Finals, Vacation, and a New Semester


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Asia » China » Hunan » ChangSha
March 4th 2017
Published: March 4th 2017
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China Blog 6

Intro

I haven’t made an official blog post since mid-November. I apologize to any faithful followers. I wish I could be more consistent and post at the end of every month but let’s be honest, we all get a little lazy sometimes. As always a lot has happened so who knows how long this blog post will be. Also as always I will title subheadings for anyone who is more of a skimmer or a person who likes to skip to the more interesting parts. With that………………LET’S BEGIN!

Thanksgiving

The last time I made a blog post it was mid-November. I can’t believe it’s been that long. For some odd reason I thought I had already written about this event. Wishful thinking I guess. Since I live downtown and everyone in World Teach was coming to the city to get together I decided to volunteer to be the host for Thanksgiving. I have a really nice sized apartment so it’d be easiest to have a big party at my place. Everyone in the program was invited and was asked to bring one dish. We were very organized. Some people were designated to bring main
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The principal of my school treated me to a nice meal and a gift for the New Year
course dishes, others for side dishes, others for dessert and so on. It was great. We had a major feast and plenty of leftovers. It wasn’t exactly the most traditional Thanksgiving as it was too hard to find a big turkey here in China, and other foods but we still made it work. We squeezed about 25 people into my living and dining room area using tables and stools my school let me burrow. After stuffing ourselves someone brought a Chinese card game with them similar to a fun game called Mafia that people sometimes play in the States. It was really fun and loud. So much to the point that I was worried we might be disturbing my neighbors. However, they seemed quite happy when I brought them three big plates of American styled food. Many people stayed the night at my house that weekend and we had a lot of fun.

Christmas

After Christmas the countdown was on. Only 2 weeks left of teaching before winter break. Since we had just finished having a huge Thanksgiving celebration, most people didn’t really feel like doing Christmas too big. Some people came into the city to bond with
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One group presenting their oral skit or final exam.
everyone but most people stayed in their respective locations. Again I hosted my apartment for Christmas. It was really fun. About 10 of us got together and had a big sleepover on Christmas Eve. We moved all of the mattresses off the beds and into the living room. We talked, played music, danced, joked around, watched a movie and woke up to have a pretty big Christmas Feast (but not as big as the Thanksgiving one). A week before Christmas World Teach had its annual mid-service which is a weekend when everyone comes into the city for a sort of mini conference to reflect on our first half of the year of teaching. Everyone had to give a 10 minute presentation on one aspect of teaching. After a long day of sitting through 20 presentations we did a sort of secret Santa gift exchange, where I got my favorite, Dove chocolate. I bought a soccer ball and luckily the person who received it loves to play soccer. In fact they had lost their soccer ball earlier in the year. Look at God. Soon after, we went to a nice restaurant downtown and had delicious food. Between Thanksgiving, mid-service, and Christmas
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This group really got into their final performance. A skit about a loyal servant who betrays the king. Cosplay. Amazing show.
I got to see my co-workers quite often in the months of November and December.

Juniors and Seniors Behavior

Moving towards the end of the semester many of us were getting flustered and tired. Some of our students were beginning to act up or worsen their classroom behavior. World Teach told us this would happen. Our students are just as restless as we are. They’re ready for vacation too and have finals coming up. They’re getting stressed and they’re used to us by now. If you’re not consistent with classroom management by this time in the year, anything could happen. One week a class will be great and the following week they could be unrecognizable. The volunteers who have been more strict and consistent wither their tracking systems (classroom management) clearly have an easier time. But even those with the most control have told me, some classes just don’t care. Your class does not count for a grade. With that being said, everyone was having problems with their students. It just comes with the territory and we’re all learning the patterns of our students and what it means to be an adaptable, mature, patient, and an understanding teacher.
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Some of my junior boys performing martial arts for the school's annual New Year's performance.
As always I have not been consistent with the tracking of my juniors because I am too scared to venture into strict mean teacher for fear of being perceived as a scary dictator-like teacher. I still want to be liked too much. This is truly my biggest flaw as a teacher. I hope that this is something that I can truly learn from and improve on during the second half of the school year. My seniors were generally okay as they are older and for the most part will behave anyway if you’re disciplined enough. The juniors were seriously tiring me out because they clearly took advantage of me not being strict on tracking. That’s my own fault. I cannot run the second semester the way I did the first.

