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china (16)

Finally home.

I'm not sure how to begin speaking about my reflections on China now that I'm home... First, I definitely miss the familiar faces from the SNNU campus. The shopkeepers, canteen workers, and students became my friends, and I would speak to them everyday in Xi'an... Walking back on campus today was weird. I don't feel that same familiarity or friendliness from my fellow UofC community. I realized how essential the friendships were to my experience in China. I didn't think I'd be shedding tears during goodbyes... But alas, I was bawling just a few days ago.

I begin student-teaching grade 7 social studies and English next week, and I am certain that my experience teaching in China has prepped me for it. In China, I taught classes of 50 grade 8 ELL students, and I was teaching physics. While I am trying not to be too confident going into practicum, I know that it cannot be as challenging as the teaching in China was. I definitely hammered down ELL and classroom management skills in Xi'an.

I realized what I am grateful for. I briefly visited the Field of Crosses on Memorial the other night, and thought about how lucky we are to be living in Canada. Where everyone, regardless of their race, culture, religion, ideology, sexual and gender orientation; are welcome to live and lead dignified lives. I reflect on my experience in China and how censored information and speech were. I could not imagine the stress of living with the burden of being unable to speak your mind in your own country... Frankly, it's not the familiarity I'm most thankful for now at home... It's the freedom and the opportunity.

Overall, my experience was invaluable. I still need time to reflect on exactly what I have learned from my time there... But already, I know that the experience has made me a better (student) teacher and a more informed citizen. I'm grateful for everyone who made this experience possible- from the Werklund faculty, my family and friends, and the organizers in China. I am so, so lucky.

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Final Reflections

I arrived home a couple days ago, and it is really difficult adjusting back to my old life. Not only because the weather is 35 degrees colder, but it just seems so strange being home. I am so thankful that we have this week to rest up before we start our practicum, I think this is much needed to time to prepare and adjust. It feels so strange to only speak English in my everyday life, I miss trying to speak broken Chinese to store clerks, servers, and random people alike. I have decided that I want to put the effort in to continue learning Chinese. We finished our HSK 1 while we were in China and I want to keep progressing on my own. It is still hard for me to believe I am home, and my TAB experience is over.

 

Looking back on my experience, I have nothing but amazing things to say. It’s so funny to think that 3 months ago I was very nervous to move to China, and had no idea what to expect. I must say all, China exceeded my expectations in every way. The people were absolutely amazing, they were always so helpful and welcoming, it made me realize how we should be more welcoming to foreigners in Canada. The country itself is so beautiful and rich in history, I am so happy I was able to immerse myself in their culture for a few months.

 

Teaching in China was a great learning experience. I think that being thrown into a classroom with 50 grade 7 students who can barely speak English, really helped my classroom management skills. It also helped learn different strategies for teaching ELL students difficult content. Having the opportunity to also teach at the high school level was another great experience. I also really enjoyed tutoring many of my friends in English, it helped me realize that I really do have a passion for teaching.

 

This was such a wonderful learning experience professionally and personally. I would strongly recommend other students get involved with TAB because it is such a unique opportunity. I know it seems like a lot of work to uproot yourself from your comfortable lifestyle and move away for 2.5 months…. but it is an amazing experience you will never forget. 

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Being Back

I’m writing this at 4 am because I am super jetlagged and can’t fall back asleep haha. I got back on Nov 4th and right now it’s the morning the 7th so I’ve been back for about 3 days. As I unpacked my suitcase I began to reminisce about all the places I had been while I was in China. I saw my Beijing souvie and laughed because now I’ll forever be reminded of the time I got poisoned at the Great Wall. I saw the ticket from the Forbidden City and remembered how excited I was that the little bit of Kanji I can read translated over as Hanzi, and I could read a little bit in Chinese, and then immediately panicking when I realized it was counting down how many people were allowed in, and that number was dropping FAST. I saw my Yangshuo souvie and remembered the time we rode e-bikes through the mountains, which is straight up one of the best experiences of my entire life. I saw my Guilin souvie and remembered when Reggie and Sherin had the biggest spider I’ve ever seen chilling above their toilet. I saw how worn out my HSK1 book was compared to my HSK 2 book and I got excited to wear that one out too. I didn’t realize how many resources I had been given by my partner teacher in Xi’an until I started taking them all out of my bag and man there is a lot.

