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Back in Canada

Apologies for my late last post everyone!

It's finally over and I've settled back into my daily routines in Canada. In some ways, the whole experience feels like it was some surreal dream. Everything about the trip was so different and unfamiliar that it feels unbelieveable that just a couple short weeks ago, I lived in China. I suppose that's what travel is meant to do; it shocks you.

Although being back in Canada is comforting and easy, a part of me cannot help but feel like there is something more that I could be doing now that I am back. When I was on TAB, I felt like I needed to make the most of every day since I only had two months in the country. Every weekend, I felt like I needed to travel or see something, or if not travel, then I needed to very intentionally rest or complete assignments so that I could go travel another day. It was an exciting way to live because I knew that I was getting the most out of every moment that I had in China. Now that I am back however, I have lost some of that urgency to explore and discover since I have all the time in the world. Calgary will always be here for me; it can wait. Now that I am verbalizing these thoughts in my blog, it's a bit sad to think that I am not making the most of the time that I have. I know that this "urgency" is all in my head but it's hard to break out of my comfortable, easy routines here. 

I guess in a way, this is my wake up call! Even in Calgary, I can be an explorer. I may not necessarily go looking for adventure every free moment I have (since I do have Field III to attend to after all). That said, I need to recapture some of the spirit of travel and discovery that I had when I was in TAB and inject that back into my life. I've heard that being a tourist in your own city is actually one of the most exciting things you can do! 

 

Yours,

David Kang

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China Here I Come!

My experience in China was full of many highs and lows, easts and wests and successes and failures. For my final blog post, I figured I would highlight 10 points I wish I had considered more thoroughly before I left!

  1. Flights – Plan for the unexpected – crossing the ocean always involves a certain level of logistical challenges, and delays are common. Be sure to pack what you need in your carry on luggage to spend a night in an airport!
  2. Presence - Don’t expect people to know who you are and why you’re there – use the letter you are provided and use it often. Especially at the university, there are many moving pieces and officials appreciate the documentation.
  3. Language - Don’t think English is universal – study Chinese before you go and be ready to slow down the way you talk and use your hands often. Most of the people you meet in Xi’an will speak very little English, so be adaptable in your explanations.
  4. Traffic – It is VERY different – The rules in China can seem very chaotic at first and pedestrians do not have the right of way. However, everyone gets where they’re going. Make sure you always keep your headphones out and look in every direction before crossing any road, big or small.
  5. Food – Bread, butter, cheese, as well as many other western products and even ovens are not commonplace in China. Instead, get used to enjoying many surprise dishes involving noodles or rice as their starch! This is particularly important if you have any dietary concerns.
  6. Laundry – It may seem simple but if you’re used to a washer and dryer combo, you’ll be surprised. Aside from professional laundry services, all wash is primarily done by hand or by coin wash machines. Hang drying clothes is the norm, which means you should always allow yourself 2-3 days to finish your laundry.
  7. Class – The language classes are intensive. If you want to learn basic Mandarin, the 4 hours every morning will set you up for success!
  8. Travel – If you want to move around China, be sure you that you set up a Chinese bank account when you arrive. Many transportation websites and tourism companies do not accept credit cards from outside of the Chinese Mainland.
  9. Communication – Download WeChat and become familiar with it before you leave, as it is the most common form of communication, social media and payment in China. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must, and you NEED to set it up prior to leaving or you will be left without unrestricted internet access.
  10. Support – The most important point I want to make is ALWAYS reach out for support. You are not alone on your journey and your fellow TABer’s, the program director, the university, your liaison and your family and friends are all there for you!
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Domestic Travel in China

Throughout my time in China, I have been consistently surprised about how many visitors to national historic sites, museums and other notable locations are domestic tourists. The local people clearly value and take pride in experiencing their history. As a social studies specialist, I find this domestic tourism particularly interesting. At first, I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the large crowds, while at the same time being overly content about the interest each visitor had while exploring the sites. Pleasantly, despite being warned to expect high volumes of people, every place I visited was delightful and efficient. The Chinese tourism industry has apparently evolved to serve an ever-growing population.