Juniors and Seniors Final Exams

Final exams were sooooooooo stressful. Although our class is Oral English and doesn’t count for a grade our program field director told us not to be surprised if the principal of our school’s want an official report of our student’s progress. After hearing other teachers at other site locations that their schools were not expecting them to hand in grades I become a
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Some of my junior girls dancing for the school's annual New Year's performace.
little relaxed. But just my luck, one day in December I walked into the office and my liaison told me the principal wanted me to give a grade to all of my students. My jaw immediately dropped open. I have 18 classes with generally 45-60 students each, meaning over 1000 students to give a grade to. No one had asked me for a grade all year so I was in panic mode. Of course I periodically let my students know how they were doing but I had to dig up old test for my seniors to give them a fair accumulative grade and conduct my very first test for juniors.

It was advised early on that if we absolutely don’t have to test the students since our class is an elective and because we have an impossible amount of students to keep track of, DON’T DO IT! We were especially advised not to test juniors. Luckily I had already conducted a test with my seniors so it was more or less the same thing with the same expectations. However, with the juniors this was new territory. I was already very stressed over teaching them and managing classroom behavior. How
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One of my fellow English teacher co-workers treated me of some of my students to a day out in the city.
was I going to control an oral test where the majority of them would have to sit quietly while I tested everyone individually? I ended up finding a solution. I talked to one of my co-workers for advice and ended up deciding to give the juniors a written test. When I feel I have better control I will certainly conduct oral test next semester. For my juniors I did review games the week before their test and tried my best to prepare them. My seniors again had to do a skit in small groups. They had to write a tale, (one of the major lessons we learned) include all of the parts of a tale (Beginning, Climax, Ending, Hero, Villain) and include vocabulary from the lessons we had after their mid-term exam.

Final Exams

Juniors:

I was told that it is quite common for the English teachers, or classes that are electives to have their classes stolen by other teachers during the end of the semester to prepare their students for final exams. Because I knew this would happen I asked my liaison to send out a message to all of the teachers telling them instead of
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The city center.
giving my students their final exam during finals week, I would finish their exams one week before their finals. This way no one would steal my class without my knowledge and my co-workers would have a whole week of my class period to take to prepare the seniors for their particular subjects. This worked out fine. For my juniors I had written out the exam rules in English and had someone translate it to Chinese characters for me. Each head teacher helped me to begin the exam by reading out the exam rules to them in Chinese and helping set the classroom tone before leaving. Most of my juniors were well behaved. They were instructed to work quietly and if they finished to give me their exam and work on other homework or study for other classes. For the ones who wanted to try me they were kicked out. I was the most serious I had been all year and they seemed to get the message. Some classes who are not normally that well behaved or moderately so got real sober after seeing me kick a student out of class for the first time. One class even became so good
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Tianfu Square
that their previous 8/10 class score had miraculously jump to 10/10 by the end of the class period. Man I should’ve done that a long time ago.

Seniors:

My senior exams were all over the place. Considering I conducted a similar exam before, where I put students in groups of 5 asking them to write a skit based on a topic I gave them I was surprised when I showed up Monday for my first day of exams and two of the three classes I had that day were not prepared. One class did not prepare at all even though I gave them clear directions during the week before. They had one full week to prepare, and if they had any questions I had office hours and gave each class banzhang (class leader) the test guide. There was no excuse. Class K06 did not prepare at all. I had never had any problems with this class so I was shocked. I stared at them in anger for a good 5 minutes. They were so quiet and I am sure quite nervous. Our class atmosphere is usually quite relaxed and fun. They had never seen me so angry. I
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History museum
could tell they felt guilty and embarrassed. Even when I saw some students from that class later that day and they said hi to me, I ignored them. (Maybe I was too mean as the first two classes of the new semester they were painfully dead and quite. When I asked other teachers about why they seem depressed, they had no idea either. Finally the third week of class of the new semester they seemed much livelier). Class K02 had some groups prepared and some not. Those who did not I gave them a chance to take a written test at a lower grade. They did not show up and when they finally did, hearing that the principal wanted me to give each student a percentage grade) I told them they failed and that I gave them many chances. They were shocked. Their faces said, “This is not the nice and fun teacher Dee we know.” (While my class does not factor into their over all grade their principal still wanted me to give them one so he could see their progress. Knowing that the principal would see their grade even if it didn’t go on their report cards certainly
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Eating hot pot, a popular local dining style. SPICY!
sobered them up).

