Beijing, TUESC: COMPETITION TIME

Tsinghua English Summer Camp.

IT’S SINGING COMPETITION TIME!!

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Jennifer waving our class flag!!

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IRISH BACK AT ME

The Camp-wide competition of Tsinghua University English Summer Camp 2012 is this biggest event of Beijing so far with over three thousand students packed into the university’s auditorium.

Blue G’s five piece boy band (shamelessly and fearlessly) made it through the preliminaries and semi-finals with Westlife’s My Love, a tribute to my ten-year-old Westlife cowboy-hat wearing self which nearly had me in tears –  and boy, did we roar their way onto the finals stage. Nothing could make me prouder than having some of the shyest male members of Blue G feel brave enough to take on this classic tune in front of thousands of their first-year compatriots.

Old hands at the camp, prepared for the vastness of the auditorium stage may have wowed the crowd with costumes and dance routines, but with our class’s front row section to auditorium, we were banner-waving, foot-stomping, and crowd-screamingly raucous; we were the loudest faction (by our count at least) and we sang every note fit to burst along with our lad’s Westlife tribute.

As My Love became the official anthem of Blue G 2012, Stefan and I nearly passed out with exhilaration.

What a great night!

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Beijing, TUESC: Blue G Take Charge!

Cue the Class Trip!

 

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A few weeks into Camp, the Blue G group teams up with another class to take us Volunteers on a trip to the nearby Temple of Heaven, and the Beijing Hutongs. Dan, Christine and teacher, Cindy joined our Blue G teacher Jennifer, Stefan, my co-volunteer and myself as we toured Beijing with out students –  Cue Class Trip!!

Blue G had everything down to a T, from note-cards with readings describing the history of the 15th century building to the symbolic architecture in excellent English, especially by comparison to the rather bizarre translations given on the public signs, and in addition, carried rucksacks of speciality treats for hungry teachers!

I managed to escape the hoards of tourists, foreigners and Chinese alike, to snap a few shots of the Temple on its own… I can only imagine how tranquil and silent it must have lay until the original harvest ceremonies performed by the Emperors.

Now it’s quite crowded.

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As we headed into the Hutongs of Beijing, we soon realised the depth of preparation our classes had gone into as we were split into five groups and handed a bundle of photographs and a camera: we weren’t about to get off easy as our students tested out tenacity and endurance of Beijing summer heat with a Hutong treasure hunt!

The Hutongs themselves are a one-story maze of traditional Chinese courtyard architecture separated into neighbourhoods; a strange time-warp of history, not preserved, but living. The Hutongs are packed tightly with small grey-brick houses, the contents of which splay onto the surrounding streets: chickens, cartons, washing lines and old, stained vested men hunched over mahjong gesticulating with abandoned, plastic flip flops – barefoot.

Some tight alleyway doors are opened, giving brief glimpses into a cool, shaded life; a woman washes her vegetables in a worn, red plastic tub; a small child, jet bowl of hair, squats beside a docile white rabbit; a tiny, floral patterned 阿妈 ( (Āh mā) fans herself with a child’s cartooned fan. Others are tightly shut, windows curtained, front step swept and lintels hanging faded red 門聯 (ménlián) from the New Year. There are no personal bathrooms behind these low-beamed, red doorways, and instead residents from a block will share a public toilet and washing facility.

It’s hot and sticky, and our curious team of Hutong explorers have many a trailing eye following our path through these sharp turning streets as we search for the originals of our photograph clues. The winning team will take a new photo, with the clue, at the original clue site and return to the meeting point once all five clues are solved. There are moments of desperation, and even flickers of weakness, until at last we make all five clues and return, last.

Green tea ice-creams all round!

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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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Beijing, TUESC: Post-Orchestral Torrents

A Night with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra

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For a wonderful night in, the University treated us with complimentary tickets to the Beijing Symphony Orchestra in the Tsinghua campus. They played all the good ones, and it was frankly, one of most exhilarating and wonderful experiences of my life.

Thank you, TUESC.

On the way home, the heavens open with a torrential downpour, the thunder rumbling hungrily and promising lightening  – which I can’t see, as I’m being blinded by rain on my trusty bike.

It’s really something else, coming down with monsoon thickness and great painful gusts as I have not yet seen in China. Dressed for the summer heat that was appropriate until three minutes ago, and on my rickety Chinese bike pedalling furiously into darkness – my chain comes off.
Obviously.

After calling the cavalry – who have made it back to the forms already sans mechanical problems – and several well-practised attempts to fix my chain, I embrace the rain and saunter back the mile to my dorms in the orange-lit dark through warm Beijing downpour, to be met by a huge group of soaked friends, about to dash out and find me.

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The Attendees - pre-downpour!
The Attendees – pre-downpour!
The after-rain shot!

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Smiles all round. It’s been a great, fantastic, wonderful evening.

Goodnight.

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Beijing, TUESC: Food Time Cacophony

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FOOD TIME

Everyone’s rushing to get lunch in a technicolour of student cycling madness. Driven by hunger. Ruthless in traffic.

It’s lunch-time at Tsinghua University Summer Camp and we can barely keep our students in their seats till the last minute.
And with good reason.

There are at least six canteens over campus, best travelled by bicycle, each serving variations of Chinese food in building ranging from high-class, lazy-suzan and lace rooms to three floor mess halls of university appropriate din – and you want to get there fast (it’s blood-curdlingly hot), chain up your bike, bag a table and enjoy a hot plate of Asian food goodness. With students coming to Tsinghua from all over the continent, there are dishes to cater for every province and taste and with the excessive RMB on our dinner cards courtesy of Tsinghua Camp organisers, I’m aiming to try everything.

