This post has given you a better understanding of your role as an AYC English teacher and what you should expect next year in the classroom.
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This year was a long one, but many of the awesome AYC participants have finished out their academic year! The above collage only showcases a few of the 150+ teachers spread throughout China with their students. Many have already left for their next journey, others are teaching farther into the summer, but one thing remains true: AYC is immensely proud of it’s inaugural class of Ameson Year in China!
Salute — the AYC Class of 2013-2014!
Have you ever mused over the possible deep meaning of the choice English names your students chose? Have you ever wondered why your Chinese name sounds really strange when translated into English? Well below is an introduction to some of the more interesting naming practices.
- How many names?: Historically, socially enfranchised individuals could have different names at different stages of their life and stylized versions of them for different uses. Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of the Chinese Republic, had eight, not including a large number of pseudonyms used while in hiding.
- 1, 2, or 3?: In traditional China there was a strong emphasis on having as many children as possible. This led to some pretty large numbers of children that could sometimes be hard to keep track of. Enter the numbers. Using a number after a name indicates the individual’s position in line; in the case of Su Forty-Three, a famous rebel in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) who seems to be pretty far down the list. A common usage today is referring to oneself relative to one’s brothers and sisters. The third child in a family would be called “old three.”
- You want me to be what?: In China, names express a parents desire for a child or describe characteristics the child may have. In rural settings, embarrassing physical features or associations are common. If a child doesn’t turn out just as the parents wanted, they may keep the name they planned on anyway. A tragic young male character in “The World” by director Jia Zhangke goes by the name “Maiden Number Two” because his parents had hoped that their second child would be a girl.
“I don’t think the magic has died down, really. Everywhere I go on campus, someone will run up to me and ask me how I am or say good afternoon. Many students are not afraid to just come up and ask me random questions, like, “Where are you from?” or “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Exploring the city with my students has definitely given me the experience that I’ve had,” Mary says. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
If your Chinese is at a moderate level, there’s a good chance you’ll have learned the word 老百姓 (lit. “old hundred names” or “the common people”). What you may not have learned is that the word has completely flipped in meaning over the last hundred years. Throughout most of Chinese history, common people did not have surnames. Surnames (姓) were reserved only for the aristocracy, and the “hundred” (百) was a way of referring to all of the various family lines as a unit. Thus, 百姓 refers to the nobility, not the common people. However with the end of the feudal system, the universalization of surnames, and progressive social atmosphere brought by the communist revolution, the term took a 老 (“old”, which to this learner seems to add both respect and familiarity) and began to refer to “the people” as a whole.
Visit Huanghshan with AYC in 90 seconds! The video of AYC'ers on Mt. Huangshan features photography by AYC’s own Fred Bane, and takes viewers from sunset to sunrise in the mountain region. Discover one of the beautiful wonders of China with participants!
Victoria Caitlin Evans, placed in Longwan High School in Wenzhou, brings creativity to the classroom. When teaching her Grade 1’s (17 year olds) she prioritizes student involvement, creating fun lessons that stretch students use of the English language and promotes full class participation. Her method is simple, “I have an outline of what I want to happen, tell them, and then we work through it together. For example, the last lesson I did we played scrabble with some homemade scrabble letters I made. I explained to them how to play, and as they are playing/writing/talking /singing (whatever we are doing that day), I make my rounds and just help them out, whether that’s keeping them on task or answering questions.”
Caitlin has found many ways to adjust to her new home in Wenzhou. She mentions that the other AYC'ers in the area have helped her adjustment to China life, as well as her awesome students. Some adjustments have stemmed from ingenuity: she was able to overcome a lapse in communication with her school by increasing her involvement around the school. Other hurdles proved to be more difficult. Upon arriving into China, aside from the universal barriers of language and culture for foreigners, Caitlin has faced “an apartment fire, a typhoon, small earthquakes, late paychecks from [her] school, and worst of all, [her] school lost a student to depression in the fall.” Facing these issues in ones native country can be difficult– in a foreign land they can be down-right soul crushing, but Caitlin has passed through the darker spots head-held high and thankful for this experience. “It’s going to be a bittersweet good-bye in July, but I’m grateful to have been able to come to Longwan, (or as I like to call it #Winning-zhou) and -cheesy warning- I’ll always have a special place for it in my heart forever.“
The internet may finally be putting an end to problems getting taxis in China: two new(ish) apps have made it possible to call a taxi to your spot in minutes via your smart phone. 嘀嘀打车 (Android and IOS)and 快的打车 (Android) allow users to input their destination either by text or by voice and sends that information to drivers nearby. After a driver accepts the call, the phone number and license plate of the driver is sent to the user. A little Chinese is required, but you can store commonly used addresses and send the request by text, so if a friend helps you set it up you can easily learn how to use it.
