Before I start this post, just a shout out to any new visitors to my blog. Thanks for stopping by! And another shout out to The Abroad Guide, who recently featured my blog as one of their “Awesome Study Abroad Blogs” – read the posting here and check out their website if you’re considering traveling or studying abroad!
One of the best things I’ve done this semester has been volunteering my time by teaching English at a local migrant school here in Shanghai. I volunteer once a week with a program called Stepping Stones, a program which strives to bridge the educational gaps between the migrant student population and the local Shanghainese population. What many people don’t know is that because of the Hukou system in China, many children and families are not able to receive the same kinds of public services because of their Hukou identity. A Hukou is a residence permit that essentially functions like an ID card. The difference is that in China, unlike in the US, if you move to a different city, you can’t just get a new residence permit that identifies you as a member of the new city. Your identity is linked to the Hukou you were born in, unless you marry or attain some sort of official job in a different city or province. Established shortly after the Communist party took power, the idea behind all of this was to prohibit mass migration to the cities, in an effort to make sure work like farming could still be done.
Now, more than 50 years later, the Hukou system still exists in China, and while it has undergone some revisions, it is a huge topic of debate, as it severely limits much of China’s population – especially its students. Despite the Hukou regulations, there are still extremely large numbers of migrant workers in cities like Beijing and Shanghai. And with them, come their children. But unfortunately, these children, because of their Hukou identity, are unable to attain the same kind of education as those children whose parents possess Shanghai Hukou residence permits. It’s all a lot more complicated than this, but essentially, that is why Stepping Stones is in place. By using half-hour after school programs, they try to solidify the English learning experience and give the children extra practice with native speakers. And let them know that English can be fun!!!
I teach at Dantu Road School, school not too far away from where I live, but which of course takes about an hour to get to via any form of public transportation 😛 I don’t mind the commute, though – I usually just turn my iPod up and enjoy walking between subway and bus stops.
Walking down the street the school is on is SUCH a China experience. As I first start to walk down it, I get really sad because to the right are a few grimy-looking brothels passed off as massage parlors. But you know they’re actually brothels because I’m pretty sure regular massage salons wouldn’t let their employees dress so scantily. This is one aspect of China I can’t quite seem to shake off (keep in mind: this is just minutes away from a PRIMARY school. SAD.). But as I continue to move down the street, the brothels are replaced by small super traditional Chinese restaurants, small family homes, basic convenience stores, fruit shops, and more. The street is really narrow, so I normally just walk in the street (as does everyone else), but that doesn’t stop cars, mopeds, or large trucks from barreling down the street at break-neck speed. Crossing the street is always super random; traffic signals mean nothing to most people. On either side of the street, you can see all kinds of life – children walking home from school, old men practicing their Mahjong skills, restaurant owners preparing the evening’s meat. SUCH a cultural experience, and it’s fun to see all that life. I recorded a video, but of course China is causing me problems with technology today so I haven’t been able to upload it. But here are some quick shots from the street the school is on, to give you an idea:
Class at the school starts promptly at 3:00. My normal class is of children about 7 and 8 years old, and they are SUPER STINKIN’ CUTE. I typically teach with one or two other teachers as the teaching assistant, which means I hold up flashcards and walk around the classroom making sure students are paying attention and pronouncing things correctly. And playing games with the kids 🙂 Sometimes there aren’t enough volunteers at the school though, so I get tossed into other classes and have to pretend like I know what I’m doing (which is always an interesting task).
In a typical lesson, we review last week’s vocabulary, introduce the new words, do a short dialogue activity, and then usually play a game with the kids. They are usually very competitive and all super willing to participate! Even the quieter kids volunteer themselves to answer questions.
But the kids LOVE it when we teach them. Probably because we play games, try to get them ALL to participate, and sometimes reward them with stickers. It’s so cute to see their smiling faces after class is over, everyone chanting “goodbye!” as they leave the school.
Overall, despite teaching for only a half hour per week, it’s so refreshing to get outside of my own study abroad bubble and interact with other volunteers and these adorable, wide-eyed Chinese students. It’s been one of the best parts of my study abroad experience so far, and it just keeps reaffirming my desire to someday (perhaps not so long from now!) teach English abroad.
’til next time– 再见！