Infrastructure in China is equally as efficient. High-speed trains, twelve-lane highways, and an extensive network of bus routes connect the massive country. However, despite the accessibility of each site, I found it was the people that made the experience memorable. Our guide for our cultural tours was a volunteer. He was a university student studying marketing, and he wanted to take us to various destinations to showcase the best of the region. He had visited many of these locations before and gave up his free time during a busy academic period to show us his country. It was his companionship that genuinely made the museums memorable!

Additionally, I could not possibly explain how much kindness my fellow travellers have shown. David has always been a there with an open ear, willing to share a snack, a story, a laugh and advice. Candace has been the best lobby (and new) friend I could have ever wished for, collaborating with me day in and out on academic and travel plans, in addition to chatting about culture shock.

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What's in a name?

November 4, 2018 

I’m sitting in the airport waiting for a flight to go home now. This past week has been fairly emotional and so busy. I spent the last week making a trip to Hua Shan, visiting the Xi’an Expo Park, cramming in our last assignments, going to Chinese classes, talking about Halloween with my classes, going to a Halloween celebration at our partner school and eating so so much hot pot, chuar chuar and other Xi’an foods I won’t get at home.

The goodbyes have been difficult because I know how hard it is to keep touch when halfway around the world. Everyone has been so lovely in showering us with cards, little momentos and touching remarks, however, there is one that I will be sure to keep with me for a long time.

As part of this experience, one of the tasks that we had was to run a weekly spelling bee – we had to read academic words for spelling teams in each class to try to spell correctly. On the last day, one of the students provided me with a thank you note and it said – “on the first day, I was super confused by your Canadian accent, but then on the second day, I noticed that you remembered my name and then I was so relaxed that I could understand your Canadian accent perfectly!”

I’ll admit that with my 75 students that I only saw for 45 minutes each week, I did not remember everyone’s names, and those that I did remember, I often second guessed. However, this one note showed me that it was worth the effort to spend a little time putting out name tags and asking again and again what the students’ names were.

I was touched that this student wrote me this note, and I didn’t even realize that my Canadian accent would be confusing. There was so much to love about being in Xi’an and I loved how every moment in the school gave me new insights and hope.

 

- Candace

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Now that we are getting closer to the end of our trips here on TAB, I’ve been starting to reminisce about home and get excited to come back to Canada. I love it here in China and I think that I still have so much more to learn in my last two weeks, but after 6 weeks it’s hard to not miss some of the comforts of home. Here are the three things I miss more than anything else:

  1. My own room and bed
  2. Reliable internet without a VPN
  3. BEING A LITERATE MEMBER OF SOCIETY

That last one is not something that I thought I would ever imagine being something I miss, but my oh my, it’s a big one. When I left for China, I completely took for granted the ability to speak the dominant language of a country. Since the day that I’ve been here, it has been a constant (but rewarding and exciting) struggle to communicate and read the most basic things. I cannot wait to get back and be able to read a restaurant menu without pulling out a translator app. It’s especially tricky because I am not a visible minority here so everyone assumes that I can speak Chinese so they rarely slow down their speech for me. It’s always fun to see the looks on their faces when I have to explain in broken Chinese that I am a foreigner, and that I didn’t understand anything they just said!

A pretty standard menu in China. Sometimes they have pictures, but this one was mean.

If there is one thing that I think I can take away from China to mold my understanding of pedagogy, it that I feel I have a stronger foundation for empathizing with ELL students with very low literacy levels. I think that we are extremely lucky here in China because we have the unique situation of being both a language student and a language teacher at the same time. This has given us a wholistic understanding of the additional-language acquisition experience from both ends of the relationship.

In our first days in our Chinese classes, I remember feeling lost and overwhelmed with the monumental task of building literacy in a wildly different language from my own. It’s been a slow slog, but I’m slowly building my arsenal of Chinese characters and phrases that I can say, and it’s done wonders for my confidence here.

Our Chinese language class material... I can read that now!

On the other side of the coin, I’ve been very lucky to teach classes with hugely different levels of English literacy because I can try all sorts of ELL teaching strategies. If nothing else, I’ve become exceptionally good at explaining complex concepts through simplified language! I don’t know to what extent I will be able to apply the lessons that I’ve learned here to my teaching back in Canada, but I’m very happy I’ve been able to gain this insight into what language learners face every day!

