China Team Journal

Friday, July 12, 2013

Volunteering in China - July 12

Team #209 started their eventful day with their morning ritual of meeting in room 9 for their fabulous buffet breakfast. Unsurprisingly, there was a latecomer that failed to show up on time for the morning meal. This time, it was Nora who was just stumbling out of bed while the rest of the team was enjoying breakfast. As you can see, punctuality is the key to success, as noted in the team’s list of 15 Characteristics of an Effective Team.

Not only was Nora late to breakfast, but she was also late in joining Tom and Geni’s class this morning. Usually, Nora spends the first half of the morning with Fran and Dia’s class and the second half with Tom and Geni. Fran and Dia’s class started their morning off with reciting poems. Tom and Geni’s class spent their morning practicing for their final performance and learning about oxymorons and opposites. Anne and Myrle’s class was busy performing skits, ordering off menus, and playing various games.

At the end of our busy morning, team 209 headed back to the hotel for lunch. Clearly, lunch was one of the best meals the team has had so far. Anne even ate (and enjoyed) one of her most hated vegetables: broccoli. Geni, Nora, and Dia’s afternoon was almost completely uneventful, including only a trip to the bakery and a few games of cards. At the end of the day, the Gualtieris started to prepare for their weekend trip to Shangri-la while Anne and Myrle went to Green Lake and rowed in paddleboats. What a wonderful way to end a busy week!

Entry submitted by: Geni

Message of the Day: “Alfonso is sweet and all, but he’s too in touch with his feminine side.” –Anne Radcliffe

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Volunteering In China - July 11

Team #209 started the day with a good breakfast and everyone was punctual as usual. We got to school and Myrle and I started class with the presentations of some interesting TV show skits. In the other room, a heated game of “memory” took place, as well as reenactments of popular Disney stories. 

We came back to the hotel for lunch and had my favorite: stuffed buns. There was some interesting conversation at the table; however, no one seemed to believe me when I told them about the world’s best cup of coffee, provided by a small animal that ate, then returned, the beans that were used to create this supposedly extraordinary-tasting brew.

After lunch, there was a lecture back at school given by Fran, who reported back that all went well, except that she accidentally gave out the wrong information about her children. Who remembers that stuff anyway? Nora, Geni, Dia, and I started, but failed to finish, a monopoly game while Myrle worked in his room and Tom attended the lecture at school. Surprisingly, the sun peeked out in the afternoon for an extended period of time, which was very uplifting after a spell of rainy days. 

Dinner was at the hotel and consisted of some more stimulating conversation. We jumped from topics such as Ebonics as a language offered in school (although no one believed me on that one either), to the most popular sports in the U.S. of A. (three out of the five most popular sports were football - who knew), and we ended by sharing our earliest memories (some of which were very traumatic). After dinner we retired to our rooms to get ready for the end of week one. 

Entry submitted by: Anne

Message of the Day: “It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others - and less trouble.” – Mark Twain

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Encouraging signs

With all the emphasis on punctuality, it was not at all surprising that barely minutes after 7:00, the entire team was seated and enjoying breakfast and lively conversation. With the usual efficiency of superior leadership, Baoli moved the meeting along quickly to allow everyone ample time before departure to ensure nothing was forgotten or neglected on the day of the big song and dance. In the care of our excellent driver, we made the perilous journey along the rainy streets of Kunming without incident. 

We are by now well adjusted to our teachers and vice versa. Lesson plans are all over the map and trading ideas and schemes that worked well in one class are routinely passed on to benefit others. In our class, we intermixed active segments with language-oriented desk work to maintain the energy level with some success. The “fly swatter vocabulary”, tried and recommended by others in the team, proved to be very popular. The teachers quickly learned how to beat the system to win the competition, but they did so with good humor and no harm done. We will do a repeat. Idioms continue to be a challenge to explain. 

