Every year, VIA and the Huang foundation give money to the 2 VIA fellows at OYY to develop a couple of service projects throughout the year.  Some of what we have worked on this year have included a Holiday talent competition, pen-pal exchange,  we bought a new computer to facilitate better English learning outside the classroom, and of course, the annual English Magazine.

In early April, we put up flyers all over campus to spread the word about the upcoming English magazine.  We accepted essays, editorials, translations, poetry, and much much more.  We’ve received more than 50 entries and several pieces of artwork and created not only an online magazine but a published version, so each classroom at OYY will have a copy.  Check out the online version below:



Oh Hello!

Hello friends,

My deepest apologies for the long long silence of over 5 months?  Jeez.  I’ve had many friends tell me keep a blog when living abroad so you can re-live those experiences when you return.  From now on, I will be better about updating this (did I say this in a previous post?).  I’ll give you a short update about life.

OYY: Just keeps getting better. Teaching has had its ups and downs but these days, it’s more of the ups.  I’ve gotten used to my classes’ learning styles, which makes for better lessons and I absolutely adore my students.  I’ve seen vast improvements in their spoken English, especially the young students and I feel like I’ll keep in close contact with many of them in the coming years.  During Christmas, the foreign teachers held a HUGE Holiday talent show for our students and as daunting as those logistics were, I enjoyed every minute of the preparations, helping some of my students practice, working with the Chinese English teachers on their dance number, and being a part of a wonderful OYY tradition.

China living: There have been many days where I felt homesick, frustrated over the language, and angsty but this overall experience trumps my bad days.  In the past few months, I’ve pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone that I wouldn’t recognize myself and for that, I’m grateful.  I’ve visited a few provinces, biked through Chengdu, hiked up a mountain, biked 30 miles in one day, and have visited three countries in Asia during Spring Festival.  Teaching English to over 70+ students in one classroom continuously improves my confidence and I’m so happy that VIA has made this all possible. Many of you already know that I have decided to stay in China for at least one more year.  There is still so much I want to accomplish, both professionally and personally, and I am excited for what’s in store in the coming year.

More to come 🙂

Obama style!

I’m sitting in my living room, trying to finish lesson planning and working/reviewing midterms that we’ll be administering to our students, and of course, reading and watching updates all over CNN, NPR, and Facebook of the 2012 Election with my spotty Internet connection.  I just got word that President Obama just got re-elected and I cannot be happier!!

While incredibly happy that Obama will continue his legacy, I cannot help but feel nostalgic for America and DC.  Four years ago, I was watching the election coverage with my friend, Alex, in Alexandria, VA.  After we heard that Obama won the election, Alex drove me back to my house in Columbia Heights, a popular neighborhood in DC filled with young professionals and locals.  I’ve never high-fived and bumped fists with so many people on the drive back home and was in awe of the unity and happiness that filled the streets of DC.  That happiness continued the next day on my commute to work with so many smiling faces on the bus.  I can’t help but wonder what’s happening in DC as I write this.  Party on, America!  I’ve never been more proud to be an American.

Happy Halloween!

ImageAhh, Halloween:  My absolute FAVORITE time of the year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas fall shortly behind.  Anywhoo, this year, Shane, Signe, and I spent our Sunday afternoon decorating our English Resource Room (ERR).  With limited resources at our disposal, we covered most of the room with black garbage bags.  I created bat stencils from said garbage bags and we hung toilet paper around the room.  And of course, we bought tons and tons of candy.  Throughout the week, we played “Hocus Pocus” on repeat, had a mummy wrapping contest, and played other Halloween-related activities.  On the day of Halloween, I showed up to teach my Junior 1’s wearing a black mask.  The students were confused and probably a little scared at first but then I yelled, “Wan sheng jie” (Halloween in Mandarin) and they understood and applauded.  Shortly after class, my students ran towards the ERR after I mentioned the word, candy.

Thoughts on teaching

Since I’ve been in Xintang, I’ve faced a couple of challenges teaching my students.  Initially, I was worried about my Junior 1’s.  This is their first exposure to English and on my first day of teaching, they did not understand one word I said.  Ideally, teaching this class in Chinese would be extremely helpful but hey, my knowledge of Mandarin is limited, so I would have to be creative.  Over the past several weeks, I’ve noticed improvement in my teaching style.  I use many hand gestures and speak very slowly and clearly.  I make sure to use only very basic phrases, and creating worksheets with Chinese translations has been a huge help as well.  It also helps that these students are the cutest at OYY.  Every time I walk into their classroom, their faces light up and they scream, “Hello Shobana!” “Good afternoon/morning, Shobana!”  I can tell that most, if not, all of them are VERY excited and happy to learn English, which makes teaching them an absolute joy.

