Aaaand Let the Teaching Begin!
Trip Start Aug 02, 2010
18Trip End Jun 30, 2011
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The first two and half weeks we were in China, we stayed in Beijing, at a hotel called the Haidan Sports Club. We took TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) classes at Beida, or Peiking University, which was across the street from our hotel, and we also taught an English class in a summer program. The TEFL classes were very boring, but necessary for certification, and the teaching was good practice for some, but has turned out to not be very useful for me. In Beijing I taught seniors, or high-schoolers, and there were only 15 of them in my class. They were all extremely bright, and I loved having them - however in Shenzhen the reality of the classroom is much different. I'm teaching a completely different age group and a much, much larger classroom size of mixed English-level kids, so Beijing was more to get out the teaching jitters than for experience. After two weeks of getting to know many of my program's fellow teachers (most of whom are in their early 20s), we packed back up and headed on an overnight train to Shenzhen to start the real journey.
The program I came to China with, CTLC (Center for Teaching and Learning in China) has placed over 120 of us native English speakers in schools throughout Shenzhen. Shenzhen itself is a fascinating city that happens to only be 30 years old. In the 1970s, it was a smelly little fishing village, and now it is an incredible sprawling city of (officially) 9 million people (actual estimates are much higher because of the large migrant population that doesn't get counted). "The city that sprung up over night" began when, due to its proximity to Hong Kong, Deng Xiaoping designated the area as an SEZ, or Special Economic Zone, where trade restrictions that apply to the rest of China would not exist and business and capitalist-type enterprise would be encouraged. And I totally ripped half of that off of wikipedia, so if you want to know more click away: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shenzhen
Having been to China before, I expected a city similar to Shanghai, or Beijing, forgetting that Shenzhen is not only much further south, growing at a ridiculous rate, and brand new, but also that having Hong Kong an hours bus ride away means it has an odd accumulation of western type things non-existent in the rest of China. The climate is akin to that of Miami, since it is at the same latitude, and this means there are many palm trees and jungle-type shrubbery. The scenery has been pleasantly surprising, with mountains and lots of greenery all throughout the city.
However, the new-ness of Shenzhen means way less fun Chinglish signs. For those looking forward to them, sorry. Here are a few from Beijing to tide you over...
The city itself is laid out in 7 different districts. There are people from CTLC placed in 6 of the 7 districts, those six districts being (bear with the Chinese words, you're going to have to get used to it in this blog): Futian and Luohu, the two that compose the main city center of Shenzhen and are the most urban/developed, Nanshan to the west of the city center, Yantian to the east where there are some small but fun beaches, and Bo'An and Longgang, the two remote districts that are less developed and retain village type characteristics.
Alex and I live in dorm rooms on the 6th floor of one of the school's buildings, on the school campus. The room is pretty small, but I have my own kitchen and my own "bathroom". Why the quotation marks you ask? Well, bathroom is a bit of a misnomer, since the 6'x4' room could just as well be called the toilet-with-a-shower faucet-above-it-and-a-washing machine-beside-it-room. My pictures/video don't really do it justice, but they offer some perspective...I also have to be very thankful that I have a western style toilet in the bathroom, since EVERYWHERE else we go we are greeted with "squat-pots", which are fancy holes in the ground that you must squat over to use.
From what Maggie says, this primary school is a particularly large one, with over 150 teachers and thousands of students. I am teaching 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in classrooms of 50 students each. I only teach 17 classes a week, but this means that I only see each class once every other week, making it a bit difficult to have a serious impact or make many strong connections. However, T.I.C - this is China - most schools employ a foreign teacher mainly to increase prestige and provide a white face at the school. If the students get some exposure to an American voice and accent it seems to come just as an added bonus.
But it turns out, they are in fact, not robots. They are trained from kindergarten to do this routine, and once released they run around, play, and push each other down like normal kids. However, every morning before class starts they gather in this field for morning exercises or for a flag raising ceremony, which is always crazy to see from my sixth story staircase.
I started teaching this week, yesterday in fact, with my 3rd and 4th graders. So far it has been relatively smooth, with classes varying in behavior and intelligence. The best part is just how excited the kids are to have a foreign teacher - they may have had one last year but it still is a special treat for them and my class is designated the "fun" class, where they don't have to do rote memorization or repeat after the teacher the whole time. Most of the kids already have been given or picked their own English names, and I have had some truly hilarious ones. I have a boy named King, two boys named Beeno, a girl named Kinky (i think she might have been going for Kiki), one Rainbow, a boy named Win, and one named Vision, and countless Lilys, Mimis, Kikis, and other similar names you would never really find at home, which makes my class so much more interesting. I have a hard time not laughing when I call on Beeno.
Outside of teaching, our time is pretty much our own. I have friends all over the city in all of the districts, so we spend a lot of time traveling to other teacher's areas, seeing their apartments and the layout of their neighborhoods. The nightlife is very active and we have been to a lot of fun places, although there are less Western areas than in Shanghai or Beijing, simply because there are less westerners in Shenzhen. I'm hoping to join a gym soon, and also pick up some tutoring jobs on the side to make some extra money. There are a lot of empty spaces between classes during the day, so we are all trying to find ways to stay busy and not become couch potatoes!
Well, thats about all for now. To view the pictures and play the two videos, just click on them and a screen will open with a bigger picture and a description! When we get further into things, I'll send another update your way! Zaijian!