Monday, November 10, 2008

Their very first foreigner

On Sunday Lucy and I went to a town near by--about 30 minutes drive from Qufu--to teach children between the ages of 5 and 12. We really didn't know anything more than that when we were picked up at 7am. During the ride there I was tired and not really looking forward to spending my Sunday in a classroom teaching. We arrived in the center of town and split up; Lucy would go to 3 schools and I would go to another 4 all in surrounding villages. Once I walked into the school my feelings about the day radically changed. The children were all so incredibly energetic and enthusiastic. I think Lucy described it best when she said she felt like Santa. Because we were the first foreigners that they had even met they were shy and hesitant in deciding what to make of me at first. Was I real?  And then, moments later, once they decided that I was not someone--or something--to be afraid of they swarmed. For 3 hours I moved from class to class, school to school. The children had been taking English for anywhere from 2 months to 4 years so their levels varied. After introducing myself to each class, I would answer their questions--all the basic phrases they had learned: what is your favorite color; what is your favorite food; do you like oranges; what is your favorite sport? Then they would sing me a song or chant a song or two. I would then teach them a song and play a game with them. For most classes I taught them "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" and they all learned very quickly. After singing the song and doing the motions together a few times, I would point to a part on my body and they would have to say it correctly or I would say a part of my body and they would have to point to it. Though some were a moment or two behind the others, most learned quickly--we'll see if they retain any of it. 

After 3 hours of teaching Lucy and I met up again and taught a large group of very young children ring around the rosie. Holding hands with one little girl in a pink puffy jacket, I really noticed just how curious, enthusiastic, yet shy many of them were. She wouldn't really look me in the eye when I asked her questions, yet she clung to my hand, not wanted to let me go. We signed dozens of "autographs" in their textbooks in a frenzy of pushing and shoving and then said good bye. Following teaching, we were treated to a feast for lunch. Six or so dishes of food came out and we ate quickly, hungry and worn out by the long day. Having stuffed ourselves we forced ourselves to make room as another 5 dishes appeared. We did our best not to appear rude in refusing to eat more. We arrived back at our apartments at about 1:30 in the afternoon, exhausted from the morning but grateful for the experience. 

The conditions of each school varied dramatically. Some were a large complex with larger, clean classrooms while others really nothing more than a single room in a rapidly aging building. From what I could gather, the each school was part of the larger single organization that had brought us there. Most seemed to have to do with educating the children of coal miners as the town is supported largely by coal mining. The children were all adorable though--I have to say Chinese children really are the cutest. Some were dressed in school track suites while others, mostly the girls, wore tweed jackets and knee high boots, making them appear almost as miniature adults. In the spring, when my Juniors go to their hometowns to do student teaching for a 5 weeks, I hope to be able to go back to the schools more regularly and really interact with the children. 

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