 

Yours

David

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Acts of Kindness

 

10/14/2018

Six weeks in, there have been days where I have felt homesick and frustrated. However, one of the biggest pieces of advice I have received in life is to focus on the positive and to remember to be grateful. On that note, I have been reflecting on the acts of kindness I have experienced and doing that helps make my heart so full that the homesickness and frustration is abated.

There have been countless acts of kindness, but I want to reflect on a few:

  • The man at the airport – My flight coming to China was delayed by 10 hours in Vancouver, which resulted in me missing my connecting flights in Nanjing. I didn’t know how to speak any mandarin and the flight attendants did not provide any information on what to do once I was in Nanjing other than to go find the checkin counter. Once at the checkin counter, a lovely man noticed how I was struggling to communicate what I needed, and he made sure that I understood what was happening using his own limited English and kept me under his wing as we kept moving locations.
  • Our fellow trapped Kangding travellers – as my other China TABBers have detailed in their posts last week, being stuck on a mountain was almost fun given the kindness and joy that our fellow traveller brought to our trip.
  • Our partner teachers – My first lesson here was a struggle and I came out of it disappointed and displeased with how I ran it. The partner teachers took this as a moment to share their own frustrations and times of difficulty, and I found it so comforting and encouraging that instead of critiquing what I did, they shared their own experiences.
  • My lovely roommate – There is a lot to navigate in China from obtaining a laundry card, to eating at good restaurants, to knowing if toilet paper is toilet paper, to shopping, and booking rail tickets. My lovely roommate is consistently sharing her own knowledge, her own experiences, and going in the middle of the night with me to make sure that we 3 Canadians can have access to Wechat money.
  • My supportive classmates – In our language classes here, it is sometimes hard to not feel overwhelmed in classes. But in kudos to the teachers, they have built such a nice environment that if I am struggling, my classmates will mouth the answer to me or take the time to explain to me when I am confused. There is also a chorus of “zao shang hao” (good morning) every time that anyone enters the classroom, that I would love to have emulated in my own classroom.
  • David & Logan – I couldn’t imagine having a better group of classmates to travel and do this experience in China with – their kindness and humor has helped so much going through the tired days. From David’s insistence and excitement in bringing in new snacks for everyone to try, their encouragement as I struggled to climb 5 steps due to altitude acclimation at Paoshan mountain, to Logan running out at night to buy a bug zapper, I don’t think later on that I will necessarily remember all the beautiful sights we are seeing, but I do think I will remember their support.

Like in travel, I think in teaching there will be days of frustration and negativity, but this practice of looking at kindness and positively is important to help keep moving forward and to appreciate how lucky I am to have the life I have and the opportunities I have.

 

 

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A plan. My experiences over the last few weeks have highlighted the similarities between traveling and teaching. It all started with a desire to escape the constant business that naturally occurs in a city of 10.6 billion people. The noise, the traffic, the unsettled feeling of always being on the move. Despite being a beautiful place to live and study, Xi’an is only a tiny part of the Chinese landscape. Over the first four weeks, it became clear that I had to experience what rural China was like, or I would forever regret not taking the opportunity to. Thus, trip planning began, and my excitement grew. However, the only week we would be available to travel, also happened to be the Chinese National Week of Holiday. This meant many millions of Chinese citizens would also be moving across the country, causing many unexpected challenges to emerge. Regardless of all the hurdles, after many late-night planning sessions and time spent endlessly refreshing pages to check for updated train and bus availability, we formulated a plan. We were set to leave with only a few gaps in transport to address in each city.