Being back is kind of strange. Xi’an was the first time I had lived on my own and relearning how to live with other people is taking some getting used to. There’s now all these responsibilities I didn’t have to worry about in Xi’an like working and preparing for field 3. The day I left Xi’an it was ~25 degrees and the day I got back to Calgary it was -15 and unsurprisingly I got sick from the sudden 40 degree drop in temperature. I thought I would be sad about how cold it is here but I got really happy once I started seeing snow from the airplane. I keep saying things to people in Mandarin and then reminding myself I don't need to do that anymore haha.

I’m glad to be back. I definitely took for granted how easy it is to find things in Canada. I once tried to find a book in Xi’an, and when I asked my friend about a bookstore she said to order it online because there weren’t very many bookstores in Xi’an. I can get food from any country in the world by walking maybe 10 minutes from house but in China foreign food was fairly hard to come by, with the exception of fast food like KFC or Mcdonalds. Also, cold water. China didn’t have cold water and I’m glad there is no shortage of that here. It’s a heck of a lot easier to use the internet now that I don’t have to wait for the VPN to reconnect every 5 minutes haha.

China was an amazing experience and I’m super grateful I had the opportunity to go. I definitely want to keep learning Mandarin. My classmates will be writing the HSK 4 exam next spring and I would like to keep learning at their pace and write it as well. Hopefully I’m not too bombarded by field that I cant take an hour of my day aside to learn a few new words. I was not expecting to like China as much as I did but I've come back feeling homesick. I miss China. I want to go back to Xi’an one day and also explore different parts of the country, like Chengdu and Shanghai.  

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Saying Goodbye

I wrote this on my last day of classes (Nov 3) but because the VPN wouldn’t connect I wasn’t able to upload it then.

Today is my last day in Xi’an. Well technically tomorrow is but I leave early so I got all my goodbyes done today. One of our Chinese teachers was sick so I did not get to say goodbye to her which sucks, especially because she was a really influential teacher for me. I got to say goodbye to the other teacher and my classmates though which I’m glad about. They’re so cute they recorded a video saying goodbye and each took turns saying something in Mandarin to us. It was kind of funny because I was in the room watching it happen. Later Reggie, Sherin, and I recorded a response.

I didn’t have class today because labs were cancelled so I had said my goodbyes to the students and staff earlier in the week. Instead, there was a closing ceremony today which I thought was really nice of Aegean to arrange. The principal from the school I was teaching at, our Chinese teacher, and a few of the international department staff were there. It was small but it was a nice gesture that brought a lot of closure to the end of the trip.

I was grabbing some last minute souvies for my family from the Muslim market and I found a little thing with my Chinese name on it which I’m really happy about. It’s silly but I think I’m going to miss being called Ning Li haha. After that I went to dinner with Sherin, Reggie, his girlfriend, and the boys from our class. It was a really nice way to end off the trip. We all walked back to the campus together and it was really nice to walk the street of Xi’an one last time. I got to see Zhonglou and Dayanta one last time too and it’s silly but those buildings became something I identified with as much as I would a maple leaf or the Saddledome, so it was almost cathartic to say goodbye to them too haha. The only people I didn’t get to say goodbye to were my Chinese teacher and the lady who owned the restaurant I went to a lot because I loved her potato and rice dish.

Goodbyes are really sad but I got a lot of closure today. I kept thinking about how I really don’t want to come back to Canada, and how I’d much rather stay in Xi’an and keep studying Mandarin, but unfortunately I don’t think the university would let me do field 3 in China.  After today though, I feel like I’m ready to go home. 

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Reflecting on my last week in China

My last week in China has been kind of emotional compared to the rest of my trip. I have been very happy because my girlfriend came all the way from Calgary to visit me during my last week in China. But I have also been a little sad because I have had to say goodbye to so many amazing people I have met over the last few months. Yesterday the University where we are staying at arranged a closing ceremony for us, it was very nice and thoughtful. We each were given 5 minutes to say a few things and reflect on our experience in China. After the ceremony, it really hit me that our TAB experience was at its end. I can’t believe 2.5 months can fly by so fast, this has been such an amazing learning experience personally and professionally. 

