Western Pop Culture with Chinese Characteristics

10 12 2009

My students have been given an assignment. They must do a 5-7 minute presentation about western pop culture. The presentation must include a small poster, a short speech and a powerpoint (or PPT as they call it here- the Chinese are NUTS for powerpoints) or video/audio clip. I’ve handed out various singers, bands, tv shows, movies and actors and this week I’ve had them explained to me from a fascinating new perspective. Considering they must get all of their information from the internet, there are abundant comic opportunities.

Some of my favorite moments so far-

Jennifer Lopez- "She is famous for her sexy buttock."
Friends- The actresses’ pictures were listed next to their names and then again next to their character names- which had Courtney Cox next herself and Jennifer Aniston’s name. Skinny, white women all look the same. This ended with an internet spoof of the show called "Let’s sleep with everyone we know" which I had to explain was NOT Friends.
Pele- The student ended the presentation with a techno version of the football "Ole, ole, ole" cheer and encouraged everyone to dance. (I had tears running down my cheeks from laughter by this point.)
Elton John- Started playing some song I’ve never heard that was neither by or sung by Elton John.

On every PPT the background has nothing to do with the subject. Usually it’s kittens, puppies, cartoons, babies or a Korean pop star. The other interesting thing is that none of the most famous songs are being played for the musician presentations. It’s these weird, obscure b-side videos I’ve never seen but they have on Chinese youtube (tudou.com- it means potato.)

And people, we’re only about 20% of the classes down.

love, Missy


Skills I didn’t know I was teaching

17 11 2009

My lesson this week, in the spirit of last week’s mid-terms, is to have each of my classes remember as many lessons as we can. I wrote their memories down on the board and jogged their brains to recall the less popular lessons. Each student had to write down their favorite and least favorite activity and then stand and give a quick speech on why.

18 Year Old Nursing Student LIKES-
-The Taylor Swift video, “You Belong with Me.” I often have them repeat the lyrics to songs, then we listen to the songs while reading the lyrics, then watch the video as a reward for their hard work. It’s a great way to make sure everyone speaks and I can control the difficulty of the words. We’ve done this a lot (as you’ll see in the DISLIKES) but they seriously screamed like girls at a Beatles concert when we saw this video for the first time. It’s just a teenage girl with a blondie boy neighbor to you and I but it was described today as “The best film I have ever seen.” It was, hands down, the most popular favorite thing. The only reason everyone didn’t say it was their favorite was because I forbid people sitting next to each other to choose the same thing.
-Other favorites included Beyonce’s Single Ladies video (I know, I know, but it’s girl power, right?), Thriller and other Halloween activities, and the episode of Ugly Betty we watched for our slang unit.
-My favorite “like” was a girl who stood up and said she liked ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ because it taught the important lesson that “everyone should be happy with the job that we are given and should not look to do a different job.” Whhhaaaaaaatttttt???? (And, I know many of you American peeps will think, “That is so China” but it’s really not. Most of the young people I encounter are all about studying hard so they can make lots of money. She’s a relic.)

18 Year Old Nursing Student DISLIKES-
-THE BEATLES!!!! I know! I know! I had a solid two weeks of using Beatles songs as their daily speech therapy (“Somesing in zee way shi muves…”) and, obviously, a great subject to fulfill the western culture portion of my class. I started at the beginning with ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, moved through ‘Hey Jude’, ‘All You Need is Love’, ‘Something’, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and, what I was convinced would be a surefire hit, ‘Yellow Submarine.’ Guess who mostly mostly wrong? Yup. The only kids who liked the Beatles were the 3 or 4 who already knew about them. Epic failure.
-Giving Directions, Being Polite, etc. Basically, if it was a lesson where I prepared slides and there were no videos involved, it was a dislike.
-Breakfast. We watched some cooking videos and went over what Americans eat for breakfast. Multiple students in multiple classes disliked this lesson because “the food looked so good but we could not eat it because 1) “we do not have those foods here”, 2) “we want to remain slim”, 3) “it is only a picture.”

