Thursday, December 18, 2014

Migrant School Learning Initiative in Nanjing

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center offers students the opportunity to join a number of interest groups and activities, but one of the most rewarding may be the Migrant School School Learning Initiative.  Read on for current student Nanfei's experiences teaching English to local migrant children:

Hi All,

There’s a variety of international teaching programs that offer employment to students in the form of English teaching. These are particularly popular in Asia (Japan’s JET, Korea’s EPIK, just to name a few). While many of my friends (including HNC students, prior to their enrollment) have enjoyed such experiences, I’d like to talk about a different kind of English teaching going on in Nanjing.

There’s a volunteer program at the HNC called the Migrant Student Learning Initiative (MSLI). It was started a few years back by the HNC’s Professor Armstrong-Taylor and current American Academic Coordinator Angela Chang (MAIS ’12). They wanted to create a volunteer opportunity with both immediate as well as long-term direct impact on the community.

This year, five pairs of Chinese-International student teachers were recruited to go to a local migrant children school every weekend. These kids come from migrant or rural backgrounds, and are not privileged to the same opportunities as urban children who attend the city’s public schools. At the school, they are assigned to one of three majors: electrician, chef, and service staff. Their school collaborates with top hotels in Nanjing with the goal of providing training for these kids to be able to be employed after graduation. Since these hotels host many international travelers, understanding of the English language and Western culture forms an important aspect of the job. 

This year's MSLI teachers on Halloween
The lesson plans are standard, covering greetings, grammar, vocabulary, etc. In addition, we hold events for major holidays such as Halloween and Christmas. For example, our Halloween celebration included bobbing for apples, mummy wrapping race, and dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Recently, we also had a lesson covering the seasons and American gestures. While I was teaching anecdotal gestures such as the ‘awkward turtle’ (lovingly translated to 尴尬乌龟) hand motion (Please see if you are unaware :)), another class nearby had the ‘In Summer’ video from ‘Frozen’ playing. 
Nanfei's class bobbing for apples
As students ourselves, we try our best to make the process interactive and fun. As the school is not heated, winter classes are the equivalent of teaching inside a refrigerator. Even so, my students scribble down notes and raise their hands to answer my questions. Personally speaking, I have learned much more from them than I am able to teach each Saturday. During the breaks, they show me carvings they’ve made out of turnips, play me popular Chinese songs from an MP3 player, and explain the difference uses for bay leaf. Recently, I asked them what they’d like to be in 10 years. One 15 year old boy responded, “I’d like to be the head chef in my kitchen!” He then asked me in return “Teacher Nanfei, how old are you this year?” Amused classmates nearby scolded him, “How can you ask that? Teacher Nanfei taught us that asking for a lady’s age was rude!” When I answered that I was 24, he smiled and said, “See? We might be like her in 10 years.” 
A turnip rose made by one of Nanfei's students
A student's dream of what they'd like to be in the future
Where did you imagine yourself now, 10 years ago? Where would you like to be in 10 years?