The important day’s take-away for our part of the team was a perceptible shift in the relationship. We seem to have moved from an “us and them” condition to one of friendly colleagues working together to improve language skills and find new methods for teaching English at the middle school level. Our final two conversations, the first stimulated by written responses that were discussed and the second an appeal for a better method of engaging students, were among the most fully engaged dialogues so far.

The unquestionable highlight of the day was the afternoon singing and dancing extravaganza. Ably choreographed by the four young ladies who are rapidly becoming the key to our team’s success, the afternoon session turned into a noisy high energy event that would have made Bob Fosse envious. Once Nora warmed up the group and turned them over to her partners, the beat and step barely paused as they moved from galloping ponies to moving feet to shifting hand games. We can imagine the teachers, sweaty and exhausted, collapsed in their beds and wondered happily what they had gotten themselves into.

Tom and Myrle, wary of being drawn into yet another activity where their motor skills would be revealed as inadequate, fled the premises on foot. Dinner was at another restaurant within walking distance where our thoughtful hostess and intrepid leader lavished dumplings on the stars of today’s endeavors as a well-earned reward. The sun was also visible for as much as 45 seconds today: an encouraging sign.

Entry submitted by: Myrle

Message of the Day: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things that you did.”  - Mark Twain

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Singing and dancing in the classroom

The day started the usual way with the eight of us eating breakfast in room 9. Tom arrives late while saying something about punctuality to make up for being the last one down to breakfast. When we are done eating, Geni and I got supplies for class. I got scissors, paper, glue, and tape for the primary school teachers. Fran started class with the primary teachers writing their homework on the chalkboard. She didn’t plan for homework to take the whole class time. There was only enough time for Dia to quickly teach the Macarena and the Hokey Pokey at the very end of class. I was with Fran and Dia’s class for the first part of the morning, but after their break, I went downstairs. 

I joined Tom and Geni’s class while the junior high teachers were going over vocabulary. Geni and I used their vocabulary words to play the fly swatter game. The teachers enjoyed the game greatly. Later Geni and I got the class to play Picturegram. Somehow the class got an elephant to be a chicken and a car turned into a flower. It was very fun and amusing. Speaking of fun, I heard that Myrle and Anne were teaching their class how to dance to the Cotton Eye Joe. I didn’t know there was a dance for that song; Anne will have to teach me at tomorrow’s dancing and singing session.

Entry submitted by: Nora

Message of the Day:  “Let it be.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

Our first day volunteering

Punctuality is one of the hallmarks of an effective team. Our team demonstrated peak punctuality on the first day of class when we gathered in front of the Golden Spring Hotel. We had eaten our usual hearty breakfasts and had reviewed the minutes of the day before, delivered by Frances, between bites of dragon fruit. “I’m glad to see you're all punctual,” said BaoLi. It was a clear case of hurry up and wait because our transportation vehicle didn't arrive until 9:00 instead of 8:30. But we arrived safely and debouched onto the campus of Kunming University, which hardly any of us recognized as there have been so many changes made over the past year.

Our day began with a special meeting with all the teachers and the staff of Kunming University. We all introduced ourselves, first Tom then Francis, Nora, Geni and Dia, and finally Myrle and Ann. Then Mr. Zhiang held forth, advising the teachers to attend their classes punctually.

On the chalkboard in the classroom:  Students' Lesson Goals
Tom and Geni met their class of thirteen students; Merle and Ann had sixteen students; and Francis, Nora, and Dia had fifteen. The first day was spent with introductions and discovering goals. It was only a half day. During the afternoon, the team retired to their studies and class preparations.

Festivities followed during the evening. BaoLi escorted the English language teachers to the Cross Bridge Restaurant. Of what transpired thereafter, your correspondent cannot say.

Entry submitted by: Tom

Message of the Day: "Spring into action."  -Chuck Norris

Sunday, July 7, 2013

China Volunteer Vacation Begins - July 2013

A new Global Volunteers Team in China!