Having been in Taiwan a lot over my lifetime, I was expecting food to be a walk in the park, but even for me it was at times a frustrating trial of experimentation and error, and at others, absolute delight.

It’s saltier here than I’m used to, some dishes are particularly oily and the service is entirely English-speaking free. Forget the lack of English, the canteen staff barely have time to speak in Chinese.

It’s a nippy task of tense queue waiting (with much spectator curiosity from your Chinese queue-buddies), and random pointing at  dishes with an internal monologue that mostly consists of tense exclamation (at the contents of previously tame looking vats) , prayer (that the dish you choose is edible and non-spicy), expletives (when they refuse to ladle from the dish you want) and resignation (when you get your finished tray of food).

It’s a swift in-out of the ol’ meal card – it’s never more than around 5-6RMB per meal out here, including drinks – and you can get back to your table and heave a relieved sigh with your fellow volunteers.

Oh, and of course, it’s chopsticks and spoons only.

chopsticks.

“Everyone goes to Qing Qing Burger.”

I never went to Qing Qing Burger.

But then again, I was able to stick out the vast array of dazzling (and sometimes disarming) food on offer. For some of the volunteers, it had to be Western food, and that is on offer here too. Although word of warning – it’s easily four times the price of the chinese meal equivalent, and lots of Qing Qing Burger-goers soon ran out of their Tsinghua given cash.

My solid favourites remained the aubergine and mince, egg fried tomato and rice combo dipping in and out of various meat and veg sides, with an iced black tea.

Meal-times with an element of risk makes every good choice taste better.

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Beijing, TUESC: Tsinghua Get-In

‘Get-In‘: [theatre speak] the theatre term for the precious few hours a company have to get into a theatre, get their props and costumes in, actors prepped with routine and ready for the rehearsals and big show.
[everyday slang] get stuck in, wa-hoo!

Cue Tsinghua Get-In.

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We’ve made it to China, we’ve been picked up by four lovely first year students who shepherd our post-nausea wracked bodies (ok, well that only applies to me) into a Tsinghua levied little bus, 小巴士 (xiǎo bāshì), for the journey to the University.

There were several of us student-teachers on the KLM flight into Beijing, and it’s with not just a little curiosity that we survey each other from across the aisles of the plane seats; for the most part I succeed in having some introductory chat with students from London, Nottingham and even little Exeter and for the latter part I’m focusing on keeping the contents of my stomach from the interior of the plane.

UNPACK

The University bundles us into our dorms, and it’s not till the next day that we get assigned to our teaching groups and classes.

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The camp is split up to mirror the political structure of China’s provinces; pretty neat the camp functions as a state TSINGHUA, where each of the letters represent a province  T to A in which the student are split into classes according to English ability top class red to bottom purple.

I’m teaching Blue G with my fellow teacher Stefan from University of Florida (Go Gators!) and Jennifer, an Applied Lingistics Major from University of Georgia, with helpers Lauren an Alpha Chi Omega from Baylor and Jeff from University of Chicago.

I’m over-run with Americans and I forsee dustbin/trashcan-esque problems.

But all jokes aside, I can’t wait to get teaching with the team!

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DORM LIFE

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Here’s a sneaky peek at my relatively luxurious room at Tsinghua University Summer Camp. Tiled floor? Check. Hard Chinese-style bed? Check. TV with only Chinese channels? Check. Washing hung up in the window already? Double-check. I am so acclimatised to Asia you’d think I was half Asian… (I am.)

I am not however, Asian enough to fathom sharing a dorm with six to eight other students, with a curfew of 1030PM as the local students here at Tsinghua do.

The British half of me recoils at the thought of lack of privacy; I was never a boarding school student, never a stay-at-summer-camp kind of girl. I like the relative freedom British student Dorms have, and certainly by comparison, the Chinese University style seems both foreign, militant and daunting. However, the students here say that there are upsides to sharing: the community spirit, the group mentality and the quick bonding of friendships. I don’t think I’m ready for China-style dorms just yet…

Some of the Western volunteers complain at the sparseness of the rooms.
I’m silently thinking we’re being seriously spoilt.

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Can’t wait for teaching to commence!

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Beijing, TUESC: The Adventure Begins

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On my way over the curvature of the earth.

So it’s June, my second year of university has finished, and I’m currently on a flight.
But it’s not a flight home.

I’m headed on an open ticket some 7,000 miles to Beijing, Mainland China for the first time. Yes, I feel nauseated (I’m a terrible flyer, despite frequently travelling 12hr flights since I was three). Yes, I’m nervous. But, boy am I excited. I’m heading to the Eastern World’s renowned Tsinghua University to teach at their immersive English Summer Camp for three weeks to their first year students – to live in their dorms with English speaking internationals from around the world and explore the sights, food and night-life of Beijing and beyond!

Tsinghua University English Summer Camp

If you’ve never ventured Eastwards, or had an Asian mother, you may not have heard of the University at all; certainly every Chinese-university bound child has heard of Oxford 牛津 (Niújīn) or Cambridge 剑桥 (Jiànqiáo) and yet the world-ranking Chinese universities remain a mystery to most Brit students.

One of the three top Chinese universities – the others being Peking University, Beijing (with whom they have a Oxford-Cambridge style rivalry), and Fudan University, Shanghai in the South, Tsinghua was founded in 1911 and has a long history of being strong in the technical sciences. So being paid teach their first years to speak English? Representing my home University? Flying on a University Scholarship paid flight? Entering as a politically awkward, half-Northern Irish, half-Taiwanese, student.

Yeah, I’m nervous.
This is going to be exciting.

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