The day came, we were up before the sun, eager to hit the road. The experience started smoother then we anticipated, we caught a cab without hassle despite the language barrier and time of day, we passed through security with only minimal lineups and the high-speed train was spacious and comfortable. Traveling at 250km an hour, 4 hours later, we arrived in Chengdu, and we were able to navigate our way to our connecting bus with ample time. This was when our plan started to change little by little. Our 4-hour bus ride ended up being 8 hours along a bumpy, and at times highly dangerous road, due to the traffic, but we arrived at the hostel with only a few sore stomachs. The next day we explored Kangding, a stunning mountain town that rivals the sites of Jasper and Banff in Canada. After lunch, we decided to try to hike up a hill to find a monastery, with no guidance, or points of reference in the fog and tree cover, we missed our mark by a longshot and ended up summiting the entire mountain. At the top, we found a beautiful Buddhist village. It was indeed one of those “steal your breath away” unexpected travel moments! The next day, we were off to visit a town even further into the Tibetan prefecture of Ganzi, there was only one problem, we did not have a ride, and all the buses were sold out. “Not to worry!” we were told by the locals, we could always hire a car to take us.  After 2 hours of waiting, attempting to find a driver, we met some very friendly Chinese university students heading in our direction. They helped arrange transport and we were off! Little did we know, that the one-hour drive would become a night spent in subzero temperatures stuck on a mountain sleeping in a car, as firefighters, police officers, and military personnel worked through the night to rescue us and many thousands of others from the mountain, due to an unseasonally tremendous amount of snowfall and freezing rain. We arrived safely back in Kangding the next day, thanks to their hard work, courage, and dedication. Our new friends engaged us in conversation late into the night. They kept our spirits high with traditional songs and our bodies warm by loaning us their sleeping bags (Thanks Jane, Richard, and Bella!).

All and all, in both teaching and travel, having a plan is important, but always remaining adaptable in dynamic situations and remembering to reach out for help when you need it, is critical to being successful in your endeavors!

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A Language Learning Epiphany

Ni Hao!

As the initial culture shock wains little by little and I settle into my life here in China, I have begun to develop more of awareness into how difficult it is to live in a country where you can understand almost nothing. In the area of Xi’an where we live, very few if anyone I have encountered speaks English, and ninety percent of all text is in Chinese Characters. Culturally, this is a true testament to the pride the Chinese people take in celebrating and maintaining their rich and vibrant history! It was eye-opening to recognize my own cultural bias, assuming that there must be some level of Western influence here, furthermore that most people would understand essential English communication. In my past travels, words in unfamiliar languages often shared similarities in letters and sounds, and people were accustomed to frequent interactions with tourists. Thus far, that has not been my experience here. The amount of mental energy that is required to attempt simple tasks like buying groceries, getting a cell phone, doing laundry or reading a map is not something I had anticipated. However, after the initial hurdle, I realized that it was beneficial for me to brought out of my comfort zone in such a way. This environment provides the seeds required for authentic personal growth. Additionally, it offers the opportunity to develop your language skills out of necessity!

The language learning courses have provided me with a whole new perspective regarding what it feels like to be a language learner in a classroom environment. Mandarin is said to be one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn, and it has certainly proven to be a real challenge for me. The courses are taught primarily in Chinese, which means if you don’t understand something, you have the potential to become lost quickly. Often questions will be asked again, but when you don’t have the language background to comprehend them, you can do little except stare back blankly. I witnessed many of the same looks I had experienced when I administered the IELTS test for Chinese students at the international school I am teaching at. These moments provide me with a snapshot into what the ELL population in Canadian classrooms must feel like. My whole experience with language thus far has helped me to develop a new level of empathy for the challenges immigrants across the world face. It has undoubtedly influenced my perspective and approach in the classroom as well!

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Up, Up, and Away!

After almost a year in the making, the day has nearly come to cross the ocean bound for a world relatively unknown to me. As such, questions such as “why are humans inclined to travel?” have been forefront on my mind. Those are far too tough to tackle in one blog post, so I have opted instead to reflect on why I chose to pursue this educational opportunity in China. The Asian continent has been of interest to me since my early childhood. This is in part because of the stories my aunts and uncles, who participated in peacekeeping efforts abroad with the Canadian Armed Services, shared with me growing up. Perhaps, it was their stories that drew me to study history. From my prior experiences, I have grown to understand that various media, textbooks, and film can only provide a limited perspective on the history of a region. Experiencing a culture, visiting what it collectively values, conversating with individuals about their story; this is what I feel develops a greater understanding of the human condition.