We have had some amazing weather over this last week in Xian, 20 degrees and sunny... wow! It hasn't been this nice since early September. My girlfriend is very lucky to experience this wonderful weather haha, when my Father came to visit it was freezing cold and raining everyday. I hear that it is -20 degrees in Calgary right now, I must admit I am not looking forward to coming home haha.

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The emotional rollercoaster begins...

Well, it's officially my last week in China. On one hand, I am so excited to go back to Canada. I've been fantasizing about clean washrooms, privacy, my own bedroom, spending time with my family and fiancé, and being able to drive again! Meanwhile... I've felt quite sad that I'm leaving China. I have met so many wonderful people and made so many friends. I am sad to leave such a welcoming and unique country. Further, I was able to fit in quite a bit of traveling and experiences, but I still don't feel quite satisfied. There's so much more I would like to do and see! I've also enjoyed the atmosphere and food in and around campus. I cannot fail to mention how great it's been to have such a low cost of living here. 

I've spent most of my time catching up with my Chinese friends before I leave, and doing the souvenir shopping which I had left until last minute. Further, I didn't have much time to go out and practice my photography much, so I've been trying to shoot as much as I can before November 6th comes around. Here are some of the photos I've taken during the last couple weeks:

Xian's Ancient City Wall

 

Xian's Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

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Teaching

Teaching in China over the last month has been quite the experience. The students I've been working with all plan to go to universities overseas so I have been able to teach in English. One thing I've noticed however is that China seems to be more results driven than schools in Canada. Every thing seems to be done with the end goal that students do well on the exams. Even in the labs, I hear things like "Make multiple measurements so you do better on the lab exam" whereas in Canada students would be encouraged to make multiple measurements as it is more reflective of how science is done in the real world. Lectures also seem very motivated by students doing well on exams. I wonder though if that's just a result of the uniqueness of my position in the schools I've been in. Since students are intending to pass international exams such as the SAT or A-levels, there is more pressure on teachers to ensure students do well. As well, students have two teachers for each course: a Chinese teacher, and a foreign teacher. So far I have been working primarily with the foreign teachers, but it would be interesting to see what a Chinese class is like. As the class is done in Chinese however I'm not sure how much benefit I would get from observing. I have gotten along very well with my students. It's interesting to see how similar they are to students in Canada despite living in a country that is so different. It really makes the world seem smaller.

Apart from the extra practice teaching, this TAB experience has provided me with many additional benefits with respect to teaching physics. Since the classes are based around A-level physics, I've gotten to see a different curriculum than ours. I've also gotten the chance to learn about teaching physics from a number of teachers who have unique perspectives since they are from different countries. They've given me lots of useful resources that I likely wouldn't have seen in North America. 

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One week left in China

I have now been in China for over 2 months…. wow. My Chinese learning has come a long way, but the more I talk to people the more I realize how little I know haha. I am actually quite sad that our TAB experience is coming to an end soon. Having said this, I am also excited to begin my practicum when I come home and teach English students again. Last weekend Sherin and I had the opportunity to visit the city of Chengdu. This was such a cool experience, we got the chance to visit the Panda Research Centre. We also met some really nice Chinese guys and hung out with them for the night. They took us to a great hot pot restaurant which was delicious. Their English was not very good so we had to try use the little bit of language we have learned, and thankfully we all had translator apps on our phones.

 

I have also started teaching English to many Chinese University students campus. I really enjoy tutoring them and they are very appreciative. In exchange, they help me practice speaking, reading and writing Chinese. I hope to make the very most of my week in China!

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The countdown home begins...

Well, there's only about 2 weeks left here in China now. There is one thing on my bucket list that I absolutely had to do prior to leaving China... Visit Chengdu city, famous for its pandas! Chengdu is the 4th largest city in China, and its riddled with famous landmarks across the city.

I flew in on Thursday, and spent that first day frolicking at an ancient marketplace, exploring some of the city on foot, and eating hotpot. The following day, I visited the Wenshuyuan Buddhist Temple. There, I also indulged in a famous jasmine tea at the temple's teahouse.


