China Team Journal

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday May 11, 2009

The facilities at Xi’an Pei Hua University are drab. The halls are poorly lit and the offices are crowded. What a contrast with the students, who are exuberant, alert, and vitally interested in learning English. I was the fortunate recipient of all of this energy, greeted with thunderous applause as I entered the classroom – a superstar on my first day of teaching on behalf of Global Volunteers. I covered two classes under the direction of Cynthia, a superb English teacher with barely an office in the University.

This was Monday, so the initial activity was the presentation of two plays in English written by and acted in by the students. The students even memorized their parts. In general, they were clever and fun. Three of the four performances were adaptations of Chinese romantic plays, their version of Romeo and Juliet, cast into a modern version. One of them was a play about the relationship between children and their parents, the parents depicted as an apple tree. The play demonstrated that the children need the support of their parents even as they grow older. This gave me a great opportunity to introduce the idiom: “The apple does not fall far from the tree”.

After the presentations, I introduced myself, observing the intense level of interest on the part of the students. They applauded when I told them that I had a doctor’s degree in engineering. Then I showed them pictures of my family. They were enthralled with my grandchildren and my younger son’s cat, Po. This was followed by photos of my neighborhood and the interior of my house. They were interested in the difference between the living room and the family room, a question I had some difficulty answering.

Then I showed a map of the U.S. describing the various regions and discussing some of the most important states, including Illinois where I was born. They asked about the climate, and I gave some rough estimates of the temperature extremes. I had planned to follow this with presentations by the students describing their home provinces. We only got as far as Shaanxi Province, when the bell announcing the end of the first period rang. I will see this class again next week, and they made me promise that I would make time for presentations by students from other provinces.

During the following period, I presented pictures from Washington, DC and New York City after showing them my family and neighborhood. They were excited to see Barack Obama’s White House, and pictures of the cherry trees around the tidal basin. They explained that there are also cherry trees donated by the Japanese in Xi’an. The highlight of the New York City photos was Chinatown, pictures I had taken three weeks ago while visiting my son in NYC. Of particular interest to the students was the diversity of New Yorkers, demonstrated by pictures of African Americans and Asians sitting together on park benches in Central Park. This was followed by images of Chinatown, an unexpected treat.

I listed a number of topics on the blackboard for discussion, each with opportunities for the presentation of US and Chinese perspectives. They were asked to select their particular copies of interest, and they chose “pastimes.” I presented some of the favorite pastimes of Americans, and several of them got up to discuss music, hiking, and sporting activities in China. One of the gals sang a song written by one of her favorite popular music contemporaries she could easily qualify for American Idol. Then one of the few boys in the class came up to the front of the class and declared that he had a dream, just like Martin Luther King. When I asked him what it was, he explained that it was to embrace me. So we embraced. I realized that this would only be appropriate for one of the boys.

I brought with me a map of the world and told the class that my wife and I had done a lot of traveling. They asked where we had been and I pointed out several of the countries we had visited. They were particularly interested in Africa, and wondered about economic conditions in South Africa.

Before the class ended, one of the students stood up and reminded that I had spoken several times about my wife, Gail. She asked whether we had a “romantic relationship.” I assured her that this was the case.

I enjoyed being a superstar for a day, and hope that I was able to enrich the English learning experience for a few of the students.