As I didn’t want a repeat of Monday for the rest of the week, I went to each senior class Monday afternoon and told them what happened that morning and that expect more from them. The rest of the classes for that week went seamlessly. Everyone did what they were supposed to do. All classes did well but one. Even class K06 did well as we had to schedule a make-up day because I had to give them a grade for the principal to see. Class K07 did the exam but it minus well have been something else. Most of the skits were poorly prepared and some students got up on the platform in front of the classroom and simply played around. There were groups from other classes that really got into their acting, and sure they had fun but they were well prepared, followed the rubric, and even in their playfulness were serious. Each group got the grade that they deserved. I was much stricter this time around grading their exams. Some groups got a 6/10, 7/10 some 8/10, some 9/10, and some 10/10s.

Grading:

Although I was finished one week before my
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The Global Center, The biggest building in the world.
colleagues, in no way did I begin vacation a week earlier than everyone else. I spent my whole first week off grading test and giving a percentage grade to every single student. That was the most boring tedious thing I have ever done in my life. So kudos to all those who educate young minds. I sat all day for hours and hours and hours and hours just grading. I even screamed a couple of times. Some of friends who visit me from time to time said I looked terrible. I felt it too. I also did more than I absolutely have to so it’s partially my fault. When I do something I have to go all out. I corrected grammar, wrote what students did well, what they could improve on, and the specific reasons their points were deducted based on the rubric guideline. I even gave my junior students the opportunity to gain bonus points if they could write all of the classroom rules.

Vacation

After spending a full week of completing tedious grade work I was ready for a nice vacation. In American high schools Winter break is usually about 2 weeks but in China it’s
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Panda Research Institute
usually about a month and possibly more depending on your school. I had a total of 6 weeks off. Lucky me. The whole month of December while planning for final exams, simultaneously I was planning a vacation. My initial plan to travel throughout different parts of China with my close college friend Jody turned into a group trip with some of my other colleagues. Altogether it was a group of five. Me, Jody, my friends Bill and Anahita (who are a couple), and Alyse (who was not with us the whole trip as she already had plans to travel to Thailand). While I would’ve loved to go abroad it just would’ve been too expensive. Instead of only having enough money to travel to another country for 1 week I decided to let my money go further by staying in China and traveling for a month to five major cities. Here’s where we went: Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guilin. (Guilin was added on last minute, so towards the end of our trip everyone else went home while Jody and I, along with two other World Teach volunteers went further down South).

Chendgu: The City of Pandas

Compared to
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pandas
the city I’m in now, Changsha which has a total population of 7 million, Chengdu is huge with a population of 14 million. Chengdu was the farthest city from our current location so we flew there and stayed for 5 days. For anyone who remembers, Chengdu is the city I studied abroad in two years ago. To save money we stayed in hostels during our trip. Hostels are great not only because you can save money but you can easily make new friends, and get discounted tickets for most of the sites you want to visit. While in Chengdu we went many times to Chunxi Lu, a huge shopping street in the middle of downtown (a 5 minute walk from our hostel), Tianfu Square (the city square), The Global Center (the biggest building in the world), The Panda Research Institute (my favorite place), a world class historical museum, Jinli Street (an old time walking street), Straight and Narrow Alley (also an old walking street where you can try local snacks), The People’s Park (a beautiful lively park in the city center), and Southwest University for Minorities (where I got to see my old Chinese friends who I met studying abroad
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pandas
two years ago). I like Chengdu because it’s a major city but it doesn’t feel like it. Everyone is incredibly relaxed. For such a big city it’s very slow pace, intimate, and friendly.