Although it may soon be difficult to get a cab without them, these apps saw slow growth since their release in 2012 – the entire city of Beijing had only 15 drivers using 嘀嘀打车 on the day it went online! The companies behind these apps offered cash bonuses to drivers who referred others to the app, and phone minutes to cover the significant data charges drivers incur, but it wasn’t until this year when they started offering 10 yuan discounts on taxi rides that the two apps really took off.
Of course, there is the ever-present internet problem of how to make this service profitable. Both companies seem to be looking to incorporating online payments as a way to bring in revenue, but neither seems to have a coherent plan. The services are available in major cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou etc.) and are continuing to expand, so if they can ever turn a profit, they may be coming to Yuncheng very soon.
Simeon Campbell made it a mission to bring his passion into the classroom and succeeded by not only introducing his students to poetry, but also putting on the very first Poetry Slam at Nanjing Zhong Xue in Jiangyin. Simeon has long written and performed poetry of his own at his native Los Angeles’s DPL Lounge’s open mic nights, and he showed the kids some of his poems, along with other poems by more established authors, to help explain what poetry is like in English.
The day of the slam, Simeon coached his students on the makings of a great performance – body language, projection, and vocal control. Fellow AYC'erKatherine Priddy, played a large roll in helping him organize the event; four other teachers volunteered as judges, ranking participants on a scale of 1-10 for both performance and quality of writing. The students competed for monetary prizes – 100 yuan for first place, 75 for second, 50 for third, and 10 yuan each for four honorable mentions.
In the end the event was an incredible success produced by AYC'ers Katherine and Simeon, and the kids at Jiangyin were able to uninhibitedly express themselves in english in front of their classmates and teachers. Kudos to these AYC'ers!
After inventing the movable type printing press, not a lot of innovation happened in Chinese typography until the invention of the computer. Early attempts to digitize the language included shape-based methods like Cangjie and phonetic-based ones like Zhuyin, but today the most common are Pinyin and Wubi. After six years in China Wubi is still like sorcery to me, so today we’ll just talk about Pinyin. Among Pinyin input systems, the best by far is Sougou.
Earlier Pinyin methods worked character by character, so you had to type wo, select 我, yao, select 要, qu, select 去…. but Sougou and other modern pinyin inputs can interpret entire sentences (woyaoquxuexiao 我要去学校) with impressive accuracy using context clues and data from other users. You can also just type the first letter of each syllable, for example xx pulls up 谢谢, 学校, and 信息 as my top 3. Typing rq for 日期 gives you the date in multiple different formats, and classical poems are indexed as well (try typing llysc!). After some practice I found that I could type in Chinese even faster than in English.
One particularly cool feature for learners of Chinese is that by first typing u you enter an input mode that allows you to break up characters you don’t know and enter them radical by radical. For example, to type 淼, a character made up of three 水s, type u then “shuishuishui” and Sougou will tell you it’s pronounced miao3. NICE.
As many of you are painfully aware, China is a land of many dialects, and people are often unsure of the “proper” pronunciation of a character. So most Pinyin systems today allow for what’s called “fuzzy Pinyin”. In the settings menu you can check boxes indicating the features of your dialect (sh goes to s, h goes to f, n goes to l, etc.).
Last but not least, if you come across a computer that’s ｔｙｐｉｎｇ ｌｉｋｅ ｔｈｉｓ， the computer is in full-width character mode, which you can exit by hitting shift+space or control+space.
Samantha Coughran is in Beilun, Ningbo at Chai Qiao High School! Here with two of her best friends from University of California Santa Barbara, John Leach and Amy Montemayor, she explains that because of them her adjustment to China has been a smooth one, aside from the clear bathroom doors, learning Chinese, and the not-so-casual daily stares. With about 3 and a half months left in her China experience she’s hoping to get some bucket list items crossed off, by heading to the Great Wall!