Alas, I woke up early on Saturday to head to Chengdu's Research and Giant Panda Breeding Base. I did my research prior to the visit, as I wanted to be sure that I was visiting an ethical institution. I arrived at 730AM, even though the official opening time is at 8AM. Being there so early meant we beat the crowds and got close to the pandas as they were feeding. It was an unreal experience! That evening, we met 2 Chinese men who were also traveling in Chengdu. We ended up hanging out and conversing in both Chinese and English. I'm grateful that I was able to visit Chengdu before heading back to Canada.

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6 weeks on...

I sat down and counted the days I have left in China. The last 6 weeks in Xi'an have involved a myriad of challenges and triumphs. I am finally at the point where I feel like I can somewhat have basic conversations in Chinese with locals. The communication has been incredibly rewarding! Further, I can use the transit system and get around without having to think too hard about it! So, it is a little sad to think that my flight back to Calgary is just under 3 weeks away.

The last few weeks of teaching have been even more challenging than my previous practicums. For one, I am teaching grade 8 physics, despite having a social studies specialization. Further, it is my students' second year in English immersion, so their oral and reading comprehension is quite beginner level. I felt like I was teaching both English and physics in one lesson! Having no partner or supervising teacher, I was most often on my own in teaching my classes. So, my teaching method has changed dramatically since the first week, as I tweaked and adjusted my practices. After lots of trial and error, I established an interactive vocabulary routine at the beginning of each class. The vocabulary words were concepts that we would be covering during the day's lesson. Further, I used the "think-pair-share" method to get students to hypothesize about some of the inquiry questions posed at the beginning of our lessons. Finally, I was able to mix in some Bill Nye: The Science Guy during the classes! 

I have observed that the education system here seems to be quite standardized. I have not seen an emphasis on multimodality or any accommodations for different learners. There certainly aren't many resources to help each of the 50 students in the classroom. 

My Chinese classes have definitely picked up in pace. We have quizzes each day, and multiple pages of homework. Last week, we even wrote 200-character letters in Chinese! The Chinese we've learned so far has been very helpful in navigating the city and speaking with locals.

Finally, I have enjoyed exploring more of Xi'an. Last week, I traveled to Luoyang to visit the UNESCO world heritage site: the Longmen Grottoes! It was magnificent.

  

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China - the National Holiday

China has been a wonderful cultural experience so far. We have continued our Chinese language classes and now have many more words in our vocabulary. Although I can say many more things in Chinese, I still find it extremely difficult to understand what local people are saying. This is because they speak so fast! They often have their own local dialect with causes them to pronounce words slightly differently. Thankfully I have made a few Chinese friends who are very patient with me and help me learn/study. 

My teaching in China has been quite the experience so far. Having 50 grade 7 students in each class whose English level is very low is definitely challenging. I have been teaching them Geography, I would consider this to be like an Earth Sciences subject. As you can imagine the content can be quite complicated, especially for students who cannot speak very good English. For this reason, I have learned and tried many different strategies to help teach difficult content to English language learners.

A couple weeks ago was the National Holiday in China. My Dad flew all the way out here to visit me and stayed for just over a week. We had a chance to visit many famous cultural sites including the Terracotta Warriors. The history and culture is so fascinating! I also think I discovered my new favorite food…. Hotpot… It is absolutely delicious! 

Until next time...

Reggie

 

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Language Learning

It took a while for my teaching placement to be finalized, and then immediately after China had a 1 week break so I haven't done too much teaching yet. Instead of that I'd like to focus this post on language learning. China is not very English friendly; very few people speak English and many signs and menus are only in Chinese. While we were tourists in Beijing and Guilin we could get by without very much Chinese language ability, but the more time I spend here the more I feel a need to learn.  

Before coming to China I could only speak a handful of phrases. I could count, and say some useful things such as "hello" (你好), "sorry" (对不起), "thank you" (谢谢), and "it's okay" (没关系). As I spent time in China I was able to slowly learn more and more as I needed to. It was a lot easier to remember words when I needed to use them compared to when I tried to learn them in Canada. Learning words when there was a context associated with them was much more efficient than learning them from a book. For example, I kept forgetting the word for apple before I came to China, but it became much easier after I tried to buy one. 