Furthermore, it facilitates the opportunity to reflect on my worldviews and values critically. Of interest to me, because of my minor in history and specialization in social studies, is how China approaches incorporating social sciences into its curriculum. I look forward to being challenged by the substantial cultural differences China has from Canada and the United States. Although it can be tempting to only look for differences when traveling, I am also eager to examine the many similarities we share!

I am interested in learning about the variety of religious influences thousands of years of cross-continent trade has brought to China. My communication and culture courses exposed me to the religions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, which are common in China. Even though the state’s official position is the embracement of atheism, I am eager to seek out and experience each belief system in practice. Furthermore, I also want to study the fusion that has occurred between them over time. I studied culinary arts during high school, so Chinese food is another aspect of the culture that I yearn to delve into. I have had limited exposure to non-north Americanized Asian food during my lifetime and welcome the introduction to a new culinary profile!

As I finish final preparations, my mind is filled with intense fluctuating emotions. At times, I felt flustered and overwhelmed, while at others I am filled with eagerness and excitement as I think about the unknown. I find it comforting to think back on why I chose to pursue my Bachelor of Education, the joy of experiencing a moment with a student when it all ‘clicks,’ and I hope I feel that way by the time I depart. I’ve learned that the journey preparing for this trip was an integral part of the experience, it has challenged me both personally and professionally, but has made me all the more prepared.

I look forward to developing friendships while travelling and experiencing a culture that is substantially different then my home nation!

“For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it.”

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A Chilly Realization

Hello Everyone!

Now that we’re halfway through our time in Xi’an I think it’s time to reflect on how my perspectives have changed since I’ve been here.

            One thing that struck me from the moment I landed in this place is the sheer scale this country. The country itself is enormous and on that land is an unfathomable number of people. Everyone knows that China has the world’s biggest population of nearly 1.4 billion, but it’s impossible to truly wrap one’s head around a statistic like that. One of my first things I felt since I came here is that I feel truly anonymous. No one knows me and no one has any reason to know me. Because I am of Asian descent, I am not a visible minority here, and so when I walk through the streets, I feel truly hidden among the masses. In some ways, that was comforting because I can go about my business without anyone really caring about what I do. In other ways, it felt so distant and cold to be nothing more than another number. Adding to this was the fact that I am effectively illiterate in China and I can’t really strike up a conversation with anyone I’d like.

The crowds at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

 

            However, my perceptions on this were changed very suddenly this past week. Logan, Candace and I were touring Sichuan Province which is south of Xi’an and on Oct 2nd we had just hired a car to take us to a nearby village from where we were. That next town was around 70km away on the far side of a mountain and the trip would take two hours in good conditions. We met three Chinese students around our age who were also going to that same town so we decided to carpool. We set off in the car in good spirits and everything was going according to plan...

            Then the blizzard hit.

            The weather very suddenly turned on us and our progress began to slow. We decided that it would be too dangerous to continue so we turned the car around but traffic came to a complete halt soon thereafter. We were about 20 kms from our starting point when we realised that we would have to spend the night in the car. The next afternoon, we finally made it off the mountain when the local authorities cleared enough of the path to let traffic flow again. In total we had spent around 27 unforgettable hours on that mountain.

 

Cars stuck on the mountain

 

            Thankfully, we had enough clothing, snacks, supplies, and morale to last us through the night. No one was hurt and everyone was in relatively good spirits by the time we were off the mountain.

            This was a turning point for my perceptions of China as a cold anonymous place. Because we spent so long in a confined space with local Chinese students, we got to know each other very well out of necessity. At the end of that journey, the six of us had bonded and had become great friends. We were singing, laughing, smiling, and joking around for a long, long, long time. After we were off, they even invited us to a restaurant for dinner so that they could share some of China's rich culinary culture with us. I realized that although sometimes I feel anonymous and insignificant with so many people around me, every single person in this country is just as human as I am. Each one of them is complex and interesting and passionate.

            I don’t think we will ever forget the friends that we made on that mountain. They welcomed us to their country and shared their stories and culture with us in a way that I would never have been able to experience otherwise. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m so glad we were stuck in a blizzard!

