The Bell Tower, Central Xi'an
The Bell Tower, Central Xi’an

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 Kathleen Hamel, 1st year MA English: Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language (TEFL/TESL). We asked her some questions about her experience and here’s what she had to say.

The Great Mosque, Muslim Quarter
The Great Mosque, Muslim Quarter

How was the experience?

If I had to sum it up in one word: interesting. This is a word that I frequented day-to-day about how much days usually ended up going. Most of the time, I found it interesting due to my lack of my communication capabilities in Chinese, which then forced some hand motions and other nonverbal communication. But overall, it was interesting because every day was different, from my experiences teaching in the classroom to everyday encounters and all of those interesting moments are what made this trip so exciting and memorable.

The Huaqing Hot Springs
The Huaqing Hot Springs

What did you learn?

Throughout the whole experience while teaching, the students and I were constantly learning about our cultural differences and similarities. Through this, I was able to have insight into Chinese culture like education, values and most importantly (to me), food.

In the classroom, I learned that it’s incredibly important to be flexible. This was the first year of this program, so changes were constantly being made and it was important that you were able to adapt to the changes that were being implemented. But in order to truly experience another culture, it’s important to be flexible as well because you don’t know whether something is cultural or not until the situation presents itself.

How have you changed?

The most change that I experienced was within the classroom as a teacher. I felt as though I learned important skills like classroom management, facilitating conversation within a fairly large classroom and various ways to maintain student motivation. These skills are something that, in my opinion, cannot but taught but rather learned within the environment. So having 25 hours of per week of classroom instruction allowed for me to develop and finesse my teaching skills.

The Old City, behind Xi'an's Ancient City Wall
The Old City, behind Xi’an’s Ancient City Wall

What advice do you have for students doing something similar?

My biggest advice for doing something similar is to have an open mind. In my opinion, having an open mind is essential in doing anything different or maybe something you’re unsure of. If you have a closed mind, then you aren’t really experiencing what is going on around you and might be more apt to say ‘no’ to opportunities you may never have again. This isn’t to say that having an open mind means you need to say ‘yes’ all of the time but rather that you give opportunities a chance. In addition to this, having an open mind allows one to not judge others because they do something different than you or in a manor that you may or may not care for but that is completely OK. People are different, cultures are different and having an open mind allows oneself to learn about these differences, and possible similarities, freely.

Kathleen Hamel, Kristen Mullen and company after a punk rock show on XJTU's campus
Kathleen Hamel, Kristen Mullen and company after a punk rock show on XJTU’s campus
Kathleen Hamel, my student Emily Wang, a fellow teacher, and Kristen Mullen after the exhausting climb up Mount Hua Shan
Kathleen Hamel, Kristen Mullen’s student Emily Wang, a fellow teacher, and Kristen Mullen after the exhausting climb up Mount Hua Shan

What will you be doing this fall?

This fall I will not only be taking a full course load but I’m also a Consultant for the Writing Center and a Writing Tutor at INTO CSU, the intensive English program for international students. In addition to this, I will be interning. Through this, I will be observing and assisting in a CO150-ESL class. And finally, I will begin my research project that I aim to present at COTESOL (Colorado’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in November in Denver.