I'm constantly surprised by how much I can understand even though I don't speak the language here. We've been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend a Chinese language class. Every class we learn about 5 new words. With each new word I feel as though the amount I am able to communicate increases exponentially. More useful than this however is body language. Often if someone cannot understand what I am trying to say, they can at least piece it together if I am also pointing or gesturing with my hands. Similarly I can often only understand a few words when someone speaks to me, but I am able to use context, facial expressions, and gestures to understand what they are trying to say. 

Being in China has given me a more authentic experience on what it would be like to be an ELL student. If I were to suddenly sit though a lecture in Chinese I would likely not pay attention, and I definitely would not understand what was going on. The amount I know does not match what I can communicate. In English I am able to write very long essays very quickly, but in Chinese it took me over 2 hours to write a 100 word paragraph about my life in China. In class we talk so much about the importance of engaging ELL students and incorporating their prior knowledge, however I didn't fully appreciate why that is important until now. 

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My first few weeks in China

China has been amazing so far. We started off in Beijing and stayed there for 4 nights. I had such a great time visiting the popular tourist sites such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. The hostel we stayed at was right in the heart of the city, and I met so many fun people from all over the world! We then took the train to a small city called Guilin. Guilin was far more south and is surrounded by beautiful jungle and mountains. I felt like I was adventuring through Jurassic park! We spent 4 nights in Guilin and I was a very nice contrast from the hustle and bustle of Beijing. It was almost impossible to find anyone who spoke English in Guilin, so I got lots of opportunities to practice my VERY VERY basic (perhaps non-existent) Chinese communication skills. After speaking with some fellow travellers we decided to spend one night in a small town called Yang Shuo, that was about an hour drive from the city. This town was a tourist hub, it was right in the mountains and kind of reminded me of a Chinese version of Banff. Here we rented some electric motorcycles and drove them around the beautiful countryside, this was by far my favourite day of the trip so far.

 

 

After that we departed for Xian, upon arrival representatives from the school picked us up from the airport and took us out for dinner. We have been enrolled in a Chinese language course and have Chinese class from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm Monday to Friday. So far our experience in Xian has been amazing, everyone has treated us with such kindness and hospitality. I also started teaching geography in an English immersion middle school this week which has been a really interesting experience. The students' English level was much lower than I initially anticipated so I am going to have to adapt my lessons accordingly. I have nothing but amazing things to say with regards to our experience in China so far, and I am excited to continue learning Chinese and see what else Xian has in store for us.

Until next time… Zai Jian!!

Reggie

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A whole month in China.

China has been quite the thrill. The many warnings of homesickness and culture shock that I heard prior to leaving have been fruitless... So far. Our first stop was in Beijing, where we jousted with the immense crowds, and digested a great deal of Chinese history at the Forbidden City. Of course, we took part in the exhilarating climb of the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. The wall was definitely one of the peaks of visiting Beijing, alongside the authentic and delicious peking duck dishes that we indulged in.

The Forbidden City

The Great Wall of China

Then, we packed our bags and rode the overnight train to Guilin. There, I combatted my fear of rats, bats, and giant spiders. The critters of Guilin have been the most challenging aspect of China for me. However, the calm tropics and beautiful scenery were a much-needed break from the crowds and metropolis of Beijing. From Guilin, we rode bamboo boats down the Li River to a small town called Yangshuo. For Canadians, Yangshuo is pretty much the Banff of China. It's a scenic mountain town with tons to do. The best part of Yangshuo was renting mopeds and riding through the countryside. We got used to handling mopeds and dealing with the insane traffic. There were a few moments where I thought I would die... But somehow I managed to stay upright and dodge pedestrians, trucks, cars, and other bikes. Getting onto the narrow highways beside the villages where water buffalo lived was pretty unreal.

The Li River

Yangshuo's countryside

After two weeks of travelling, it was finally time to fly to Xi'an and start the real TAB adventures. The Shaanxi Normal University Campus was built in 1943, and has 40,000 enrolled students. Living on campus has been a pretty cool experience. It is interesting to observe university culture and mingle with both Chinese and foreign students. We have Chinese class every morning from Monday to Friday. It is quite fast-paced, but our laoshis (AKA teachers) are wonderful. Twice a week, I commute to an English-immersion middle school where I teach grade 8 physics. This has been a challenge for 2 reasons. First, my specialization is social studies. Two, the students' English is still developing... So, I feel like I am teaching both physics and English at the same time. Finally, Xi'an boasts an interesting fusion of cultures and religion. The city has a rich and ancient history... There was one day that I went shopping, and did not intend on sight-seeing, yet I came across a 700-year-old bell tower. Another time, I was enjoying the sweets at the Muslim Street Market, and stumbled across a 1,300-year-old mosque. The history here is incredible. Below is a photo of the Great Mosque of Xi'an, as well as myself and Reggie on our way to our first day of teaching!

