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“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

How true this quote is. After being home a month now, I have had plenty of time to reflect on my travels and enjoy the little things I missed while being abroad. Although I saw the beauty in our experiences before my head hit my pillow, I truly do value the life I have in America a whole lot more. There are numerous differences between our two cultures that I had to adjust to along with similarities that connect us and made me feel more at home.

One of the cultural differences I noticed while abroad was related to the influence that relationships have. It is a part of the culture to build relationships that decisions can be based on and business deals can be made.  Your connections can get your foot in the door in America but in China if you know the right people you can be set for life. Along with those relationships comes a great sense of hospitality so those relationships can be built on a good foundation. Other major differences in culture I noticed were in the areas of health, religion, family life, education, and of course food. That is a lot to cover so I want to focus on the aspect of education.

In China there is an immense amount of pressure placed on students to succeed which takes care of classroom management issues you may have. I believe students are well behaved due to the drive by outside forces to excel. You still encounter behavior problems but far fewer than I’ve seen in classrooms in America. When we visited the classrooms in China students were hardly distracted when we entered the room. I know I have been in classrooms at home where kids would have been asking the teacher a million questions and it would be a struggle to regain their attention after a guest entered the room.

Another factor, they have to help cater to behavioral issues and classroom management, is the position of a classroom monitor. The classroom monitor is a student selected by their peers to help lead the classroom. This student is the one called on to welcome visitors into their class or if the class is noisy they step in to quiet them down. There is a small group of students who support the classroom monitor and teacher. Serving as additional leaders, they help manage the class. I really liked this concept and think it would be a good one to implement in my classroom. I would alter a few things, such as rotating jobs periodically, but I think when students are put in a leadership role or given an important task great things will happen. Not only can it help manage student behavior but it can help teach important skills such as responsibility, leadership, and team work.  

Another difference I noticed in the schools dealt with the dress code. Not the dress code of the students but of the teachers. I saw some pretty short skirts and shorts that would never be allowed in the schools in America. The clothes were a little too revealing at times. Only a couple of teachers dressed in the expected traditional attire of business apparel. There seemed to be more of a relaxed approach to the dress code.  On the opposite end, teachers are very competitive and focused when it comes to teaching. Many participate in teaching competitions. To my understanding teachers can submit lessons into a teaching skill competition to be evaluated based on the lessons merits and shortcomings. They carry out the lesson in front of an expert and winners are selected based on the results. There is a lot of glory that goes with having the highest marks. I think the teachers are always striving for excellence and looking for ways to improve. With so many students they have to be on top of their game and have a bag full of tricks at all times.

This brings us to another major difference I noticed: the class sizes were huge! With some on the verge on 65 students, there was a lot for one teacher to manage. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much technology present but they certainly made up for it with books. Each student in the high school had books piled high on their desks and tubs next to the desks for the overflow. These books helped the students study for the harder content. Students spend many extra hours a day studying, once they reach middle school age and on into high school. The content seems to be more in depth and foreign languages, such as English, is taught starting in 3rd or 5th grade for public schools and as early as kindergarten for private schools. English is one of the core classes students participate in.

Even though there were many differences in the schools there was also a vast amount of similarities. Students dressed in western style clothes or uniforms like I would have seen in the States at Joshua Academy. I was surprised to see teachers use similar techniques to the ones we are being taught. It was like reinforcement to what I have been learning in my classes at USI. I saw teachers using cues for classroom management such as shaking a tambourine during a preschool class and clapping or holding up a hand for elementary students signaling time to be quiet and listen. A couple of the teachers used the I, We, We, You approach. I even saw a classroom game of Jeopardy being played. Just like schools in America there was more variety in the activities with the younger grades compared to the high school. And unfortunately, one major similarity is that the main way for assessment is through exams and testing.

Another relationship, in the teaching strategies and styles, is that teachers don’t rely on just one. They are flexible and use many strategies and teaching styles. Teachers are explicit in their instruction, teaching knowledge directly, but they have also adopted some heuristic techniques where they lead the students in the right direction without telling them the answer. They give clues inspiring students to think by themselves. This is a strategy I really like as it gives students a deeper understanding of the content.  

With the lower levels, the kindergarten/preschool we visited reminded me of USI’s Childcare Center, except on a larger scale to accommodate more students. It had sensory tables, areas for dramatic play, art areas, reading area, blocks area, and much more. Each area was well supplied with the appropriate manipulatives and there were plenty of teachers around to assist. At this particular school a lot of college students come to do research projects and observe, so there is always a lot going on. Outside the building was plenty of opportunity for children to play. Whether it be in supervised areas like the rope climbing, walking path and pool section or in the free play area of the playground, there was much to do. I believe the students’ development is well supported by very educated teachers. Along with the similarities in the curriculum and layout, there are similarities present in the management styles. Charts are used to manage the flow of children from station to station. Just like USI’s childcare center, they only allow a certain number of students at a station at one time and manipulatives from that station stay in that area.

Now that I have had experience with the culture and schools of China I can take what I learned and share with future students. I would like to develop some sort of a culture corner or station to implement into my classroom. I could present a few basic words around the room in a foreign language and introduce cultural traditions and relate it to the curriculum. I want to help promote the learning of foreign languages at a young age because I think it is a very marketable skill and can open up the world to students. I also want to make global news and issues a part of my class so my students are more aware of what is going on in the world around them. As I mentioned earlier, I can also use some of the strategies I saw to make myself a better teacher. I will be more aware of cultural differences among my students. In addition, this trip makes me think more about the effects home life can have on a student’s education.

I can also take what I learned and apply it to my life. I learned I can survive on just the minimum. Now that I am home I am trying to cut back on the products I use such as running water when it isn’t necessary and wasting paper. Being in China made me realize how valuable those items truly are and how rare they can be for some. We are very lucky to have running water at our finger tips, toilet paper in every restroom (that can be flushed), laundry machines, wifi, an abundance of food, and other privileges we tend to take for granted. I am much more aware of the wide gap in economic status of the people and parallel government issues and public laws our two countries have. (I have to say I have never seen a child on the street, homeless with his parents asking for money. Seeing a child on the streets is heartbreaking especially when they are so helpless. In the States something would have been done for the child but it’s just how life is sometimes for them.)

While there are many differences in the cultures, I also found the beauty in the similarities. People are people no matter where you go; having similar needs, wants, and dreams. I found it very insightful that the friends I made have very similar thoughts and feelings. I have developed a pretty good relationship with some of our language partners who are also education majors. They worry about life after graduation and finding a job just as I do. They also think about boys and gossip like most American girls I know. They worry about safety when walking on the streets, try to find the best deals, value friendships and education, and know how to find good food. Staying connected with family and friends through technology and other means is also a priority for them. I was very surprised in how closely the things we value are related even though we live so far from each other. One thing our two countries share is the want to make our guests feel welcome. I always felt welcomed and comfortable around the people we met whether on campus, in a business, or on the street.

Someone asked me if I have the travel bug now and I have to say I think I've caught it! I want to go wherever I can while I am young and capable. I got the chance to see the rich culture and history of a wonderful country and take away many aspects for improvement in my life. Hopefully I can gain more relationships like the ones I have developed to continue to give me a broader understanding of various lifestyles and to help me continue to look at life from other points of view. I think everyone should have the opportunity to travel abroad and I can’t wait to continue to share my experiences.

 


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