SHANGQIU, CHINA — Click here to watch the video
Seven West Virginia college students have traveled around the world to teach something almost all American students have mastered – the English language.
The students, including four students from Marshall University, are participating in Tsinghua University’s Summer Service and Learning Program in rural China. The program brings together 250 adventurous volunteers – including students from Tsinghua, universities in Hong Kong, and colleges and universities across the United States – with the common goal of bringing knowledge, confidence and hope to 30 schools in rural China.
Zhang Huiting, 21, a junior at Tsinghua University and team leader of a group of volunteers in Minquan County, Henan Province, said students who are learning English in rural China rarely get the opportunity to interact with native English speakers.
“We wanted to let the teachers and students learn more about English because we have native English speakers, our U.S. volunteers,” Zhang said. “We have this kind of advantage, so we want to take advantage of it. The most important issue is to make the students know more about English, to know English is very interesting, and to have more contact with the U.S. volunteers.”
Zhang’s team of students in Minquan County is teaching a group of 300 English teachers from all over the county. Thirty copies of the Wednesday, June 26, edition of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph were distributed to the teachers and used as part of an English lesson. The teachers slowly read a story from the front page about a nude motorcyclist who was taken into custody in Oklahoma, learning new words and having some laughs along the way.
Geng Yuan Yuan, 31, of Minquan Renhe, China, said reading the newspaper gave her an interesting insight into American culture.
“The newspaper is interesting and good,” Geng said. “The article is funny. We did not have access to American newspapers before, and the newspaper improves us teachers’ English much. We also learned many new words. I think they are useful and good as well.
“I will store it as a souvenir, and I will let my child and my students read it to experience American culture,” Geng said. “We will not throw it (away). We will make good use of it.”
China is well-known for its rigorous education system, which produces some of the brightest students in the world. English is part of the primary school curriculum in China, but many schools in rural areas lack the resources necessary to teach it effectively.
Krista Campione, a senior photography major at Marshall University from Morgantown, is teaching high school students at Qingyang No. 1 school in Qingyang, Henan Province. She said teaching was difficult at first because students are taught lecture-style and rarely asked to talk or participate.
“I began our classes with big differences in American schools and then asked them if they wanted to try to have school like in America when I was with them in class,” Campione said. “By the end of the week I was able to get the kids to all be completely involved in class - sitting in circles on the floor, laughing, speaking in English out loud, and actually enjoying their time in the classroom.”
In Qingyang County, Campione was able to talk to her students about Christianity – a touchy subject in predominantly atheist China. Her students’ teacher forbade her from giving an entire lesson on the subject, but the students became very curious after she touched on her beliefs during a lesson on American culture.
“The part that still astounds me is that these kids – these quiet and super shy kids – all had so many questions about Christ at the end of the lecture that class went over 25 minutes before the teacher came in and told us we needed to stop class,” Campione said. “I didn't have to wait at all — once I said, ‘Any questions?’ Hands flew. That was unheard of almost at any other time the rest of the week… I think God really is doing incredible things here and that's such a blessing to be a part of. To me, that has easily been my favorite moment and the one that will be engrained in my mind for the rest of my life, I'm certain.”
Tsinghua University is one of China’s most prestigious schools. Zhang said although students and teachers cannot completely learn English during the two-week program, she hopes the contact with Tsinghua and American students will inspire them and open their minds.
“We cannot give much to the students there, so maybe we can give them broader horizons to let them know what the outside world is, and make their future brighter and let them work pursue their future career on their own with our help,” Huiting said.
More than 430 American students and teachers have participated in the Summer Service and Learning Program since 2006. This year’s program began July 24 and ends August 3.
Marcus Constantino is a senior journalism major at Marshall University and correspondent for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. He is participating in the Summer Service and Learning Program in Minquan County, Henan Province, China.