The Journey Continues!

In the summer of 2015, we were invited by the Pingxiang City Spirituality and Civilization Office. to conduct our program in Pingxiang, Jiangxi province. Notably different in setting and climate from Hainan, for those of us that had been part of the 2014 venture, this proved to be quite an adjustment! Pingxiang is situated directly east of China’s famous Hunan province in southeastern mainland China. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, Pingxiang is a much larger and more developed city than Wanning, our previous destination. Despite its size, it still measures up as relatively small compared to China’s more developed cities, and many of its people are still quite unaccustomed to foreign faces.

This past summer, we had a much larger group of students to work with for our two ten-day program periods (almost 300 students!). Most students were actually able to spend time with each of the teachers in the classroom setting at least once, since teachers moved around from class to class to teach different topics. Some of the topics focused upon were money, food, comedy and humor, theme parks, and music. Students were not only able to experience a range of different topics that allowed for exploration of different cultures, but also experienced varied teaching styles and accents from our multinational team of teachers.

We ran a speaking assessment with our students for the first time in this program, before and after each session. Using a modified IELTS test, which measures speaking ability on a 9-point scale, we found that most students improved by 0.5 to 1 whole point after spending 10 days in the classroom with us. For such a short time, this is quite an impressive margin of improvement. Apart from quantitative results however, the same inspiring results we viewed in our first year seemed to resurface in our new location, and many students felt strongly about how positive and enriching the opportunity was for them.

We also had the exciting chance to capture the program in a way that allows for a far greater understanding to those who weren’t able to join us; we were able to bring a fully equipped film crew over with us for the six weeks! We’ve already been able to put out some great videos from the program period, be sure to check them out on our website!

Photos, Videos & More!

2015 Participants

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.33.33 AMAnnie Kim
Temple University
2015 English Teacher
“It’s something that’s so empowering to be able to speak and communicate in another language, and the process of learning another language is something that’s really beautiful and really helps to build your confidence as a person in general, not specifically just in learning that language. What we’re doing really, really transcends just teaching English and just building confidence in speaking a language.”
Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.41.13 AMLi Jingjiang (Jason)
Nanjing University
2015 English Teacher
“The program can greatly improve the confidence of students when speaking English. This is the most important thing because, as long as they can make jokes and have fun with a foreigner they have never met before, this is a very big step for them. Their English no longer exists only in the textbook.”
Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.29.39 AMJack Greatrex
Cambridge University
2015 English Teacher
“As much as anything, it’s a chance to just have really great experiences; you make friends with so many of the students. It’s not like teaching normally, so, all the students respond much better to you than they would to you if you were just teaching them from a textbook. It’s really great having lessons where everyone is friends, and everyone is having fun.”
Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.38.52 AMLiu Manyun (Melody)
PhD, Linguistics
2015 English Teacher
“I think for most of the students, maybe more than 90% I mean, most of them haven’t had this kind of experience before. Especially for those in less developed areas, you can kind of feel like they were less confident than those from the city areas. I think they have never seen any foreign people before this program, those kids, so they are really having some horizon broadening experiences here.”

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When it all began…

In summer of 2014, we launched our pilot program, Learning Journey in China.

During the summer, we visited two middle schools in China’s Hainan Province, an island off the south coast of China. We focused in on Wanning City, a developing area towards the south of the island, and spent ten days at each of the two schools. Native English speakers paired with bilingual Chinese college students to design a curriculum that focused on topics that allowed students to express themselves and their creativity. Students explored confidence, love, happiness, curiosity, and nature together with their teachers over the ten-day summer program.

This first summer gave us a unique opportunity to see just how students and local teachers view their approach to English. For many students, in similarly under-privileged areas to Hainan, English is little more than a test subject that can often be a frustrating obstacle standing between them and an acceptable test score. The frustration can be layered upon when considering that the Chinese college entrance exam, given to every graduating Chinese high schooler across the country, uses English as a key subject to evaluate performance. For our students, they’re automatically placed at a disadvantage, since their English education resources are not nearly as impressive as those that might be found in a first or second tier city such as Shanghai or Beijing.

Despite the fact that students’ communication skills were far lower than teachers initially expected, classes were able to come together to find fun and exciting ways to get to know each other, as well as learn and practice English in a way that made students comfortable and confident. Because students were able to leave behind inhibitions and anxieties, their conversational abilities soared from the beginning to the end of each 10 day program. Students often expressed to their teachers towards the end of the program that their perspectives had been forever changed, not only towards English, but also their personal goals for the future. After such an impactful experience, we came away with a new resolve to recreate and expand upon the accomplishments we were able to make in future summer programs to come.

2014 Participants

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 5.05.21 PM Sol Lee
Amherst College
2014 English Teacher
“The Learning Journey in China program has been one of the most enlightening, eye-opening and simply wonderful experiences of my life. It was the first year in its making when I participated, but it was well thought out and I met some of the most hard-working and motivated students in Hainan, China. For these students, who have never had exposure to foreigners, I believe that the program was an invaluable experience but it was very meaningful for us teachers as well because we got to experience a different society and culture. We had to learn to be creative and innovative, and our mutual difficulties as first-time teachers brought us all together. The Learning Journey in China program has had such a profound effect on me that I find myself continually referring to these experiences in all that I do. It truly has been one of the fondest and most inspiring of my memories and I encourage everyone to apply!”
12189088_1652492831680687_1306107493812686775_nZhang Xinru
Bryn Mawr College
2014 English Teacher
“It’s a learning journey not only for the local students but also for the voluntary teachers. Almost 30 days spent with students from 2 schools in Hainan have left deep marks in my life. Responsibility is no longer a distant term for me; instead, it became such a vivid word when I stayed with my students all day long. It’s not simply that we were teaching students, but simultaneously they were showing us meanings of care, love and hope. It’s a one-month journey and a lifetime journey as well.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 3.43.12 PMSam Dalton
Cambridge University
2014 English Teacher

“The program allowed students to be so creative in their expression of English, through mediums as diverse as songs, role plays, trade markets and debates. You visibly (and audibly) noticed the increase in confidence over the teaching period, with even the quietest students in my class talking and smiling by the end. The challenge for teachers was to come up with engaging activities that fit into a coherent lesson plan, and there was a great sense of collaboration and sharing of ideas that made this happen.”

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