love, Missy

… And a teaching update

5 11 2009

So I thought I’d finally recover from my blogging about the Golden Week vacation stupor and post something new, specifically about teaching, since I imagine there is someone out there I haven’t talk to recently. Anyway, right now I’m still working at the foreign language school, and I also teach a night class three times a week at Nanjing University to a small group of students who are transferring to the University of San Francisco.
As for teaching, what can I say? The kids are great, and I enjoy it immensely most of the time. But I occasionally have issues dealing with the school and the quintessentially Chinese lack of organization that goes on there. At this point, I’m more or less used to it, but I certainly haven’t started to feel any better about our lack of any kind of real stated goal for what we’re doing here as teachers, besides prompting parents to pay the 20,000 kuai or whatever it costs for their students to go to the school, because it has such a large bank of foreign teachers. As for the rest of stuff, such as how we’ll occasionally get texts from other teachers announcing randomly that we have mail somewhere on campus, or that class is canceled (the day of, of course), or that we have to go somewhere for some event (generally the day of, as well) – well, that stuff can be amusing, so I don’t get too upset about that.
I have enjoyed teaching, though. I have 15 classes at the foreign language school, each one having 30 students, roughly. I particularly enjoy the Junior 1 kids (essentially 7th graders), who are
enthusiastic and talkative. The older kids tend to be a little more jaded, and they’ve started to realize that, “Hey, we don’t get a grade for this class, and a lot of the teachers show up in t-shirts and don’t have a lesson plan!” so they tend to be a little more difficult. But I really only have one class that is out and out bad. I have a couple where it’s occasionally a struggle to get them to pay attention and/or participate, but all the rest range from pretty decent to really good. I particularly enjoy the Junior 1 class that claps when I enter class. For my current lesson, I’m having them do that exercise where they take a paragraph for a story, then write what happens next. Then, after a few minutes, I have them switch stories and start writing on a different story. By and large, the exercise has been pretty successful, though it hasn’t had quite the reaction that playing the Thriller video did last week. I think Missy is getting upset about the burgeoning Jeremiah Fan Club which has popped up among the female students, though.
As far as the night class goes, I’ve enjoyed it, though I’ve had something like 13 classes now, and I feel like we’re sort of treading water at this point, asking and answering the same questions over and over. The past week or so, I’ve been concentrating a lot more on their pronunciation, which definitely needs work. The students (four girls in one class, two guys and a girl in the other) are all really nice, and their English ranges from barely functional to fairly decent. Most of the questions have been about what to expect from Americans, some of them funny (“Is college in America like the movie American Pie?”), but it gives sort of a nice change from trying to get 500 14-year-olds to stop screwing around for half an hour. More later.

Intellectual Intercourse

4 11 2009

I have brought Beyonce’s Single Ladies video to China… and it has blown their collective minds.

My students may never recover from the coolness.

love, Missy

Work update: Week 2

15 09 2009

So I have my first mildly complainey post about my job. I still enjoy teaching the kids, and of course being over in China has been great. But I had a conversation with the head teacher of Junior 1, who said that some of the staff had “questions” about my “teaching style.” This in itself is fine and good, but seeing as how we’ve just finished teaching our first lesson, it seems a little curious. So now I’ve been told, alternatingly, that I was teaching words that were too difficult AND too easy. And I need to have more games, but teach more? I don’t know. Anyway, I’m all confused, but I’ll keep plugging away. I have confidence that even if I’m not an exceptional teacher now, I’ll become one eventually. Though maybe that day will be when I’m not making 1/6 of my US salary in a far off land…

– Jeremiah

Stand and derivel

5 09 2009

So I finally completed my first week as a teacher – or basically, I have to do a couple introduction classes on Monday, but they don’t count really. And the verdict is … well, I think it went pretty well. I’d heard stories about how difficult the first few classes with Chinese students are. They don’t want to speak English, they’re shy with the foreign teachers, they tend to talk to themselves as a lot in Mandarin while a foreign teacher speaks. And all of those are true to an extent. Most of the kids were quiet the first day, and they seemed a little shy, and they did talk in Mandarin. But at the same time, they were eager to meet me, and once they talked a little bit, they loosened up noticeably. They spoke Mandarin to each other, but after I threatened to give them a red card (My own personal punishment, stolen from a British English teacher) for speaking Mandarin, they cut down on the talking somewhat.
I’m not sure if I’ve said this, but the kids range from 12 to 14, so I think you have to cut them a little bit of slack anyway. That’s generally considered the hardest age group to teach. I think there is the added benefit that they’re young enough that there aren’t any of those “I’m too cool for school” kids that you get in the later grades. At any rate, I’m impressed by Chinese students so far. They were completely willing to speak in halting English in front of the class, and their knowledge of the U.S. probably far exceeds their
counterparts IN AMERICA. That’s right, folks. I think that Chinese middle-school students probably know more about our country than our middle-school students. No wonder China is on the verge of taking over. I had, generally, at least one student in class who knew New Mexico on a map of the U.S. , and I defy a middle-school teacher in Georgia to prove the same. By and large the students have all been very respectful, and I managed to get some applause when I was introduced, and lots of hellos and goodbyes as well.
Anyway, I expect my abilities as a teacher to improve – hopefully. I did have one of my Chinese English teachers say that I seemed “very experienced” and that the students really liked me. I hope she’s right about the second part, because the first is definitely not true. This was from the class where one girl, in describing her friend to the class said something along the lines of “This is Katey. She thinks Jeremiah is fat. Her favorite color is blue…” Oh, kids.
– Jeremiah