"What are you actually doing in China this summer?"
A number of friends and family have reached out to me to ask why I did not come back to the U.S. this summer after teaching for one year in China. The school I work for and its leadership organization gives staff between contract years (for me being between year 1 and 2) three weeks of vacation. After those three weeks are over staff are required to return to work during the final five weeks of the summer. I knew before I came that I probably would not go back to the U.S. this summer. Actually, I was looking forward to being in Qingdao this summer, especially considering the fact I arrived over 6 weeks after my planned arrival date due to VISA issues last year. I was looking forward to spending some more time getting to know China through the course of my summer.
The question you have now is probably something along the lines of,
"What are you actually doing in China this summer?"
Staff between contract years are required to participate in leading and teaching an English Summer camp hosted by our school. In previous years, the school has had the benefit of bringing in summer teams of teachers to assist with the camp. This year however, has seen a real tightening of regulations and limitations when it comes to obtaining a work visa in China. These new restrictions meant that, in addition to being on a new campus and in a new location, the school’s summer camp was going to look very different this time around.
I’ve really been looking forward to this summer camp for a number of reasons. First, I volunteered to head up and lead the ‘Morning Rally’ portion of the camp day. There was not much planned outside of the fact that this would be a time for all of the students to get together and do activities as a group.
Something you may or may not know about me is that I worked at a summer camp in North Carolina for four years both during and after my time in university. Also, when I was in high school I participated in our Pennsylvania home fellowship’s VBS program for four or five years. I believe these experiences prepared and equipped me to be the perfect person to lead the ‘Morning Rally” portion of our summer camp. My goals for the “Morning Rally” have been to get kids moving, singing, and engaging with the English language. I also pick songs and topics that align with my heart for “character” building (read: truth-based songs).
If you want a glimpse of some of the songs we are singing you can visit my YouTube playlist HERE.
The most special thing about our summer camp is that it is open to both foreign and LOCAL students. You see, in order to attend our school during the regular school year, students are required by law to have a foreign passport. National administration has instructed that no native passport holders may attend a foreign-run school (for obvious reasons due to conflict of background and beliefs).
Local students are encouraged to attend public school or pay to attend Chinese private school. A lot of people are surprised when they hear that I am teaching in China, but only a very small percentage of my students are actually Chinese—and only ethnically at that. They all will have been born in and be a passport holder of another country.
This means that our summer camp is very special because ANY student can register and attend. As a result, of our 66 total campers only 22 of them were actually our own students. The rest all attend Chinese private, public, or Korean private schools in Qingdao! What an open door! I am so thrilled to be investing in China first-hand through camp! The students I am working with this summer are students that I would never even have a chance to interact with without this camp (unless I went to teach at a Chinese school). I am so honored to have this opportunity to love on and pour into the lives of these wonderful students.
I am working specifically with students aged between 5th and 6th grade. Our students though fall into a range of skill levels when it comes to their English language comprehension and ability. It is really enjoyable to make them laugh and watch them grow as we practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening in English. I took a TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) course in university, but didn’t really enjoy it. It is a totally different ball game to teach English Language Arts (from the stance of a native English speaker). I do believe that teaching English during this camp has challenged me to be more creative and innovative as an instructor. I am asking hard questions of myself, “How can I turn this simple vocabulary worksheet into an opportunity for students to improve their English and grow in confidence when it comes to speaking in a foreign language?” We’ve done everything from playing charades and listening to “School House Rock” songs, to writing stories of our own and sharing them in new and fun ways. It is hard, but again, I really think working at this camp is pushing me and growing me as a teacher.
Another part of our summer camp that I deeply cherish, is that I am getting to spend more time getting to know our national staff. Many foreign staff (who are not in between contract years like myself) travel to their home countries for the summer. This means that there is a lesser number of international teachers in country at the moment. In the absence of this ‘safety net’ of familiar culture and language, I have been provided with a wonderful open door to continue building relationships with my co-workers who are nationals. It’s easy during the school year to get caught up in working with the same people (those who are in the same department, on the same hall floor, share an office space, etc). Yet, now teachers from all departments and grade levels (the majority of them being national staff members) are all working together through the course of the English camp. It is a wonderful time of learning and growing together.
The second focus for staff during their working summers is completing and extensive study of the Chinese language. I had about 2 weeks of daily two hour one-on-one classes at school. This little diagram below is the most accurate depiction of learning Chinese I have ever seen.
Listen, I knew it would be hard. I knew that Chinese would challenge every piece of understanding I have of language, writing, and communication. What I didn't know was how mentally exhausted I would be from finally getting the opportunity to study Chinese daily over summer break. I definitely grew a lot through the course of these classes, but I recognize I still have a long way to go! Pr-y-rs for this passion are welcome. I truly believe by studying and growing in my Chinese language that my Father will open more doors for me to share my testimony and live out my conviction that my L-rd speaks EVERY language.
I finish up with camp this week on Friday, July 27th! It has been a memorable three weeks. Teachers head back to school for in-service week on Monday, August 6th. New Student Orientation is then on Monday followed by the first day of school on Tuesday, August 14th! I cannot believe I am headed into my second year of teaching in China. Not only that, but it will also be my 5th year of teaching! That's crazy. I am grateful to my heavenly Father for walking with me this far. I also would like to take a moment to acknowledge the people and pr-y-r warriors who helped get me where I am today. I know I couldn't do any of this on my own. I look forward to spending the rest of my life following where He leads me!
Click through the slideshow below to see some more highlights from this summer!
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