On the mend

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
Trip End Jul 24, 2007

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Countdown to departure: 15 days
Beijing has proven to be an impossible place to recover from a cold.  The fever lasted about two days, but the coughs just won't go away.  There were a couple of days that I felt my lungs were going to collapse with every violent cough.  It seems to be a combined symptom of the cold, the air pollution, and the dry weather.  I feel I'm on the mend, though. Since last Saturday, I have not coughed so much, although I still wake up in the middle of the night by the urge to cough my lungs out.  The sickness has made me languish.
The training course at the Beijing Normal University has fallen short of being stimulating after the first day.  The professors have proven to be serious scholars who have focused their attention to research more than to teaching.  Quite a few of them are published authors and have been widely recognized as experts in the field of Teaching Chinese as a Second Language.    That said, when it comes to delivering the content for the training, the approach is very teacher-centered.  Every topic is delivered in a 3- to 4-hour lecture, supported by PowerPoint slides.  Some professors are better at lecturing than others, so my learning fluctuates depending on the style of the professor.  It is a shame that the most interesting topic to me (Chinese grammar) turned out to be the most disappointing.  The whole lecture was basically line by line reading of the two chapters that were given to us as handouts by the professor.  You might think that the professor is old or close to retirement, but you're wrong.  He is about my age, and all he did was read the chapters he wrote about analyzing Chinese grammar.  What's more depressing is that when one of the trainees suggested to the professor the he select key points for lecturing instead of going through every page of the 40-page handout, she was virtually scolded by the rest of the trainees/teachers from San Francisco, who, strangely, did not seem to find this type of lecturing boring, ineffective, and a waste of time.  Now, that's scary.  I wonder how they teach, and I worry for their students.
Not all things are bad.  I am accumulating a short book list and plan to hit the bookstore soon to buy good reference books for students and instructors of Chinese at Cy-Fair.  I have also felt that this trip has put me back in the position of an international student in China, experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly of a study abroad course.  Talk about experiential learning!  I have been jotting down some lessons to learn since the trip began.  Below are just a few that come to mind:
Expect the unexpected when studying in China.  A program can tell you one thing on email and give you another after you arrive.  The responsibility is rarely theirs. Carefully ensure acceptable accommodation before coming to study.  Air-conditioning is a must. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.  It applies to the prices you pay for the souvenirs as well as the number of toilet paper rolls you can get for your room.  You get tired of always having to fight for everything you need, but it seems to be the rule of the game here. The program coordinator/manager for the study aboard trips need to ensure the language course employs a student-centered approach with sufficient interaction between students and the instructor.  The course content needs to be relevant, and the teaching must allow plenty of controlled and freer practice. Build a sense of community among the students in the study-abroad group.  It helps a great deal when one tries to overcome cultural shocks.  
The more I take the training course here at BNU, the more proud I am of the CELTA training program we have at Cy-Fair.  For one thing, the training topics are delivered in a carefully designed session with lots of hands-on activities, not to mention the practice teaching session every afternoon that deepens learning.  I thought about offering a possible CELTA training or modules to the training program at BNU, but I worry it would be taken the wrong way.  The professors don't seem to find lecturing anything wrong, and most trainees, though working in the U.S., have found it acceptable.  Who am I to tell them that a 4-hour lecture is an ineffective way of learning?  I can't sit still for 45 minutes, let along 4 hours!  But, maybe I will find a way to tell them, as a teacher trainer to another. 
On a side note, Ben and I, especially Ben, have been doing a kind of Peter Hessler Beijing tour.  We have been hitting the places mentioned in his Oracle Bones and possibly have met one of the restaurant owners mentioned in the first chapter of the book!  Bobby, Ben will give you more details when we return to Houston.
Houston - 15 more days and I will home.  Can't wait!!!
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