Xi’An: The Historical Place

This was probably my least favorite city. We were also only here for 3 days. Like Chengdu, I had already seen Xi’An before. I actually saved some money. I didn’t go everywhere my friends went since I had seen many of the tourist sites before. However I did get to see some new things. One of the coolest activities we did was riding bikes along the old historical city wall. It’s a huge stone wall that stretches around the whole city. It took about 2 hours. I was able to see the whole city on this ride. On the days when my friends were going somewhere I had already been, I hung with my new friend, Brandon. We met him in Chengdu, but he attends a university in Xi’An so we met up again in a different city to hang out. Xi’An was okay but I had already been there before and the pollution there was the worst out of all
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pandas
5 cities.

Beijing: COLD COLD COLD COLD

I really like Beijing, but not in the winter. I’ve been to Beijing twice before, both times were in the summer. I will never make the mistake of going to Beijing I the winter time anymore. It was so cold, going outside would sometimes anger me. It would be freezing and windy. Sometimes I didn’t want to talk to people. I felt bad. Since I’m the one who has been to Beijing before I suggested we stay in Beijing for 10 days. There’s so much to do. Beijing is one of the biggest cities in the world. I think I failed to take into account how bad the weather would be and the fact that both times I went before, I was in a study abroad group and everything was planned our for me. I still love Beijing but I can see why my friends didn’t seem all too enthusiastic about our stay there. Just too cold. Despite the cold we still visited many sites. Like Xi’An, Beijing is also a very historical city with lots of old architecture. We visited The Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Walking Street (shopping street downtown),
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Meeting with old friends from two years ago when I studied abroad
Jingshan Park (a park on a hill where you can see the entire city if you hike to the top), Xidan Lu (a humongous shopping street with major shopping malls and bargaining markets), and of course The Great Wall. I actually got to go to the Wall twice. Once with Jody and Alyse, and again at a different part of the Wall with Bill and Anahita. The Great Wall was my favorite experience. There are many different spots of the wall open to the public so you have to choose which site to visit and book a bus ticket. Although I have been to the Wall twice before I was able to see parts I have never seen before. Every time I go I see something new. It is truly beautiful and breath taking.

Shanghai: The New York of China

After spending 10 long cold days in Beijing it was refreshing to go to a coastal city further down south where our first day there was 70 degrees. It was so warm that I could wear a t-shirt. Shanghai was definitely my favorite city. We arrived by speed train early in the morning. After checking into our hostel
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Eating some local specialty noodles with a friend a made while traveling.
and eating breakfast (this hostel had the best food) we went straight downtown to The Bund (the point on the river where you can see the modern architecture of the city). This is absolutely one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Seeing The Bund is quite overwhelming in person. It sounds corny but traveling like this really made me deeply reflect on how small I am as just one person. It is sometimes hard to believe what we are able to create as humans, for good and for bad. Our very first day, while walking along The Bund, taking pictures, my friends and I felt like celebrities as many Chinese people kept asking to take pictures with us. One woman even asked me to hold her baby which I politely declined. After lines began to form we tried to run away. We wandered around a bit more and found a park to rest at. While in Shanghai, we splurged every day. I barely ate Chinese food while there. All of the Western foods, actually any cuisine you could possibly want was all there. We ate at a pancake house multiple times (PANCAKES, I MISSED YOU!), Taco Bell,
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The Hui Street food
Papa Johns, a real Mexican Restaurant, and so on and so forth. We were not going to be able to have these foods in Changsha so we splurged on food. We also visited a part of the city (The Financial District which includes all of the buildings that you can see from The Bund across the river) that included some extreme modern architecture. We happened to be in Shanghai during the Spring Festival (the biggest holiday in China), during a time of the year when many people go home to see their families so the city was not as crowded as usual. We took advantage of this and downloaded one of the many city bike apps and took a few rides around the city. Jody and I also took a bus to the suburbs to visit an old reserved city of canals and took a nice boat ride.

