By Joseph Chan
In the summer of 2013, I had a really exciting opportunity to teach English to university students in China. Never in my life had I expected myself to get in front of a large classroom of international students and be able to instruct English through various methods of teaching. Before the trip, I spent countless hours constructing fun yet engaging lesson plans, planning out skits and lectures, and preparing myself professionally to assume the role of an instructor.
When I arrived in China, I was able to share with the students that I was also of Chinese descent, thereby enabling myself to instantly build trust with the students. Throughout the course of the summer semester, I was able to notice the improvement of the students’ verbal and written English as they were able to respond more quickly, examine their English competencies more critically, and read their papers more analytically.
A particularly eye-opening cultural experience occurred when I examined the lifestyle of the students. I learned that students would spend upwards of 12 hours on-campus taking courses or engaging in extra-curricular activities. The fact that students typically did not go home until after 7pm was a huge culture shock for me. I didn’t realize how much easier it is in American schools to enroll in classes, make a convenient schedule, to change majors, etc.
One of my biggest, yet most interesting, challenges was being able to assist a lower-performing student who was also facing financial and familial struggles, which impacted his academic performance. I advised him to consider transitioning to part-time student status, leveraging public transportation, and/or picking up a part-time job that would enable him to support his family. Although he still spent the bulk of the semester being really quiet in the classroom, I felt empowered as an instructor to look for every possible opportunity to enable each students to grow academically, socially, and culturally. It was not until the fall term, he informed me that he successfully picked up a part-time job and was able to resolve some of his family conflicts. I cannot say for certain that his academic performance has improved since then, but I do have confidence that he will excel in his personal and professional goals. This student instilled in me some core values such as integrity, ethics,and servitude. If I did not have the opportunity to mentor him, I would not have been able to directly see the challenges some students coming from low-income communities constantly face.
Some of the things I got to experience in China outside of the classroom include visiting a temple filled with Buddhist statues, touring plantations consisting of lakes and forests, and exploring my taste buds through authentic Chinese food and tea. Because I was working through a sponsoring nonprofit, I was able to build strong relationships with the directors of the nonprofit, sleep in their isolated rural village homes, and go to night markets past midnight. It was definitely an unforgettable experience, especially since I was able to leave feeling a deeper bond and sense of understanding with my personal heritage.
Being an American-born Chinese citizen, I only visit Taiwan or China a few weeks in a given year. The summer I spent teaching in China was the first time being away from my family and being able to understand the cultural dynamics of teaching within higher education. Being able to assess student performances and to think more critically on how to become a better educator, I see that my time teaching in China was a personally transformative experience. Now, I find myself motivated to seek challenging opportunities that allow me to help close the achievement gap of those from different backgrounds. I have since committed my life to grasping a deeper understanding of model minorities and the challenges many face as low income first-generation college students.
Featured image by Leon Liu on Unsplash
Joseph is a first-year graduate student at Rossier School of Education; he is pursuing a Master of Education in Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs. He grew up in Cerritos, CA and has a background of academic advising, counseling, tutoring, research, and assessment. Joseph serves on Rossier Student Organization, his department’s graduate student government branch. He is also a graduate intern at the Career Center, a fieldwork intern at Asian Pacific American Student Services, and a One-on-One Conversation Partner in USC’s American Language Institute.