With a delicious dinner on Saturday evening, July 6th, Team #209 began their two-week journey in Kunming, China. Global Volunteer Country Manager Baoli Wang was a welcome sight for Myrle, Tom, Geni, Nora, Dia, and Fran. Anne has yet to discover what a delight it is to work with this SUPERIOR LEADER.

On Sunday, July 7, 2013 we breakfasted in the Golden Spring Hotel (GSH) before our team orientation. We do love the GSH breakfast buffet as lots of different and interesting treats are available. Our enthusiastic team decided our team goals were: to exchange cultural understanding; to help with the English teachers’ fluency; to enjoy Chinese food; to explore the city of Kunming; to have fun; and to connect with the English teachers.

Our lunch after the morning session introduced us to Gingko seeds, new to all of us but Baoli. Afternoon trips included Myrle’s activation of his Chinese phone; Geni, Nora, Anne, and Dia’s shopping excursion in the neighborhood; and Tom/Fran’s three-hour roundtrip walk to Green Lake. Dinner included an introduction of spicy cauliflower and new ways to present an orange on a platter.

Entry submitted by: Fran

Message of the Day: “A journey begins with a single step.”  - Lao-Tzu (paraphrased) 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

We part as friends and global neighbors

Today is the last day of the 23rd Kunming school teachers' training. All twelve volunteers were excited and saddened with the rapid ending of the program. It seemed that the teacher training was just building up steam. The volunteers were instructed to wrap up their training tasks during the first two hours of the day to prepare for the closing ceremony at 10:30 a.m. in the fourth floor auditorium. 

The closing ceremony was well attended by the Yunnan province education leaders including Yunnan University Training Chiefs, Continuing Education Chiefs, English Program Host (Chris), Global Volunteer China Country Manager (Baoli), all the volunteers, and of course the 90+ student teachers. The noteworthy speeches were offered by the nominated student teacher representative who expressed the benefits and deep appreciation of their two weeks of English training. The individual volunteer short speeches were equally emotional with extended, warm friendship. This was followed by exchanging gifts to volunteers and completion certificates to the student teachers. After the formalities, Nancy and Dixie led everyone in farewell songs. It was a great fulfilling ending to two weeks of intense work!

Zal Jian!

Entry submitted by: Stella

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4 in China - A Volunteer's Story

Today I was awakened by the beautiful scent of the fresh flowers given to me by one of the students. After teaching, we were treated to a delicious lunch by the students. The restaurant served Bai minority recipes. The food was delicious and abundant. It was served by waitresses dressed in minority attire. I commented to the students that the meal felt similar to our American Thanksgiving.

During lunch I enjoyed chatting with one of our Hani minority students while he described all of the fascinating insects he encountered while on a recent hike in the mountains.

While I've now been away from home for 3 weeks, leaving Kunming is bittersweet. I will miss the students and the volunteer team.

Despite my frustration of trying for several nights to locate an appropriate quote on volunteerism from a website that isn't blocked, I found the following quote which seems to fit:

"Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has." --Margaret Mead

Wishing all my fellow volunteers “happy trails” and best wishes in all that you do.

Entry submitted by: Wendy 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wrapping up a productive week in Kunming

Reflection for July 4 in China:  Are we adequately serving as good will ambassadors, or visiting firemen, or a little bit of both? Where do you stand in your cost-benefit study?

Baoli and her "gang of twelve" volunteers settled into their teaching routines at the Kunming Continuing Education Teaching Institute. The veteran teaching teams were busy making new friends and renewing old relationships. The newcomers, like Stella and Lester, were learning the routines and mastering their new tricks. Baoli's skillful assignment of teaching teams utilizing the available, extensive experience by our volunteers are bearing fruits. The Yunnan student teachers are showing their interests by working hard in classes; asking diverse questions to their instructors; actively participating in the songs and dances offered by our volunteers; and sharing, without hesitation, their teaching experience and friendship with their respective instructors.