My Senior 1’s are a diverse group.  I teach 3 Senior 1 classes (class 156, 162, and 161) and like I’ve mentioned before, each class is supremely different from one another.  These students are roughly 15-16 years old and have had previous exposure to learning English.  One class does not seem to understand most of what I’m saying, another class slightly grasps what I’m talking about, and the other class: well, they’re one of the smartest classes at OYY.  Seriously, class 161 has scored the highest and their level of English is unbelievable.  This is the only class where I speak at a normal pace and use bigger, more intermediate words when talking to them.  Initially, when teaching this class, I followed the textbook and created a similar lesson plan from my other senior classes but it wasn’t until a few of the 161 students yelled out, “this is too easy and boring!” that I decided to switch it up.  As an English teacher, I want to constantly challenge my students so I took my students’ comments with a grain of salt and in the future, I will work with their head English teacher and make strides to make their particular lesson complex and challenging.  Bring it on, little geniuses!

National Holiday!

After a solid month of teaching, I was ready for break and of course, perfect timing: China’s National holiday!  October 1st is the anniversary of the PRC and the whole country has a week off to celebrate.  As much as I love living in Xintang, I wanted to experience city living, so I decided to go to the capital of China: Beijing.  But the night before I left, Shane, Signe, and I met up with our friend, Carlos and he drove us to Hengyang.  Hengyang is a big city about an hour away from Xintang, with a population of 2 million people.  The 3 of us, not having left rural China in the past month, were staring out the windows saying, “Oh my god! City! Lights! People!”  Carlos has a few expat friends living in Hengyang, so we met them for dinner and went out dancing to a club called, “39 degrees” (Celsius, obvi).  They played some top 40 from America, Europe, and Asia and my current jam, “Gangnam style” by Psy.  Good tune!  All in all, good night all around.

The next morning, I woke up early to make my fast train to Changsha.  I was pretty nervous because this was the first time I would be traveling by myself in China.  I took the fast train to Changsha, took a cab to the Changsha airport, and voila, finally made it to Beijing!  My friends, Kaj and Ida (also with VIA) are posted at the University of Science and Technology and teach English to college freshman and intern with NGO’s.  I became good friends with them during training in Xining, so I was excited to be reunited.  I was a little culture shocked when I landed at the airport; Beijing is pretty developed, urban, and filled with expats.  I wasn’t used to seeing so many foreigners at once, but I got over it quickly and was excited to be back in a city again.  I caught up with both of them over dinner/drinks and they discussed their lives at USTB and how they liked teaching English to university students.  Their job is very different from my job  but while their curriculum is more complex, we still have the same end goal: working to engage students to the English language, which is not easy.  While in Beijing, I visited the Temple of Heaven, walked around both USTB and Peking University, ate a delicious jianbing, which is a Chinese-style tortilla, filled with eggs and scallions, bargained at the silk market, visited Tiananmen square, visited hutongs, and spent time with good friends.  Unfortunately, I sprained my ankle that week, so a visit to the Great Wall and many other sites, such as the Forbidden City and the art district were out of the question but there is ALWAYS next time.  The following Saturday, I made my way back to Hunan feeling happy, refreshed and ready to teach!


Life at OYY

So, it’s been a little more than a month of living in Hunan and so much has happened in the past few weeks, so I will do a quick summary of life so far:

I am teaching two Junior 1 classes, one Junior 2 class, and three Senior 1 classes.  Junior 1’s are around age 11-12 and are incredibly cute.  Most of these students have never seen a foreigner and this is their first exposure to the English language.  My first class with these students was eye-opening.  How could I possibly teach English to these students with the little Mandarin that I know?  It will be a challenge but one I know that I can handle.  Junior 2’s are age 13-14 and their English is quite impressive.  I’m able to teach at a normal pace without blank faces and I’m pretty optimistic about this class.  Senior 1’s are interesting.  I have one class who can barely comprehend what I’m talking about and two classes who I classify as ‘genius’ level.  Each class has about 70 students, therefore, it’s difficult to evaluate everyone’s level.  I want to be the best teacher I can be but I’m sure there will be a lot of trial and error throughout the year.  Oh well, BRING IT!

In addition to teaching, we were also given tutors to help develop our Mandarin and we’re also doing several activities for the school, such as English Corner.  English Corner meets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  EC is a way for students to come talk to the foreign English teachers and practice their spoken English.  It’s also a great way to get to know our students outside of class and to see what interests them.  Aside from the troublemakers, the students are very sweet and eager to get to know you.  Every time I step out of my apartment, I get so many, “hellos!” and “how are you, teacher?!” I feel like a celebrity and I can’t help but smile when I talk to them.  One thing I do have to remind myself of is NOT be a softy and the ‘easy’ teacher.  I must bring out disciplinarian and authoritative Shob when I teach.  So far, I think I’ve been able to strike a balance.

Teaching has had its ups and downs.  There are times when I feel like I’ve hit home with a lesson plan and times when I feel so defeated because my students could not understand what I was saying.  But I will say that even on my worst teaching days, I’m continuously learning on how best to teach and communicate.  There is ALWAYS room for improvement.