What can you tell us about your trip to China?
How long were you there? Where what cities did you visit?
My eight day adventure began when I boarded a plane out of Rapid City early in the morning on June 21. I landed in Chicago where I met four other teachers before our 12 hour overnight flight to Beijing. About forty of us arrived in Beijing early in the evening during one of the worst rainstorms in 5 years. For them, this rainstorm was similar to a bad winter snowstorm in SD! No travel was advised, the Great Wall was closed, and people stayed indoors! Once the rain subsided,, the smog cleared out but the weather was extremely hot and humid! We toured Beijing for the next few days where we visited many attractions. On the tour, we visited one of the top five middle schools in Beijing where students stay together in a classroom for three years and teachers rotate to prevent fewer discipline issues. We were unable to visit the middle school classrooms, since students were studying for the country's most competitive exam which determines if students are college-bound. However, a few students and a principal took time away from their studying to answer some of our questions. The Chinese government assigns a high value to education beginning with preschool at the age of two or three.
Area attractions we visited included: the Yonghe Lama Temple is filled with over 300 years of Buddhist history and the largest wooden Buddha in the world; the Forbidden City once served as the imperial palace for emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties; Tiananmen Square built during the Ming Dynasty was the front door to the Forbidden City; Summer Palace was originally built as a luxurious royal garden for the royal families; and the Temple of Heaven was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer for good harvest. My most surreal experience was hiking on the Great Wall of China. What an incredible way to experience the natural beauty of China! We had to stop often to do a reality check and catch our breath!
After four days in Beijing, we flew on a short flight to Xian. While in Xian, we biked the Xian City Wall which is the most complete wall in China and is one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. Later, we visited a culinary school which is a three year boarding school for young men and women. We tested our talent at making noodles and dumplings. A few other stops included the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which is a holy place for Buddhists and The Great Mosque which is the largest mosque in China. Among the most interesting stops was the Terracotta Warriors which are a collection of terracotta sculptures representing the armies of the Quin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. They are a form of funeral art which was used to bury people of influence in ancient China.The first emperor of China was also buried with them to protect him in the afterlife. After two days in Xian, we flew back to Beijing before boarding our flights home.
What was the most surprising thing about your trip?
Coming from a small town in rural South Dakota, I had many surprises on my trip. In China, beginning teachers make $1000 per month in cities, but rural teachers are treated like volunteers where they do not make much money. Therefore, rural teachers do not stay long before they move into the cities. Teachers of older grades make more money, so teachers begin in primary grades and apply every five years to teach a higher grade. Education is viewed as extremely important; consequently, teachers are highly respected and many want to enter the profession. Parents influence what their children do after school which likely includes studying. Although many technology devices are manufactured in China, we saw very few people walking around talking or texting on their phones. Children were not seen with electronics to keep them entertained. Instead of meeting for coffee, elderly men and women meet each morning in area parks for exercise groups which helps them stay fit and flexible. Many Chinese have only been driving since 2008 following the bird flu outbreak where they feared riding pubic transportation. Although any form of transportation, from bicycles, carts, motorcycles, cars, to trucks is acceptable to drive on the narrow streets within town, traffic laws are only a suggestion and it is normal to cut people off while driving. Surprisingly with all the heavy traffic...we did not see many accidents! The Chinese culture is rooted in respectful values and deeply in their ancestry; therefore, they are expected to be kind to each other and respect other's belongings. Umbrellas were left to dry on sidewalks without any worry of them being stolen while they were shopping. There were very few homeless people as the government provides assistance to those in need. The people of China live a simple life in modest homes built in small spaces!
What have you taken from the experience?
People are people...regardless of culture, race, religion, or color. I was uncertain about spending eight days with forty other educators from other states; however, it quickly seemed as if I was traveling with family. Whether we are from China, the midwest, east or west coast of the United States, we are faced with many common challenges as educators. Regardless of our differences, we have the same goal to provide an excellent education to all our students.
How has the Global Learning Fellowship helped you as a teacher?
When I boarded the plane to China, I was prepared to think differently about culture and to learn how the lives of people in China were similar to or different from mine. This experience has encouraged me to 'step out of the box' and think more openly about seeing the world in a new way. I had to leave my comfort zone and become a learner in a new place and culture. Not being able to understand or speak the language gave me a feeling of uncertainty similar to students in our classrooms who might be struggling with moving beyond their comfort zone. Although it has been a few months, I continue to reflect upon what it truly means to be a globally competent educator and how that informs my instruction.
How do you use this experience as a classroom teacher?
This experience has given me the opportunity to integrate global content into core instruction throughout the school year. It all began with a year of global lesson planning and thinking about how to peak second graders' curiosity about the world, which included expanding units with meaningful global activities. Interacting with colleagues from around the United States helped me think about global learning from the perspectives of teachers teaching in different grades and schools. Integrating technology into my lessons has been a priority, but now we will be connecting globally with technology using WorldVuze, ePals, and Skype. Even after more than 20 years in the classroom and many years devoted to teaching students to think globally, I can truly say my first international adventure changed my life.
Why should someone consider apply to the NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship program?
Being an NEA Foundation Global Fellow gave me the opportunity to reexamine my own identity and become more open to seeing the world in a new way. This amazing program made it possible to connect with educators and students from around the world to learn and collaborate. I encourage others to take the chance to venture out of your classroom and explore this amazing world we live in!