Hello Uncle Foreigner

Sep 28, 2011

Tell me about school

The first lesson we planned was about small talk, so I’ve been asking kids to “Tell me about school” all week. So now, I will tell you about school. Do you understand? Am I speaking too fast?

Peter and I both teach Senior 1, which is 14-15 year olds, I think. I also have some Junior 1 classes, 11 year olds. Many of the Junior 1s have only started learning English 3 weeks ago, so that class is a lot of showing pictures of stuff and shouting the word out over and over. Senior 1s have a little more skill; some of them can even extemporize without prompting. Then again, to get some of them to “repeat after me” is a struggle. But the kids are all very eager and well behaved.

We work between 1.5 and 5 hours a day, depending on our schedules. The majority of my classes are in the morning, and Peter mostly has afternoon ones. Our classes are between 8:40 am and 5:30 pm, but the kids go to school from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm. We can hear the class bells ringing well into the night.

We live in an apartment on campus. When we moved in, our hosts apologized for it being so small, but it’s probably 3 times the size of our Brooklyn apartment. We have a master bedroom, guest bedroom, office, TV room, dining room and kitchen! The toilet is located on the opposite side of the apartment from the shower and sink; when we have a camera we can show you how strange this looks.

There are three school buildings and an office building, in addition to many dorms and apartments. The campus is located in the middle of downtown, but the gates here lock by 10 pm - which isn’t that big of an issue as we have to get up early every day (Peter nicely gets up when I do, even though his classes aren’t until much later). Next year, this school is moving to a huge complex just outside the city. On our first-day-in-China tour, our colleagues drove us around the construction site. It’s huge; they’re planning on housing and schooling 7,000-8,000 students.

Every time Peter and I walk the grounds, all the students shout out in English to us. Some are our students, some just know us by reputation. Everyone who knows a little bit of English wants to practice on us, including some of the staff (although they don’t yell at us from 10 feet away).

So far, it’s been a blast. With each lesson we get better at communicating with the kids, and every day we feel like we are learning something new, whether it’s about teaching, Chinese culture or where the heck to buy trash bags. Last night, we ended up at the “western restaurant” for dinner because we forgot to bring our translated list of food and they had a waiter who spoke some English, but even having a Budweiser and a pizza in China was fun. (The pizza was not terrible, by the way. It was no Luigi’s, but it was definitely edible.)