I’ve been teaching! I tried out a couple of different schools and ended up with a part time job at a program I really love. It’s a training center, so kids come on weekends and in the evenings to supplement their English classes in school. (This is really typical for Chinese children to take many additional classes and lessons in their free time.) The classes are a lot of fun. I’ll have a regular class on Saturday of 6 kids around 10 years old, and then a one-on-one tutoring session for a 13 year old girl. The girl is so sweet and really smart, so the tutoring session is more of a conversation, and then we read Babysitters Club books. No joke. It’s so much fun. The kids have crazy amounts of energy, and they’re so clever! I’m always amazed how quickly they absorb information. But the other day, I realized that while they were reading the examples in the textbook flawlessly and with correct grammer, they didn’t understand the content! For example, the lesson was on the sentence structure “wasn’t able to/weren’t able to.” The prompt was “go camping” and “windy.” All the kids could correctly make a sentence “No, they weren’t able to go camping because it was too windy!” But then I realized… they didn’t know what camping was! And only about half of them knew “windy!” So we spent a while drawing camping on the board and all the things that can go wrong when you go camping, and so on. My other big hit with them is a game I found while researching ESL tips online. One student stands in the front of the class and all the other students ask him/her questions. The student can only reply with one word: banana. To win, you can’t laugh. I wasn’t sure they’d like it, but the kids started shouting out really silly questions and dying with laughter! It was a great way to break the ice on my first class and get them shouting things in English. Their favorite question to ask me? “What’s your boyfriend’s name?” Banana.
Also, I’ve been studying! Last week was midterms. I didn’t have it too badly… my classes are so much more relaxed than actual Tsinghua students’. I found out the other day, that in the Chinese student dorms (different from the international student dorms, and way different than my awesome off-campus apartment), they actually have kind of strict regulations. The electricity shuts off at 11pm. (Can you imagine that in an American dorm?!) There are limited hours for hot water, and communal showers. There are also way more people in a room than you would think possible (sometimes I wonder if this country has fire codes and then I wonder why I bother wondering). The word that I hear a lot regarding student life is “pressure.” When I tell people I study at Tsinghua they ask me, “do you feel pressure?” And that’s also how my Chinese friend described studying over breaks… he says it’s not mandated by the teacher, but he knows all the other students will do it, so he feels the pressure to keep up with his classmates. It’s incredibly motivating, but also so stressful…. I can imagine. As I said, not feeling a ton of pressure. But I did have a writing and speaking midterm. The speaking one went pretty well… basically a conversation with my teacher. The writing one was absolutely terrible, but I feel like I was well on-par with the rest of the class. The teacher had been showing us a typical Chinese poem at the start of every class, which we thought was just a nice way to open class, learn a little culture, etc. Um, guess he actually expected us to learn them!? On the test, he wrote excerpts from the poems (using the characters! when the words in them are usually uncommon!) and asked us to explain the meaning in Chinese! Gah! I could write it in English, no problem (representin’ that English degree!) but my Chinese is pretty limited to more concrete phrases, for example, “one beer please” and “where am I?” and not really abstract things about the meaning of sorrow or the importance of perseverance. It was a rough test.
P.S. For a taste of how the Chinese media is covering the Bo scandal…. Such an interesting perspective.