Wednesday May 13, 2009

Thought of the day: The earliest we can begin any project is now, and if not now, when? Anonymous

On the third day of our work in Xi’an, it seems as if the volunteers have found a philosophy, a routine and a way of working with the gaps between our expectations and the reality of our missions here. As for those gaps, speaking only for myself as a volunteer assigned to the Technical College, I have been impressed both by the positives and the negatives. I have been overcome by the warmth of the welcome given us by the staff and the students, as well as by the affection expressed by the students inside and outside of the classroom. At the same time, I have been disappointed by the low level of knowledge of English and the reluctance of many to make the effort necessary to achieve even a basic proficiency. I know we were warned, but I was not quite prepared for the reality.

The day began in the usual way with breakfast, the reading of yesterday’s journal, and the ride to the campus. When we reached the campus, the students were again waiting for us, and greeted us by standing and applauding. I began my class by introducing myself and then giving the students five minutes to write answers to simple questions about their family structure, their hobbies, and their goals for life after college. I taught them the friend song (Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other, gold.) We then talked about the United States a bit with the aid of a US map, and a look at the soft plastic world model the school possesses. We made some comparisons between the U.S. and China. We sang the “small world song, and the students remarked that it was much like a song sung at the Olympics. I then tossed the globe to one of the boys, and after he recovered from his surprise, asked him to read the information about himself he had written. He then threw the globe to one of his classmates, who followed suit, and we proceeded until the whole group had performed. It seemed easier to do this and more fun than to go systematically all around the class. I made some corrections of pronunciation, and got most of them to improve (followed by much praise). I drew a stick figure on the board, and labeled most of the body parts in English. We then played a rousing game of Simon Says, using the body part vocabulary. We took a break, during which about six girls decided it was time to teach me Chinese. So we had an impromptu lesson much enjoyed by all, as it provided some comic relief.

After the break I made the mistake of turning to a unit in the text but working on a paragraph instead of a dialogue, through my misunderstanding of instructions. It became clear that the students were not prepared to read even a few words aloud, much less understand their meaning in context. After about 20 agonizing minutes, which included heavy contribution by the assistant and much role playing, I gave up. We then looked at some photos of Lucy’s lifestyle, each with short captions which the students were able to read. This took us to lunch. Lunch was much like yesterday, except that we substituted hilarious finger and shadow play for the singing of national anthems. Though the menu included some mystery foods such as ancient eggs and some delicious but sinister looking eggplant, once again Julia had found delicious food and we had a great time.

The afternoon class was the high point of the day. The students were more advanced and more ready to participate than the morning contingent. We skipped introductions and did some songs and some games, with work on pronunciation and developing some vocabulary. During the break, one of the girls asked if she could sing a Chinese song. She sang a long selection from a Chinese opera, after which she explained the plot in Chinese to the assistant, who then translated. The child has a velvet voice like an angel. It was an unbelievable experience. After the break we played Simon Says and then learned another song: “This Land is Your Land” We discussed love of country and the meaning of the song. One of the girls later confided that she loves her country and thinks it is pretty. It was then four o’clock. Both the assistant and I thought that was the end of the session. Before we left the classroom, the group burst into song: “You are my sunshine? When we found that we had 30 minutes to go, we found a vacant office, and after a few false starts where I tried to get conversations going, I decided to tell them a story. Speaking very slowly, and with some translation, I told them about Goldilocks and the three bears. When we got to Goldilocks trying out Poppa Bear’s bed, the bell rang and we left everyone in suspense including the assistant. I promised to finish next week, and will probably go on to the 3 pigs. We drove home, ate dinner, had an inconclusive discussion of tour choices, and realized we had reached the end of another day.


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