Guilin: The City of Nature

As we still had about 8 days left when we returned to Changsha, last minute Jody and I decided to go to Guilin, a southern city known for its dramatic landscapes. Frank and Michelle, two fellow volunteer teachers also joined. Guilin is the farthest down
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Street food
south I have ever been in China. It’s one of the most sought after places to visit because of its beautiful landscapes. This city is absolutely gorgeous. Immediately after exiting the fast train station is a city surrounded by mountains. Our hostel was a walk away from many of the major sights. Unfortunately we did not get to do all we wanted to do as Jody fell ill. We stayed in the hostel most of the time. We still had fun relaxing, watching movies and talking. I also read two books while in Guilin. Yeah me! After going to the hospital with our good friend and fellow co-worker Frank (who is Chinese American and can speak fluent Mandarin) Jody was able to get some medicine and get better day by day. By the last day she was feeling healthy enough to go out and we spent all day out trying to get as much done as possible. In the morning we went to see a hill called Elephant Trunk Hill, traveled to the mountains, saw a gorgeous lit up cave inside the mountain, took a raft along the mountains, and came back in the evening to the city to look
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street food
at the beautiful Sun and Moon Pagodas right on the river next to a live performance put on by foreigners. (They were the only black people I saw in Guilin). After spending 6 days in Guilin, we came back on a bit of a sad note realizing we had only two days to prepare for the new semester.



The Beginning of a New Semester

Seniors:

I decided to become stricter this semester. I didn’t want to do it but things are going much easier for me. I’m not sure what I was so afraid of before. I wanted to be the cool teacher that all the students like but it’s just not practical to be like that all the time. What I’ve come to find out, as long as you’re fair in consistent in correcting behavior the students will understand when they are in trouble and respect you more. When you take your class more seriously, so will they. I track behavior generally in the same fashion. At the end of every class period they get a class behavior score of 0-10, 10 being the best score. I did change one thing. Instead of starting
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Bell Tower
at 10 and going down, then back up if they’re good, each class starts at a 5. I told them, “You must earn a 10.” It’s been 3 weeks. Only 2 out of my 10 senior classes have gotten a perfect 30. Last semester I was way too easy and basically handed out 10s even when I knew they didn’t deserve it. Although my class does not count for a grade I can still test my students and give their head teachers a progress report. I found incentives to encourage good behavior and participation. The prizes do help but now I have also added a negative consequence as well. The class with the lowest overall score at the end of each Unit will have an exam. This is working quite well so far. One class that saw they had the lowest score after two weeks, finally got a 10 this past week. I cannot stress enough how hard Chinese students have to study. Everything is standardized testing and it is extremely serious. These students study all the time and already have 9 other classes beside mine. This is why Oral English does not count for a grade. It’s not on
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Drum Tower
the college entrance exam and they do not need an additional class to be graded. They are extremely stressed out. I cannot possibly compare what I have seen here in China to anything I have personally witnessed in the States. Some of you might be reading this thinking, “Who cares. They’re teenagers. They’re not going to care if you threaten them with a test.” Trust me, yes they do. Your class is the one class when they can relax and have fun. They do not want your class to turn into their other classes.

The two senior classes whom I had trouble with towards the end of last semester, I am trying to work with them. It is tricky balancing being funny, likable, trust worthy, and strict all at the same time. The other classes whom I must discipline from time to time take my feedback better because they have a better relationship with me. I’m trying to be more careful with class K07 and K03. They are already the lowest ranked classes. I don’t want them to feel like they are not smart and badly behaved. I had to talk with their head teachers last semester concerning behavior.
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As you can see we slept well that night.
It is the worst when you can literally feel their lack of confidence. I try to give them every incentive to behave well and participate so that they can end up with a good score by the end of the class period. I want them to feel smart by looking up and seeing they got a 10 at the end of the day. While class K03 ended up being the lowest ranked class this Unit, I saw them sobering up once they saw where they were compared to other classes. Class K07 has gotten a perfect 30. When they see that they are the lowest ranked class and that they can beat some of the best ranked classes they are so happy saying things like, “Yeah. We are the best!” I’m trying not to go to head teachers as much this semester. I want my students to take me seriously not the head teacher. I don’t want my students to feel like every time their behavior isn’t the best I’m gonna go running to the head teacher. I want to talk to them directly. I try to tell them in detail why they got the score they did. I even started pulling individual students who are slacking or not paying attention behind after class. This alone makes a huge difference. They feel that you care.