 

Our friends

 

Yours,

David Kang

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High Pressure English!

The high school we have been placed at invited us to come help them with a mock speaking International English Language Testing System (“IELTS”) testing for their newly arrived freshman students last week. For those who are unfamiliar, the IELTS test is a standardized international test of English language proficiency for non-native speakers.

Since all the Chinese students at the high school we have been placed at are planning to do their university education abroad, they are required to meet some level of English proficiency in order to obtain their admission. The mock IELTS test was described to us as a formative and summative assessment for students in order to understand where their English levels are at and where they need to improve.

Each student had exactly 8 minutes with a foreign teacher and a Chinese teacher who evaluated their mock IELTS speaking score. We were provided a mock test with a series of question to ask each students.

Before we even started, I could feel the nerves of the students crowded in the hallways. I thought about how intimidating it would be for the students whom had never met me to sit across from us as we asked them questions, while we scored them and recorded their interview.

I wanted to reach across and give some of the students a hug because they kept apologizing to me that “sorry, my English is not so good” and “I’m so nervous!” I wanted to break out into EAL teacher mode and explain to them what some hard words like “advantage” and “decorating” were but on the other hand, we were in a test environment.

Being in this situation made me really grateful that these students were getting a “real” taste of what this test would be like, as this was the first time they would have undergone such a “formal” test. However, it also reaffirmed my belief that high pressure environments are not the best method for testing knowledge. With some of the students, I could tell how hard they had studied and that their English was way better than what they were saying, but that the nerves of the test made it difficult for them to express their knowledge. With some of the students, by minute 7, I could tell they were getting comfortable as their language flowed, yet, at that point in time, the test was almost over. I’m really excited to be getting more involved with the school and will hopefully bust out the EAL teacher soon in a more approachable manner. :)

 

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The Mid-Autumn Festival and Chuseok

This past week has been a flurry of exciting new experiences, both culturally immersive and deeply personal.

During this weekend was the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, which marks the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) in China. This festival is notable for the large mid-autumn moon, mooncakes (月饼), and lanterns everywhere. Mooncakes are a seasonal desert made of a pastry crust filled with all sorts of sweet fillings. They’re delicious but also very dense. So much so that a single mooncake is plenty enough for a full meal! Our Chinese language teachers took this as an opportunity to show us a glimpse into Chinese culture by teaching us vocabulary words associated with the festival and giving us free mooncakes courtesy of our host university.

 

Our Chinese class with our deliciously free Mooncakes!

 

However, instead of spending the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, I took this rare opportunity to experience something that I haven’t done in a very long time: I went to spend Chuseok (추석) with my family in Korea! Chuseok is a Korean holiday also celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. I suppose the closest analogous  Canadian holiday would be Thanksgiving. I emigrated from Korea when I was 5 years old and I have not had an opportunity to celebrate Chuseok with my family since then.

Chuseok is a celebration steeped in tradition and ceremony. We began with a ceremony called Charye (차례) where we prepare an enormous feast of food to share with our family and our ancestors. Some of the foods included Korean favourites such as Bulgogi and grilled fish but there were also special foods that are only eaten on Chuseok such as Songpyeon (송편) and Baekju (백주). Before we ate, we burned incense and bowed two and a half times to our ancestors in a ritual called Sebae (세배). Then we took a small portion of each dish off the table to offer a serving to our ancestors. After all that, the whole family sat down and feasted!

A typical examples a Charye feast laid out for Chuseok (Jeju Weekly, 2009)

 

So many memories of my childhood flooded back to me as I performed these rituals with my family. It had been so long that I did not remember most things and had to relearn them. It was such an honour for me to be able to spend this time with my family whom I get to see so rarely. For me, one of the definite perks of living in China is that it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump away from all my relatives!

 

David

 

Photo Reference: 
Jeju Weekly. (2009). Living with a Korean Family - Four Chuseok Stories. Retrieved from: http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=3532

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Language Learning in China

It’s been two weeks of living in Xi’an and I’m finally feeling a little bit settled. We’re housed at the “old” Yanta Campus of Shaanxi Normal University at Qi Xia Yuan hotel with a roommate and the hotel itself is an interesting mix of international students and chinese travellers who appear to be attending conferences here. There’s a number of things on campus including canteens, a library, recreational areas, student dorms, some convenience/grocery stores, a kindergarten, and a hospital. We’re also very close to Shi Da Road with many store and restaurants and a train station is close by.

