Letters from China: Landmarks Lesson, A Conga Line, and New Flavors

Lola150Twenty-eight faculty, staff, and students have taken Big Orange Country to China through an English immersion summer camp—and the UT community can follow their adventures over the next two weeks. Team member Lola Alapo, public relations specialist in the Office of Communications and Marketing, is sending back reports about the group’s work and adventures.

China day 4
8:17 p.m. Tuesday, June 28

I’ve been giving lectures on the iconic landmarks and places in Tennessee and have featured structures in the three divisions of the state (Memphis Pyramid, Batman Tower in Nashville, Sunsphere in Knox, etc.) In return, our students are tasked with giving mini presentations based on ours but focusing on an aspect of Chinese culture, which allows them to work on public speaking. They’ve done a good job of enticing me to want to visit other parts of China.

(Other teachers are discussing topics including the history of rock and roll, African-American inventors, pet culture in the US, and UT traditions and volunteerism.)

This morning, we played “two truths and a lie” as a group game. (My students could ask questions before deciding which was the lie.) A few students later inquired about why we were playing the game—and why lie to one another. Good question! We explained that it’s a way to get them to ask critical questions to parse through given information to get to what really matters.

After lunch, the UT teacher crew continued what has become a daily post-lunch and post-dinner routine: going to the campus convenience store for popsicles. My favorite one remains mango. (I tried the green pea popsicle yesterday. That’s an experience I won’t be repeating.)

IMG_3182On a more random note, I think I’ve become frenemies with a certain cafeteria lady. Yesterday, I purchased two glass bottles of Coke with the intent to drink one and bring the other back as a souvenir for a friend. The lady wanted to open both but I let her open only one. When I went back to purchase a third bottle as a souvenir, she wouldn’t let me buy it unless she opened it. I was confused until a Chinese student explained that we’re supposed to return all the glass bottles.

I confess I still have in my possession an unopened bottle of Coke contraband. Oops.

China day 5
10:45 p.m. Wednesday, June 29

Today was our best day yet. Our students are getting more comfortable with us and are starting to open up and show their personalities in their presentations and writings. I have some real hams in my class, too.

Pre-lunch, we did an improv exercise with students to get them thinking on their feet. We would give them a word prompt, thirty seconds to think, and then thirty seconds to speak. It was really neat to see what they came up with. It’s hard stuff (even for native English speakers) but they did a great job. Kudos to my classroom assistants Myrna Gourgy and Rain Flint for coming up with this one!

Since we had a few minutes left, we answered questions they had written anonymously (“What is different between American universities and Chinese universities?” “How can they get an American girlfriend?”)

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After lunch, I gave them a writing prompt: If you could invent something to change the world, what would it be and why? Lots of great answers! One gal wants to create a machine that would help people having a difficult time remember the good times they’ve experienced. Another guy wants to create a new international law that would protect the rights of every person globally. A favorite was the guy who wants to create a pill that helps you immediately understand and speak a language when you’re in a different culture. (I wish I had this during my crazy cab ride downtown yesterday!)

The last hour of each day, our students do a talent show. Today’s trio played “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on violin, sang it in Chinese and English, and beat box.

The last ten minutes of the day, the entire camp of 300 students and UT people did a conga line dance in the hallway. It was such awesome chaos!

China day 6
8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30

We introduced the concept of an elevator speech to my students as part of this morning’s activity. We wanted to give them a taste of what it felt like to pitch themselves in English at a job interview. We critiqued the presentations, allowing them and us to learn new words in the process.

This afternoon, we wrote Dear John/Dear Jane letters to learn verbal and non-verbal ways of expression. Their breakup letters were pretty hilarious: “Dear Julia, you are not my destiny anymore” and “Dear Edward, I have to say I love single life better than being with you.”

My fellow teachers and I have been swapping activity ideas and “Dear John/Dear Jane” was one of the best ones I stole from Betty Tipton of the Center for International Education.

My classroom assistants have been teaching my students dances the last hour of each day. Yesterday, they learned the Dancing Queen. Today they learned how to do the Cupid Shuffle. We might use that as our classroom presentation during the camp-wide talent show next week. We’ll see.

IMG_3251During lunch today, I attempted to take a photo with the cafeteria lady to try to make friends. She gave me a smile but no photo. Hmm, my Coke bottle sneakiness may still be on her mind …

All week, I’ve been raffling off UT swag in my classroom (t-shirts, cups, pens, lanyards) and my students have loved it. Yesterday, they started bringing us food gifts and treats. Loved the strawberries and cream candies from yesterday. Also got a sugared fruity treat that was like sweet-sour candy.

Today, they brought me, Rain, and Myrna a packet of doughy-looking treats covered with seasoning. As we took some out of the packet, the students pulled out their phones to capture our reaction. “What am I getting myself into here?” I thought. In the end, it worked out. Whew! The treats tasted like spicy pizza and weren’t bad. Sorry to disappoint, kids!

stewart_watermelonNext door, Curtis Stewart of Plant Sciences received a giant watermelon from his students…following a conversation about his dislike of watermelon. He was a good sport and ate a bite. Yep, his sour-faced expressions were captured on video.

After dinner, we stopped by the convenience store for popsicles. I two-fisted it this time and walked away with a mango popsicle and strawberry-vanilla popsicle.

Settling down now for the night to grade papers.