By Leslie Forman, Foreign teacher at Jiaxing University
I found out that the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) had a program called Teach in China, and they were looking for native English speakers with college degrees. I met those requirements. The deadline was a few days away. I’d never been to China, never taken any classes about China, never studied Chinese. I’d always focused on Latin America.
But I was curious. I wanted to be the kind of person who could pack up my life and move across the world into the unknown. So I called the CIEE office.“Great!” the representative said. “Let me send you the list of program veterans.”
I sent a few quick emails and within a few hours, my inbox filled with encouraging notes: [Go Leslie, do this thing and you won’t regret it.
Do it! I got so much out of the experience.
Much more than the study abroad programs that I did in college.
I love love LOVED teaching in China. I had virtually no teaching experience and spoke no Mandarin beyond ni hao and xie xie. My students were beyond LOVELY and eager and enthusiastic]
The day before the deadline, I stood at Kinko’s, getting ready to FedEx in my documents to teach at Jiaxing University in Zhejiang Province, near Shanghai. I stood in the store, speechless and staring at my passport for a solid hour, asking myself: What am I doing? What am I doing? What am I doing?
LESS THAN THREE MONTHS LATER, I WAS ON A PLANE TO CHINA.
In August 2006 I landed at Jiaxing University in a “small town” of about a million people near Shanghai. The university gave me an air-conditioned apartment in an avocado-colored concrete walk-up building on campus.
This experience was completely different than my travels in Latin America.
People stared at me and sometimes even took my picture. I quickly learned the most common questions — Where are you from? What’s your name? What do you do? Are you married? How much for this? — and simple answers. That gave me enough basic vocabulary to get around Jiaxing. I’d go to the vegetable market and the ladies would quiz me: “What’s that?”“Tomato.” “What’s that?” and so on, through all the fruits, vegetables, types of bread, and clothing and so much more.
AS I PRACTICED THE BASICS OF MANDARIN, I TAUGHT ORAL ENGLISH CLASSES.
I had 16 sections with 20-40 students each, many shy and unfamiliar with being asked open-ended questions. For one lesson, I brought in a collection of random products and toys for my students to advertise, including rubber duckies, a pink toilet plunger, a wooden back massage hammer, and a clay whistle in the shape of a chicken.
I instructed each group to name the product, think of four or more unconventional uses for it, imagine its target customers, and put together a creative presentation. Several groups impressed me with their creativity. The duckies became trusted confidants, the pink plunger became a hat for toddlers to wear so their mothers wouldn’t lose sight of them in public places, and the back massager became a self-defense weapon for elderly ladies.
I couldn’t help but laugh when one group advertised the chicken-shaped clay whistle. A shy boy explained, “This is small cock” (a word undoubtedly chosen with the help of an electronic dictionary).“Little boys think it is very interesting to play with. They play with it all day. Little girls think it is a bit boring….” Ah, I could not stop laughing….
When the school year came to a close, I was ready to for a new challenge, but I wanted to stay in China. I found an internship at the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. During this six-month internship, I met representatives from multinational companies like Citibank, Disney and Nike and learned a lot about corporate social responsibility, social enterprise and the possibilities to do good through business.
(Credit: Leslieforman.com. Please note that ISAC re-post this article from years ago in order to let foreign teachers know more about teaching in China from others’ experience. Some of the information in the article might still hold true for now but not all)
Introduction to Jiaxing University
Jiaxing University (JXU) started in 1914, and the school is located in Jiaxing. It is located in the southeast coast and the center of the Yangtze River Delta. It is connected to Shanghai in the east, Suzhou in the north, Hangzhou in the west and Hangzhou Bay in the south. It has unique geographical advantages, developed industries and economy. Prosperity is the birthplace of the Communist Party of China, the birthplace of Jiangnan culture, the permanent site of the World Internet Conference, and the comprehensive demonstration of the Shanghai demonstration zone in Zhejiang Province.