One of the really cool opportunities that we have as TAB students is that we have been registered as language students at SNNU. We take mandarin language classes from Monday to Friday from 8-12 each morning, and our class is made up of students of all ages and backgrounds including students from Kazakhstan, Ubekistan, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Yemen and us Canadians.

Basic literacy in Chinese is considered 3000 characters but I have found that even learning 10 characters is overwhelming at times. As part of trying to remember the strokes and how to represent the characters, I started looking into the origin of the words. I noted that many words include characters (radicals) that help indicate their meaning. For example, dog, cat and pig all have the same radical (dog) to indicate that the character is an animal.

This has really enforced the lesson learned in my EAL courses that helping students make connections in English (e.g. through suffixes and prefixes) to their heritage language really helps to grow vocabulary and aids in memory. I don’t think before this experience I had realized how difficult it is to associate different sounds to objects when you are used to another sound association.

I found that they did really well in our lessons here when they introduced similar sounding words (kafei – coffee; jia na da – Canada; kele – cola) to help us feel like we already knew some Chinese. =) I hope I can do this for any ELL students I have in the future.

Linked in with origins of words and cross-language connections, we learned that China has comprehensive and “normal” universities. The Normal universities are historically teacher training universities – with “Normal” stemming from the French “normale” which is also connected to our English “norms” – e.g. a school for teaching norms.

 

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I'm finally here! My first week in China is over and it already feels like I've seen a whole trip's worth of new experiences. 

My past summer has been relatively relaxed and now that I've arrived, there are obligations that I have to attend to coming from every direction. I've had to spend some time to organize my priorities and make sure don't let all of these responsibilities overwhelm me. Because of this, I've spent a good amount of time thinking about why I am really here in China. There are several reasons of course, and it's nonsensical to reduce my trip to a single purpose but I've been able to gain a bit of clarity. 

My main purpose here is to learn Chinese. 

I've always loved learning languages and I firmly believe that the mos authentic way to learn is through full immersion. For me, living in China is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I plan on taking full advantage of. We are incredibly fortunate because we are being provided with 20 hours of language instruction every week in an outstanding education faculty at Shaanxi Normal University (陕西师范大学). Every morning, I wake up looking forward to the lessons. They've been the highlight of my trip so far. Since I have been here, I have spent at least a couple hours of free time every day practicing my chinese and it feels so rewarding to see my improvement even over the course of a single week. When I walk through a street, I'm beginning to be able to recognize characters and gain basic meanings from them. I'm still far from where I want to be but it's definintely progress. 

 

I was trying to be productive, but I was busy making friends.

 

I think the rest of my trip will be a challenge to balance all of my responsibilities in TAB, Werklund classes, teaching practicum, chinese language classes, and maintaining social commitments. That said, I am thrilled that I get this opportunity to practice a language I would otherwise never be able to learn!

 

Yours,

David Kang - 姜垣硕

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Aspirations

During the summer, I worked at a summer camp. In my last week of camp, I had a camper from Beijing that had only been in Canada for a month. Since my specialization was English Language Learners and I was going to China in a couple weeks, I thought perfect! What a wonderful opportunity!

The lucky thing is that a lot of summer camp is hands-on activities and group routines, so our camper was able to catch on quickly. The other lucky thing was that I had a volunteer who spoke mandarin who was able to offer a lot of translation most days.

The days that the volunteer was away though, I found that despite all the strategies learned in ELL classes, I struggled with getting meaning across since my mandarin was non-existent. I felt my frustration and the camper’s frustration sometimes to communicate our needs and wants.

I realized that even though I have traveled quite a bit, English has always been really easy to use to get by. As part of this TAB opportunity, I’m so excited and hope that when I come back, I understand what it feels like to be in a culture where I can’t speak my predominant language and also to have learned some mandarin.

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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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