In the Classroom Sam has been through the novelty phase and uses her classroom as a portal to a land of excitement, flaws, and learning, “Perfection has been the ultimate goal for these students, so a class dedicated to speaking with flaws and discussing weaknesses is horrifying. I’ve turned my classes into a goofy 45-minute break from their hectic day; I focus on things my students like, crack jokes, dance and laugh…My students are less afraid of speaking, chat with me during passing period and hang out in my office to read English books that I had donated to the school through a Book Drive.” This kind of classroom ability is to be expected from an old pro. Sam, and her two very good friends, taught English in The Republic of Georgia last year!
Sam not only works for her students advancement in the classroom, she also works for it through social media by promoting her book drive to her friends in the states, in hopes that they will send books for her students to enhance their English literacy and understanding of American culture through reading!
Like most AYCers, Anitra Saddler wanted a new experience. “I chose China as a way to branch out into the world,” she says. “I wanted to experience life that was different from my own.” She sought the exact opposite of her small town in Minnesota: Changsha, in Hunan Province, renowned for its spicy food and warm climate. “Here in China it has been a different beat I have to move to and learn how to adapt to day to day,” says Anitra. “I am sometimes frustrated with the new change of pace; however, I do not regret it for one moment.”
For many teachers, Anitra’s classes would have posed a huge problem. She encountered the same problems all foreign teachers have in China: huge class sizes of up to 40 kids, in her case all girls, and her students entered the room believing they could walk all over a foreign teacher. But for Anitra, who comes from a large family with many younger siblings, controlling her classroom has never been an issue. “The students are so used to being drilled by their teachers that they believe foreign teachers are the “easy fun class” and will try not to follow the rules,” Anitra says. “It is very important for them to know you want to have fun, but you are their teacher and rules MUST be followed.”
Another challenge Anitra faces is that she teaches a mixture classroom: half her students spoke English fluently, while half knew no English at all. “At times making lesson plans is a bit difficult due to the wide range of English abilities. However, I love the challenge! This gives me the opportunity to use multiple strategies, learning aids, and so on to engage the students.” Anitra’s effort pays off: she loves her students and her students love her, constantly approaching her for hugs and presenting her with gifts. But she doesn’t get a swelled head; instead, she is reflective. “The older children are more difficult to bring them out of their comfort zone. They are afraid of losing face!!! The younger children most of the time can’t get enough. Making the class fun and new, keeps everyone interested and willing to explore outside the norm.”
AYC is promoted as a selective program for individuals who want to experience China while developing professionally, growing personally, and enhancing future prospects in the U.S. and abroad. In its inaugural year, the program had a lot of hurdles to overcome. Bringing expatriates into China can be a logistical nightmare, and recent tightening of China’s visa regulations made the task even more arduous. Despite these hurdles, my experience with AYC has been superb. This program opened my door to China, and continues to provide the support and unique professional network that makes living and working here the experience of a lifetime.
The mission of AYC is based on a premise that I hold dear; that lasting peace can be achieved through dialogue and exchange. To have been involved with this program in its early stages came with some challenges, but there is little doubt in my mind that AYC will develop into one of the world’s leading Sino-U.S. exchange programs, and I’m excited to witness that transition. I do recommend this program, and would invite others to experience the joys of global citizenship and cultural ambassadorship by joining AYC’s growing ranks of interesting, accomplished alumni from top U.S. institutions.
- Adam, Shanghai
China has three distinct concepts of homeland: 籍贯 (jiguan)，故乡 (guxiang) and 老家 (laojia). Many people in traditional families will be headed to their 籍贯 - their paternal grandfather’s hometown. 籍贯 is the only one of these three used on official documents like school records or hukous. 故乡 (lit. former hometown) sounds a bit more poetic, and can be used to refer to any place with which you have developed an emotional attachment (Nanjing would now be considered this columnist’s second 故乡）. 老家 (old home) is very colloquial and usually refers to the place where you grew up or where your parents live. Most people will probably head for their 老家 for the holiday.
As it happens, the reason tickets are hard to buy at this time of year is not entirely because everyone in China will be traveling during the same few days. Scalping of train tickets by people called 黄牛 (yellow bulls) has historically been a huge problem, with people using their connections to buy obscene numbers of tickets and selling them to desperate migrants returning home to their families with the money they’ve earned working. The government has taken huge steps to curb this in recent years, but the problem is probably impossible to totally eliminate.
Note for foreigners coming to China: be aware that going home for the holiday with your S.O. strongly implies that a wedding is not far off. Even if you’re just friends, it’s probably a good idea to bring someone else along if you’re visiting the hometown of someone of the opposite sex during Spring Festival to avoid adding grist to the vicious hometown rumor mill.
