Beijing, TUESC: Camp Life

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So between the rainbow array of t-shirts, thousands of asian students, hundreds of volunteers and wormhole vortex of identical corridors in the teaching building, the first week of teaching can get a little hectic. So here’s a quick run down of the teaching day as I grapple with painstakingly attempting to remember my students, fellow volunteers and amidst it all – my own name.

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Class Time!

In Province G of T-S-I-N-G-H-U-A, I teach (in a white t-shirt) the level Blue class (a sea of blue shirts).
IE. The best class.

We’re second from the bottom in English speaking ability, scaling from purple (lowest), blue, green, yellow, to red (highest) but as Stefan, Jennifer and I quickly learn, the students English capability says nothing for their swift intelligence, eagerness to contribute, and need for intellectually challenging English-speaking tasks.

The day starts for them at 9am where they listen to a lecture from a professor other than Jennifer, who is Blue G’s lecturer (blue collared t-shirt) – so on a rotating basis they hear about everything from American Civil War History, to Marriage Traditions in the West first thing up.

This week’s  been pretty daunting as my teaching partner, Stefan has been out for the count with a throat infection, so I’ve been listening in with my students in the lectures or nervously prepping the classroom –  as after the lecture, the class of 60 splits into two groups of 30 – and I’m faced with teaching the whole class myself

One comes to my classroom and Jennifer keeps the other for 1hr 30mins until we rotate and use the same lesson plans again. Thank goodness we have Jeff and Lauren, our class assistants, dropping in to help us out and even taking some lessons for us next week!

We’ve got the nuclear physists, scientists and lawyers, and in a group of 60, there are only around 15 girls. It’s a daunting mix, not only for myself, but the female students and I’m keen to keep them on equal footing with their classmates; I’ve not to worry as much as I’d though though as the male students are polite in a way none of my Western male students are as a whole (sorry guys) – certainly no ‘lad culture’ here.

But regardless of pre-teaching nerves, I am quickly falling in love with my routine. I love teaching my students, they’re brilliant.

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Lesson Plans

There are positives and downfalls to having to trial-and-error test my lesson plans

the downfall is that one class will have a slightly better lesson, improved on by my experience with the previous group, the positives is that each class’s reaction to different activities is completely subjective – I’ve found that the second class is slightly more receptive, but this is only because they’ve had time to warm up/wake up from lectures that sometimes aren’t tailored enough to Blue level’s listening capabilities.

This weeks winning activities have been ice-breaking (they really enjoying chorusing “Hello!” to their fellow classmates’ English self-introductions) and creating English jingles, music and dances for a tailored-to-an-audience advert competition; top-tips are to make sure they have to present their work – with each student needing to speak – at the end of class (they need this incentive to ensure they actually work! Once they know it’s fine!), set clear time limits for activities, walk around and engage the quieter students and work them in groups, as it helps them get used to actually speaking together in English and makes them less intimidated by presenting in English, which is something some are particularly shy about. Hopefully, the weeks lessons have been getting gradually smoother as we all get used to each other!

My favourite part is saying good morning to my students as they file in in the morning; my students say they’re not used to looking teachers in the eye – eye-contact is very different culturally here – and they have a really fab, shy smile when they reply. There’s nothing these guys need but a bit of confidence to gabble away in English and make mistakes with the teachers. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that some of the quieter students will feel more comfortable with speaking up soon!

The afternoon classes rotate, then come together again for either Shakespeare, Movie-Dubbing exercises, Speech Making and games.

Freedom rings at Four!

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Afterschool

Afterschool is when the volunteer/student mixing fun begins! Throughout the day teachers award good students camp currency, Shells, which they can use towards purchasing anything from a whole shops’ worth of gifts that the volunteers have brought from their home countries, universities and even made themselves. Known as the Camp’s ‘Treasure Island’ I’ve had a sneaky peek at the goodies myself and there’s everything from English fine bone crockery to signed basketball shirts – which have created quite the hubbub amongst the Basketball loving students.

Alternatively, Camp Leader (Blue with White Collared Polo) Bennett leads a hugely popular dancing class afterschool where students, volunteer teachers, and lecturers alike get together to shake some co-ordinated butt! I’m easily embarressed by my shocking lack of co-ordination, but Stefan my teaching partner is awesome. Check him out!

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Once the day’s done, we volunteers eat late, sometimes making quick tourist trips or planning lessons before dinner. Most nights there’s some group going out somewhere, and there’s great fun cycling down to Wudaokou where our local Westerners pub/bar is for some sweet mojitos before woozily cycling back to dorms for a stone-dead sleep eight hours sleep!

I’m a horrifically light sleeper, but I’ve never slept better in my entire life.

Up fresh for the next day!

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Beijing, TUESC: Class Blue G Chillaxin’

After hours chilling with Class Blue G!

It’s sometimes a hard slog in the classroom, but after-class gives Stefan and I a chance to get to know our students in a more chilled out environment – around food and basketball!

Between the enthusiasm of the students and the silly amount of money on our lunch cards, we treat our students to ice-creams, dinner, and lunches where we can, and it’s a great way to help them out with some real-time English and have some genuine down-time with the students.

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After-class Basketball - these guys are awesome!
After-class Basketball – these guys are awesome!
The girls get in on the action...
The girls get in on the action…

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You Pay, I Pay

 On a cultural note, it’s really difficult to get the class to accept our paying for things; the local custom means not only do they want to be the ones ‘treating’ us as visitors/tourists, but that they drive a hard job of resisting us. It’s a push and pull battle as we do our best to explain that we’ve simply got too much money from the University on our food cards, but the bill certainly causes a lot more social hassle than back home…

 Class Lunch with Blue G
Class Lunch with Blue G

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Not long after these events, class assistant Echo and one of our students, Joe announce that the class are planning a trip for us and we’re torn between being excitement and a niggling feeling that they’re trying to return the favour. It’s hard to escape this distinctly Asian sense of social debt, or 人情 (rénqíng) even in our English Summer Camp environment.

As much as the actual learning of grammar and spoken English is integral to the Camp experience, it’s the cultural exchange that’s, for me at least, feeling like the biggest hurdle between our teacher volunteer groups and the students – as essentially, we’re the same age and at similar stages in life. I honestly think that getting to know the other students outside the social restrictions of the classroom has been the best team-building, and friend-ship building (cheesy, I know) experience I’ve had yet.

Blue G, you guys are the best.

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