In the morning, the Leon/Lester team continued to work on the students' prepared biographic summaries and pronunciations. The Nancy/Kitty team and the Esther/Wendy team worked on their respective skits with the students. The Janet/Michael team were immersed in sharing their mastery in various famous Chinese love stories. The Jim/Mary team played American folk song games, while the Dixie/Stella team continued to work with the students on their vocabulary and pronunciation.

In the afternoon, Nancy conducted a lecture on "Pioneers" in her family. Mary also lectured on Native Americans. Wendy lectured on "Pow Wows". The students seemed to enjoy the photos and drawings of miners, cowboys, Native Indian dancers, and drummers.

No job is finished until the paperwork is done. After the school work was over, Baoli asked the whole team to sign the completion certificates for the students.

Entry submitted by: Lester

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"There is no end to learning"

How true the Confucian saying that there is no end to learning! Perhaps nowhere is this concept more evident than in the teaching-learning process. If the sage were living today, he would have more than a thing or two to learn about this ever-changing world, wouldn't he? I wonder what kind of student he would be if he were in our class. Would he give Nancy and me a thumbs-up for our teaching? Would he have trouble pronouncing the /i/ and /e/ phonemes? Would he say "pain" as "pen"? Would his pronunciation of these and some other sounds make Nancy throw up her arms exasperation? Well, enough of my reveries!

This was an unusually full teaching-and-learning day, enriched by an exhilarating field trip and concluded with a sumptuous banquet at the "Kind and Gentle Like Spring" restaurant.

In each of our group learning session, Nancy and I use appropriate songs, drills, exercises, and dances to help the teachers improve their English skills. Today was no different, but, in addition to using the Bingo game to reinforce their learning about antonyms, we asked them to write stories on such silly topics as "an elephant that can talk," "an invisible island," "a car that is afraid of kids, " etc.  At first, we thought the assignment might be somewhat daunting for them, but they allayed our anxieties with surprising aplomb. We did, of course, have to correct their pronunciations after their recitation to the group, but we were pleased by their overall performance and look forward to using the assignment as the basis of a skit.

Unlike the field trips that I took when I was a school girl, this afternoon's outing was a learning activity which was both inspiring and fun. At Hump Memorial Park, the stories and photos about the Flying Tigers, the construction of the airfield, and the building of the Yunnan-Burma road not only underscore the human capacity to endure extreme hardships and to make personal sacrifices but also affirm the triumph of good over evil. 

The sacred grounds around the Flying Tigers Monument provided a natural surrounding for volunteers and their teacher-students to take group photos. It was particularly amusing to see them compete for having a shot taken with us, as if we were celebrities. Their laughters and giggles as they stood by my side made my heart flutter with excitement. After the shutterbugs had put their cameras away, the group did singing and dancing in the much-admired accompaniment of Nancy and her sister, Dixie, strumming on their Ukuleles. The joyful noises this large group made reverberated through the verdant mountains and lush trees, so much so, in fact, that perhaps even the dead in those tombs on the hillside wished they could join in the fun.

To our gastronomic delight, the extraordinarily rich banquet of 30-or-so dishes promised to be something to write home about. Lester wasted no time to capture on camera the mouth-watering food arranged around an ornate centerpiece on an enormous round table. He had a hidden agenda, it seemed, and that was to have Stella learn to cook the dishes for his epicurean enjoyment after they return to the U.S.

As I was writing this journal, Dixie called to say that Leon had found a way to import photos and videos to his Mac and invited me to her room to let Leon upload the videos on my iPad for Baoli. So in a late-night crash course,  I learned something new. Indeed, there is no end to learning. From learning about how to teach ESL effectively, to learning the songs and dance steps, to learning the technique of uploading or downloading photos, we live and learn until our visa on this planet expires.