Doing things differently. I’m only in my first year of teaching and there is so much I have learned in such a short amount of time. I am figuring out ways to be stricter and so far it is making an impact. I am finding new ways to engage students on all levels. I am using the textbook more so the students have something tangible to grab. The more advanced students actually feel like they’re doing something this way as well. I’m including more grammar in the lessons. They pay much more attention because this will be on their test. All while still having a silly or fun aspect like a 15 minute game at the end of class for the more lively students. While this is something that is obvious I feel closer to them by using their English names. Last semester I didn’t bother trying because I have so many students but I saw how Jody interacts with her students and a huge part of building that relationship is simply by acknowledging to them that you know their name. In China it’s quite common for teachers not to know every student’s names. The students are always surprised when I can remember their English names. Even they don’t expect you to know who they are. Something as simple as knowing their name shows that you’re trying and that you’re not just treating them like a number.



Juniors

I am much much much much much stricter with the juniors. I decided I am not going to have a repeat of last semester. It is not worth being that stressed out. It has also been three weeks for my juniors and only 1 class has gotten a 30/30 and they are on the lower ranked side of the junior test scores. Of course it’s Class C05. If you remember, I wrote about them in an earlier blog post. At the beginning of last semester they were the worse behaved junior class. I couldn’t even get though their first lesson. After that, I had a talk with their head teacher, they wrote apology letters to me, and I haven’t had a problem with them since. Obviously they have an excellent head teacher but even so, last semester they were the second to last ranked class in test scores. They moved up one position this semester. Even though it’s small I’m so proud of them. In my class I feel like they are one of the classes who learns the most material because they listen and I barely have to stop the class for disciplining measures. I like to think that maybe I had something to do with them increasing their class rank (but who knows for sure). Last week the junior students had a parent/teacher conference. I teach class C05 on Fridays and they are my last class towards the end of the school day. On the day of their parent/teacher conference most of their parents were already there early by the time I began my class with them. I had an audience of about 30 parents, watching me teach their children English. I was nervous but I certainly didn’t let it show. Class C05 was behaved well as usual, even better because the adults were watching and I could feel that they wanted to impress their parents too. We had an excellent partnership. The dynamic was great. We went over the new vocabulary and sentence structure and then we played a team game. They were so into it I could tell they forgot their parents were watching. It got a little loud but it was a controlled fun atmosphere and thankfully the parents seemed to like what I was doing as they were laughing along watching their kids play this speaking game.



Surprise Party

Lastly. Last weekend Jody and I decided to have a treat our selves Saturday. We were going to get our nails done but since we were lesson planning all morning we didn’t have time to do that, plus everything else we wanted to do. We went to Walking Street in the center of downtown and caught a movie called, “Assassin’s Creed.” Afterwards we went to get pizza hut for dinner and Jody decided to pay which surprised me because Pizza Hut is expensive and we already decided earlier that we would split the price. I found out later why she paid. When we finally got back to my apartment, all of the volunteers who live in or near the city suddenly popped out from under chairs and from behind curtains yelling, “SURPRISE!” I was so shocked. I didn’t suspect at all that anything was off. Apparently my friends created a secret chat group through wechat (a Chinese mobile app) a planned a surprise party for me. It’s not my birthday but since I often have people staying over my house on the weekends they decided to throw me a surprise party. I want to take the time to thank you all again. No one has ever done anything like that for me. I love my World Teach China family and I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever made in my life here. There was music, dancing, a few rounds of duck duck goose, trust falls, cake, and presents. And of course we topped it all off with a giant sleepover.

Singing off for now



Sorry it’s been so long since I last updated my blog. I will try not to be so lazy this semester and attempt to post once a month. This weekend a lot of World Teach folks will be in town as we are having a joint going away party (as one of our volunteer teachers suddenly has to leave) and birthday party. We’re going to have a big dinner tonight and then go bowling afterwards. Wish us luck. I miss all of you, my friends and family. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to ask. I’ll talk to you all again soon. Peace for now.


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