Five CSU graduate students went to central China this summer to teach English as a second language at Xi’an Jiaotong University. For four weeks, they taught six hours a day five days a week. Their primary duty was teaching language skills to Chinese college students, including reading, writing and verbal communication in English. The program flyer describes the school and its location this way:
Xi’an Jiaotong University (XJTU), one of the country’s oldest higher education institutions, is a national key university under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. Currently, XJTU has 26 schools offering undergraduate and postgraduate programs in science, engineering, medicine, economics, management, art, law and education, with an enrollment of about 30,000 full-time students, including over 14,697 masters and doctoral candidates.
Xi’an is located in the central China. As a city with over 3000 years of history, Xi’an is proud of its historic sites and relics including the Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Emperor, one of the eight wonders of the world, the City Wall, the Bell Tower and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
In the weeks before they went, we’ll profiled some of these students on the blog as part of our Student Success Stories series, and a few of them agreed to send us updates and pictures while they are there. One of these students is Joni Hayward, 1st year MA English: Literature. We asked her some questions about her experience and here’s what she had to say, along with some great pictures she took.
How was the experience?
The experience of travelling to Xi’an, living there for five weeks, and teaching there was intense. I hadn’t thought so much about culture shock because I was too busy preparing to teach. The first few days of being there, especially as delirious as I was from a very layover heavy trip there, felt surreal. However, the experience was also confidence building— I had to get myself in the mindset of teaching for 6 hours a day quickly, and teaching a group of close to forty students—there was no time for self doubt, which was a good thing. The richest part of my experience in China was spending time with, and talking to the students outside of the classroom. Some of the students were delightful; smart, inquisitive, and hilarious, too! One of my favorite memories is eating watermelons with about twelve of my students one evening. I was exhausted, but their animation energized me. I had a student assistant for one class the first two weeks who made me a recording of her playing the Guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument that is as big as she is. The genuine kindness of some of the interactions I had with students was the best part.
What did you learn?
What a question! I think I am still figuring out what I learned. Being back in the classroom this fall teaching in Colorado, I think I have learned, as mentioned before, confidence. I also learned a lot about Chinese culture, though, which was the wonderful thing to learn while actually being there. Whether it was from going on various cultural tours and listening to tour guides, or figuring out for myself that something in the spices on the street food makes your mouth go numb… there were a lot of different types of learning going on. It was interesting to learn about perceptions that Chinese students have of American students, and also how similar we all are in so many ways, even though the University setting felt a lot different. For example, I learned that at XJTU students park their bicycles outside and don’t lock them up, and they don’t get stolen. How great is that? Maybe CSU could take a page out of that book!
How have you changed?
Maybe for now it’s a subtle change, but I’m sure it’s there. Probably what has changed the most is my approach to teaching. I want more than ever to engage with students in a meaningful way.
What advice do you have for students doing something similar?
Perhaps this is a bit stereotypical, but my advice is to say yes. Try to say yes to everything (within reason). There will be times when you are so exhausted and you will have to say no, but try to say yes. Say yes to this type of opportunity, and once you are there, say yes to chances to spend time with students and learn from them, too. This program was considered a cultural exchange between XJTU and United States visiting scholars, and I feel like it’s important to remember that. I would advise, if you’re going to Xi’an… try and learn a little Chinese. Just a little! Survival Chinese. I wish I had done that. I picked up a little while I was there, but some things were just downright difficult without a Chinese speaker present.
What will you be doing this fall?
This fall I am taking two graduate courses, Media Theory and Docupoetics, and teaching two composition courses at CSU, in addition to TA-ing for a class. I’m thinking a lot about my MA project, and I’m in the early stages of applying to PhD programs for the fall of 2016. It’s a stressful time; there are (hopefully) big things on the horizon, and I’m excited to see what happens.