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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chinese Exchange Students

This week, I have had the opportunity to teach a summer drama workshop with 16 Chinese exchange students and 19 of my students, as well as to host two of the girls at my house. This experience has been out of this world. It has been so fun to interact with them all, and I have learned so much. Even more than that, I have watched them learn so much. On the first day, the Chinese students looked like they'd rather do anything than speak English. Complete sentences? Forget it! But by the end of the day today, well... it was impressive. Many full sentences. Attempts at humor. Successful attempts, I might add.

I have learned so much about people and culture and about teaching second language learners.  The students I teach are also second language learners, but they hide when they don't know what something means; however, these students accept that this is foreign and don't feel they have anything to be ashamed of, so they do not hide when they do not understand, and it is very helpful. I have really learned a lot.

It is so interesting how things like insults do not translate at all. Apparently, the number 2 can be an insult in Chinese, and so can the number 250.  ????  Random.

I made the mistake of choosing the story "The Ugly Duckling" as one of the mini plays we are doing, but apparently the word that duckling translates to in Chinese is a dirty word, so I had to promise one student I will not call him duckling, but just "birdie."

Another student was shocked that the "s-h" word is not the everyday word for excrement. She asked us, suprised,"Well, what do you call it?"  She had never heard any other word for it, and when we said we usually call it "poop," she asked us to spell it and practiced saying it several times. It was quite the moment.

Some things are quite universal, like the fact that all children like to play house... and guess what?  Teenagers really like to play like children again. I had them playing house (we called it "family") today, and it was the one thing that they couldn't seem to get enough of. Eventually, I asked them to move their "playing" on stage to be "plays," and follow the rules of stage movement for an audience, and the results were phenomenal. Adorably cute plays. One Chinese boy was a very humorous father and had us all hysterical with his perfect comic timing. Two quiet little Chinese girls became hyper children trying to convince their widowed mother that it was time to start dating again. I think this was the turning point of the entire day today. From the moment when I asked them to play family, I saw them transform into a family.

There are international romances bursting up all over. They are all just jokes (I think), but the Chinese boys are really enjoying flirting with my female students. When one student was supposed to insult the "ugly duckling," he says to her, "You are so ugly! I mean, you are very beautiful, but you are ugly duckling." So funny.

There have been such beautiful spontaneous moments too. I invited the partners (my students) of the two Chinese students I am hosting to join us for meals to help them really bond. Tonight after dinner, I heard them spontaneously teaching each other the parts of the body, and I was cracking up inside when I heard one of my students say, "Do you have a song to help remember this? Like 'head, shoulders, knees, and toes'?"

Vinny has been so excited to have them here, and they have loved playing with Vinny too. They adored little Tiana, and she loved the Chinese goodies they stuffed her with. They make quite the sweet addition to my family, and I am not quite ready to send them off, but they are excited to see Disneyland on Thursday, and I am excited for them to see it. When I was in China, there were times that everything felt so foreign and far away, but on days like today, I think the Sherman Brothers got it right... it's a small world after all.

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