The Great Mosque of Xi'an

Our first day of teaching!

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Aspirations

We have been in China for about 2 weeks now but tomorrow is the first day of our language classes so I think that officially marks the start of my TAB adventures. I met all the staff who will be supporting us while we're here (they invited us to dinner) and they are all very very kind.

So far I've seen Beijing, Guilin and Yangshou, and now Xi'an and each of these places is completely different from one another. I hope to get a chance to see more of China while I am here and to learn more about Chinese culture. Before coming I knew a few words in Mandarin but since coming here I've learned so many new words! I'm very excited to be given the chance to learn Chinese while we are living here. It's a very amazing opportunity and I'm a little disappointed we only get two months of classes, but I intend on making the most of it and supplementing what I learn in classes with what I learn through my experiences in China.

Another goal for my TAB experience is to gain more  experience with ELL students and ELL teaching strategies. Explaining new concepts to ELL students is something I struggled with a lot during my last practicum so I am looking forward to the opportunity to spend time with ELL students. There is a junior high on campus and I've been told we will be assisting in classrooms where the students intend on moving outside of China once they are done their education. This seems like a very unique classroom setting and I'm looking forward to meeting my students.  


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Awaiting the new dawn

Tomorrow morning I will depart from cozy Calgary and fly towards the hustle of bustle of Osaka, Japan.  The mix of uncertainty and anxiousness is still swirling around in my head, but of course so is a healthy dose of excitement.

This being my second time visiting Japan I have a rough idea of what to expect as a tourist.  This being said, as a bit of a foodie, I can't wait to dive into the culinary gold mine that is Japanese cuisine.  As a fan of Japanese popular culture, the hustle and bustle of Osaka's Dotonbori, the myriad of temples and shrines in the old capital of Kyoto, and the modern Otaku haven of Akihabara are all tantalizingly within my horizon.  And of course, as a pre-service teacher the prospect of working with Japanese students is something brings to me great anticipation as well. 

Having been educated in China in my youthful years (until Grade 6), I have some ideas about how the Japanese education system may compare to western education.  However, I am anticipating and hoping to be proven wrong so that I can gain a completely different experience than that of my memories.  As a fledgling in the educational world and someone who has been a part of two worlds, by comparing the different educational philosophies of east and west I hope to gain a better grasp of my own educational philosophy.  

I am also looking forward to working with Japanese students, which is sure to present many challenges, especially language.  However, I will do my best using my current knowledge of Japanese culture and by diving deeper into the culture in order to make a connection with the students.  This is likely going to be a difficult task, but hopefully I will come out of it knowing how to better connect with students in general.  By working with students of a different culture, I also hope to gain insight into how to better work with diversity in the classroom.  And by being in an environment where I am challenged by language, I'll also be able to better understand ELL students here in Canada. 

Most importantly of all, I feel this trip will allow me to become someone who welcome challenges and the unknown.  As someone who wants to become a science teacher, this is a spirit I want all students to have in science as well as in life.  Albert Einstein once famously said of the quantum theory, "God does not play dice", when faced with the uncertainty inherent to quantum mechanics; this aversion to uncertainty was to become one of the few times he was wrong.  In science and in life, while it is important to plan with the future in mind, it is also important to embrace what is unknown with open arms as an opportunity to learn more.  Just as from the infinite darkness of the young universe the first photon escaped to become a part of the grand cosmic background radiation that we still see today.  Within any void of unknown, there is a ray of everlasting knowledge waiting to escape.  

And... a ray of a new dawn waiting to bring with it a new amazing experience. 

Wen, blog/pen name: *snow* (Snow Sensei)

To follow my non-academic figurine blog, which will be converted to a travel blog for the upcoming week of travel please follow me at

http://ssnendo.wordpress.com

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