her own to solve all of her own problems. My current situation is just fine, but I know it’s because Ping at Buckland really wanted to make sure that the Seattle Community Colleges people got taken care of really well. Some teachers from outside of our District didn’t get ideal situations.

If I could do this whole program over again, I would prepare myself better for being here. I did a lot of good preparation on things like what to bring with me, but I did not prepare well for how I would interact with the Chinese people. I did not study much about Chinese culture and how the people are different from Americans, and I think it would’ve been really helpful if I had. It’s not enough to know that the kids may behave differently in the classrooms – to exist and live in China you have to know things. For example, most Chinese people will stare at you and make comments about you and point at you and laugh. People will call you “fat” to your face over and over again. They will laugh at you when you don’t understand something or if you pronounce things wrong. The kids will be brutally honest about what they think about your appearance. And you will not understand why people treat you so differently. As a white person living in big city like Seattle, I can’t really speak much to racism, but if I had to guess, this might be what it feels like, at least a little bit. Most people aren’t hostile–there’s not a hatred or anything. People are what we would consider very rude, but to them they are just acting like they would normally. They call each other fat, and laugh at each other, make fun of them, and think nothing of it. But I wasn’t prepared for this at all, and it ruined my first couple of weeks here until I realized how much that “rudeness” is just a part of their culture.

The best part for me is that in Sichuan Province there is so much to do, and it’s all only a couple hours from my school where I am teaching. I spend my weekends going on trips and seeing sites. Wandering around as a tourist is when I’m having the most fun. Teaching stresses me out, and I think that is because I have no formal teaching experience. I’ve figured it out, but I still spend many hours making lesson plans. When the contract says that we teach 15 hours a week, that only counts for the actual minutes of class time we are teaching. That doesn’t count the hours of lesson planning, or the hours I spend sitting around at school because on some days my schedule is very spread out during the day. It’s still less work than I do at home and I’m not complaining, but I found the 15 hours per week to be a little misleading. I am compensated for my extra lessons though (I teach 21 lessons per week) so that’s not a problem.

Honestly I’ve struggled a lot here. The amount of personal growth I’m experiencing is phenomenal and it will pay off in the end. At this point, I would definitely sign up to do this again, but it is a lot harder to be here than I was expecting.

Reiny Cohen

reinycohen@gmail.com

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April 15, 2012

Everything is going great in China. The school that I work at is really cool. I’m very happy that I came to China. I am working with kids from the ages of 12-15. I have junior 1, junior 2, and senior 1. Lesson planning for my 15 teaching hours isn’t too overwhelming. It’s pretty easy if you just follow what’s in the book they give you, but it gets hard at times when the kids don’t understand half of the content in the book and you have to take out and add stuff to it so that they can understand it. But… I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be! Things aren’t meant to be easy, there’s always going to be somewhat of a challenge. I don’t have to grade for any of my classes, so I probably spend about 30 minutes in preparation for each lesson and I only need to plan 3 lessons per day. It’s not bad!

I think that expanding the Teach in China program to other students or colleges in Seattle would be a great idea. Coming to China really helped open my eyes to a lot of things.

Crystal Hernandez

crystalhernandez21@gmail.com

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April 17, 2012

Here’s some feedback:

What is the school like? The school I am currently teaching at is quite large with around 1200 students from grades 1-6. The school has another campus within walking distance of my home that has another 800 or so students. My first month and a half in this city was spent going to multiple schools; I taught at 7 schools throughout the city.

How are you adapting to teaching? Adapting was pretty easy for me, but going to new school every week was definitely trying. The teachers are nice and the students are excited to learn and generally well behaved. The schools will throw in a couple welcome ceremonies where a teacher introduces you to the school asks you a few questions about where you’re from and how you feel about China.

How is the food in the town/city or at school? The food served at school is okay, but it isn’t anything I’ll miss. Lunch and breakfast are free, although only a couple schools offer breakfast. There are plenty of restaurants around including Pizza Huts, KFCs, and some Chinese chain restaurants. The American chains are nice if you need a break from the local food, but I generally stick to food on carts since it’s cheaper and easier to point at.

What is your housing like? The house is very nice, I will attach some photos to this email. Heat, AC, washer, shower, TV, etc. were all here upon my arrival.

What are you doing in your free time? I am in Chengdu, which is a huge city, so there is plenty to do in my free time. I generally go for walks around town and go to the gym, occasionally I stumble into a bootleg DVD shop or a pool hall on the weekend. There are numerous tourist attractions in and around the city (Leshan Buddha, Wuhou Temple, etc.) that I have been slowly checking off on my to do lists. Nightclubs are everywhere throughout the town, as is plenty of shopping, and gaming cafes near the college.

Jackson Hardin

jhardin206@gmail.com

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SCC Chancellor visits China

A few more photos from Seattle Community College’s Chancellor Jill Wakefield’s visit to China in March.

Sitting in the Buckland office with the CEO of Buckland, Wen Ou.

Outside the Buckland office with the CEO of Buckland, Wen Ou, and his staff.

The Omeida sign is a language school that Jill visited.

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Students in action

A few of our blog contributors are seen enjoying their time abroad.

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In the classroom

Alonso teaching.

Crystal teaching.

Daniel teaching.

Alonso teaching.

Samantha teaching.

Seattle Community Colleges Chancellor Jill Wakefield visits China this month.

Jill in China.

Jill in China.

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Life in Zhengzhou

March 9, 2012

I just read an e-mail from Ping and she had mentioned that you were coming to China soon. So, I’m just e-mailing you to let you know that we are doing well.

Samantha and I are having a good time in Zhengzhou. We are teaching, but at the moment, we only have about one class that is consecutive every week. We are currently substitutes for other teachers at different schools here in the city. We have a lot of free-time at the moment, but also our apartment is still being put together. We are living in a 30-story apartment complex which we moved into on the 29th of last month. We live on the 24th floor and our apartment window overlooks downtown Zhengzhou. Around our apartment complex, we have many attractions that keep us busy. We don’t have internet at home so we take advantage of the wi-fi at work if we have time. Basically, we have been doing demos to recruit new students and also, we’ve been doing workshops with our Chinese assistants. For every class we teach, we have an assistant which translates for us and helps the students understand the lessons. I have been teaching 5-13 year old students and Samantha has taught 5-16 year old students. We are adjusting very well to the life here in Zhengzhou, but yet we can’t wait to return to Seattle.

Like I had mentioned, at the moment, we are restricted to just using the wi-fi at work, so we have to go now. I have to sit down in a quiet place to describe, with the exception of the lack of internet, how great our apartment is.

Alonso Torres 

lonso559@yahoo.com

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