"Their Lives Matter to Us"

“If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life 110%. And for that, Tiger Mom, I thank you.” Sophia Chua Rubenfeld, oldest daughter of Amy Chua


We have an unprecedented opportunity here as volunteers to gain a "ground-level" perspective of Chinese culture.  When my friend, Jane Tom, asked me for advice about what to say in a speech at her daughter’s wedding, I replied, “Tell everyone how proud you are  of her and why,” and she replied, “That’s not Chinese.” When Matt Fong, the son of our neighbor, was the republican running against Diane Feinstein he was asked whether he had really attended an EST seminar. He confessed and added rather sadly, “It’s the only time my father ever hugged me.”  

We think these Asian American parents don’t represent American ideas of good parenting. In fact Amy Chua, the tiger mother, appalled most Americans and Jane and Matt Fong’s father seem too stinting in their praise and affection. But even in China people are questioning what the "tiger mother" calls traditional parenting and asking questions like, “Why can’t we produce a Steve Jobs?” And they are personally aware of the system’s harsh consequences. One of our teachers left our class in tears after receiving a phone call from  her distraught  daughter who had not done as well as she hoped on an exam and therefore would not be able to attend the school she had chosen. Another stayed in class but her eyes filled as she told me the same thing had happened to her niece. And still another, to my surprise, asked me what I thought about "tiger moms" (I didn’t realize people in China knew the term), and unhappily confessed to being one and not being able to stop herself from calling her 7-year-old “stupid” and then hearing him cry in his room. These teachers are clearly unhappy with China’s educational system and sometimes with themselves.  And apparently people outside the school system agree. Global Volunteer Stella reported that in church Sunday the minister preached against the great importance the Chinese put on tests and the pressure they put on students.

At our afternoon meeting last time, we taught with Global Volunteers the director of Foreign Languages  Learning in Yunnan Agricultural University, who had just returned from observing teaching in America, contended with passion that “there is never enough praise while any criticism is too much.” I looked back at his audience expecting to see some resentment and saw only solemn faces and nods.

So what is our role as Global Volunteers here? We have brought games, songs, dances, new techniques and knowledge about child rearing. We believe in praise and have modeled it in our class rooms. We could be seen as the solution to China’s education problems.

But in the back of our minds, we know that Asian parents in America are on to something. My friend Jane Tom’s daughter is a Harvard graduate and so are Jane's four other children.  Matt Fong, our neighbor’s son, was secretary of State of the State of California.

 But we don’t need just my personal anecdotes to tell us that traditional Asian parenting can produce very successful children. My granddaughter’s Chinatown elementary school, where she is one of very few white students, is rated as one of the best in the city. Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, which admits students on the basis of test scores only, has a nick name: Chinese Girls’ School. And the University of California at Berkeley has more Asian students than white.

So what is the best way to educate for success? The Chinese who may think we know best I suspect are not aware of how often we Americans have changed our minds and our practices. Pick the baby up or let him cry  - teach students to read with phonics or lots of stories – teach by focusing on the book or the child - always teach with groups or emphasize individual effort  -practice zero tolerance of any infractions or create a Summerhill.

I think what we bring as Global volunteers is not just the techniques for getting teachers to teach their children to speak and enjoy learning English, but the example that we care. Wang Baoli spoke of this eloquently in our first meeting and our teachers seemed impressed. I think it helps explain the success of different kinds of teaching and parenting.

Asian parents in America may not hug and praise much, but their children can tell, perhaps especially by their hard work and sacrifices, that their children matter to them. The tiger mother Amy Chua apparently has a grateful daughter.

I used praise in my classroom and received it from my mother throughout my life, but I disagree with the speaker from the Agricultural college.  I think there sometimes can be too much praise and sometimes too little criticism. And I think even striving for a balance is hard.  But what there can’t be is too much caring.  We Global volunteers have shared techniques for making learning English more fun. But I hope the main impression we leave is the one that is more important. Strict or lenient we care. The lives of our Chinese teachers and their students matter to us.