It took me a long time to realize what a stroke of luck it was to be placed in Nanjing. Being placed with 13 other AYCers, in a large city, with sizable expat population, was key. The strong community I formed here helped me celebrate the good times and weather the bad. That’s not to say there weren’t moments of homesickness and depression, but half price burgers and drinks cures a lot of ills. I came to China to experience something different and for me, different has been the operative word during my time here. Some differences are really cool, all fireworks are cheap and legal, others are more troublesome, your passport is required to book train tickets, but nothing works quite like you think it should. I encourage those who are looking for some excitement to give China a try. I don’t think China is part my professional future but I do speak mandarin better than my friends back home. Your time in China will be hard, but I think the experience is worth the difficulty. How many other chances will you have to drop everything and live halfway across the world for 9 months?
- Andrew Paulson, Nanjing
Spring has come to Yichang! We were blessed with two beautiful sunny weekends in a row, during which I was able to fit in three great hiking excursions to a few cool new places around Yichang (including Wenfo Shan- a sacred Buddhist mountain with a temple on top) and a trip out to the countryside with a few of my third grade students, Kay Kay, and Salina to see the beautiful Oriental Cherry trees in bloom. My classes the last two weeks have consisted of various excuses to take the kids outside for some time running in the sun, and mandatory classroom dance parties. To top it all off, my mom sent me the most amazing care package full of all sorts of vegetarian-surviving-in-China-goodies and I’ve been eating like a granola chick queen. So things have been pretty dang good!
The spring has always been my favorite season. In part definitely because of my birthday, but there is also something about things warming up, coming alive again, that awakens me. Winter was difficult here between the inescapable cold outside and inside and barely ever seeing the sun through the smog and fog. For a girl raised on 365 days of Colorado sunshine, it just wasn’t easy. But at last, the sun has returned!
Sun worship makes a lot of sense to me. Of course there is the joy when it rises each morning, and the woeful longing of “please don’t go!” when each evening I watch it disappear behind the hills, leaving traces of light strewn across the Yangtze river. Then there’s the vitamin D factor and whatever happy chemicals are released in your brain as that sunshine soaks into your skin. But there is also something else about it, something about being in sunshine evokes a sort of liminal space for me. The penetration of the sun’s beams melts illusive boundaries of my skin and I catch a glimpse of that ultimate unity with the universe. Suddenly it is all too clear that I can just be. And better yet, I can just be happy, I don’t have to wait for anything to make me feel happiness, because it is just a choice I am making. “If you want to be happy,….” becomes “If you want to, be happy.”
As always, John Denver says it best. Sunshine almost always makes me high! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybeke7_d1zE
And here’s a song called Happy that I played during first and second grade dance parties last week! Great video too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM
Check out participant Lindsey Pointer’s post about the happiness of Spring in Yichang, China!
Kiana Jackson is an AYC teacher from Kennesaw, Georgia, who like all of us, has taken the leap from the US to China to teach. Placed at the England International Foreign Language School in Jaimusi in the Heilongjiang province, she is teaching English to multiple ages, specifically kindergarten and 9 -11 year-olds. Unlike many of us, she and her coworker Jonathon are the only foreign teachers in the town. On top of that, the school that she works at is up-and-coming, meaning that they just recently moved into their newly renovated school and are working to enroll more students. So though at the moment her classes are small and intimate, she faces the possible challenge of having to readjust to a bigger class size. The biggest hurtles for Kiana have been the cold weather, the language barrier, the lack of mac and cheese. Despite these obstacles, her positivity shines through as she maintains an enthusiasm about her new environment and the personal growth this experience will generate. Read more about Kiana’s story and steadfastness in getting to China here.
The Ghost Festival here in China is something of a long lost relative of the Western Worlds Halloween. What is shared is the idea that on certain days the human world and the spiritual world overlap, a belief which has deep roots in Chinese cultural history. Four holidays in the traditional calendar are known as 鬼节(gui3 jie2) or Ghost Festivals. Ghosts are “hungry” in Chinese culture so they will be offered food, alcohol or cigarettes as appeasement. During one festival in particular, Qingming Festival, Chinese take advantage of their proximity to the spirit world to send swag to their ancestors in the afterlife by burning paper offerings in the likeness of BMW’s, townhouses, iPads and of course fake hundred dollar bills.