An Unforgettable Experience
Kirsten Groen | University of Minnesota Alumni
The first time I traveled to China was in high school, and then again in college – both for studying abroad. So I, perhaps, had a leg up on some who hadn’t or who didn’t speak mandarin. However, I think that no matter what you’ve done before, working with Lanhu and teaching in Hunan are entirely different. Or, as my students like to say; ‘an unforgettable experience.’
I dove into this program right out of University where I worked as tutor in professional writing, so while I had some ideas about what to expect, I must say a lot of it was a surprise. And a good one, at that. Lanhu made the entire process as smooth and as stress-free as possible. Plus, the training they provided gave me some much-needed ideas for handling larger classes, as well as let me network with fellow teachers. Because, while some of us do work in the same city, we are still scattered around enough and busy enough that meeting up naturally before training was hard.
The school that I work at is Yali Yanghu Middle School (雅礼洋湖实验中学) – a boarding school outside of Changsha City. The environment working here is like a giant family. All the teachers are very supportive of each other and more than willing to give a helping hand. The school itself is beautiful. Recently built about two years ago; parts of the school were still under construction when I first arrived, and some parts still are. The most notable of which was a charming little ‘park’ near the dorms that hosts a small pond and pavilion that students and teachers can relax in – it finished being built about a month into my stay. The dorm that they provided me with is equipped with everything I need, including air-conditioning and heating (because, believe it or not, it does get fairly cold here in the winters. And I’m saying that as someone who spent their University years in Minneapolis, MN). And as much as I appreciate all these benefits, the best part of this experience is the students.
You see, I run two different spoken (oral) English curriculum; the first for the senior one (15-16 years old) students, and the second for the junior one (11-12 years old) students. I teach nine senior one classes and two personally hand-picked junior one classes. So, around five-hundred students give or take. While this doesn’t provide me with the ability to remember all their names, I have become very good at remembering faces. The students are very sweet, and there are many that have such incredible potential for learning and advancing in the English language. Honestly, when I have to say good-bye at the end of this school year, I will really miss them.
This program also gave me the opportunity to participate in a competition. More specifically, the Third Changsha Foreign Teacher Teaching Demonstration. It was a stressful experience, I’m not going to lie, and one that I hadn’t expected. But, it was also an experience that taught me invaluable lessons on teaching, handling large and small classes, and managing class time while making it fun for the students. In other words, it helped me improve both my ability to teach and my resume.
However, the students, the teaching environment, networking, and personal development aren’t the only up-sides to this program. After all, traveling and exploring a new country, city, and culture are priceless. You’re given more than enough free time to discover not only your new home, but also those areas beyond it. I’ve spent the past few months exploring Changsha – a huge, provincial city – and the neighboring towns and cities. What’s more is that, soon, I’ll be heading down to Huizhou and Shenzhen to meet up with friends and travel for the winter break.
I truly cannot recommend this program enough. From the application process to getting to China to making sure everything was set up efficiently and smoothly, Lanhu and the school that I’m working with really work hard to give an enjoyable experience.