HUST: English Summer Camp

Teach for Friendship

The English Summer Camp program at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) is coordinated with Teach for Friendship, a non-profit organization with headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. Sally, my teaching partner, had participated in a Fall TFF program in 2008, and both of us decided to apply for the 2010 summer gig. We were impressed with the resource materials provided by TFF to its volunteer teachers, as well as an extensive training sessions (held in Tucson, but videotaped for teachers who could not attend in person). Funding from HUST provides free housing for teachers in a hotel on campus, as well as a stipend, more than enough to cover food and local living expenses. Optional tours were organized for before and after the summer camp, and Sally and I both decided to sign up for a post-program “Sacred Mountains” tour that would visit Jiuhuashan, Huangshan, and the Shanghai Expo.

There were about 40 volunteer teachers in the 2010 program, many from Tucson but others from all around the US. We had a small but mighty San Francisco contingent, including David, an experienced ESL teacher with whom Sally and I met up a few times before we left for China. We all bought black “San Francisco” (in Chinese and English) t-shirts, which got quite a lot of notice. Incidentally, San Francisco is one of the very few cities outside China with a Chinese name that has an actual meaning, not just the approximate pronunciation. 舊金山 (Jiujinshan) means “Old Gold Mountain” and dates from the California Gold Rush days.

The HUST hotel was perhaps, barely, 2-star quality, and the hotel breakfast so bad, even by China standards, that many teachers opted to buy groceries and eat in our rooms. A bus was provided for travel to and from the classroom building, but this was only a 10-minute walk so I never bothered with it, even in the rain. On site, the TFF leadership left quite a lot to be desired; information and updates were sporadic at best, and the teachers were pretty much left to fend for ourselves, with no attempt made to provide opportunities for exchanging ideas or socializing. We met some really nice people, but, sadly, later during the program so we didn’t have much time to get to know them. (The post-program tour was another story; more on that later!)

Classes 30 & 31

As teaching partners, Sally and I each had one group in the morning, and then traded for the afternoon session. This required quite a bit of coordination so that we were not covering the same material, but also, when feasible, that we shared topics or themes. We both worked up a bunch of lesson plans before we left San Francisco, and collected photos, videos, and handouts to bring with us. On site, some adjustments and additions were needed, so I was very glad I brought my laptop!

Cathy, my TA, was fabulous; she was a third year English major, with excellent language skills and a dedication to the program that went far beyond expectations. She picked me up at the airport when I arrived late Saturday evening, and took me to the campus to see our classroom building the next afternoon (and did NOT immediately offer to show me the shopping mall, but let me rest up before classes started). We frequently had lunch together, and she and Sally’s TA Doris made sure we got to try the local Wuhan specialties: spicy duck neck, dry hot noodles, doupi.

The absolute best part of this adventure was the students: bright, friendly, creative and enthusiastic, they made each day of teaching a pleasure (and sometimes a challenge). Our students were mostly college freshmen at HUST, plus a handful of high school students, with majors in engineering, biotechnology, economics, etc. (HUST is noted for its technology curricula, obviously!). Classes were organized by the students’ levels of English proficiency, and our groups were at the highest level. The students had an excellent grasp of English grammar and vocabulary, but lacked many opportunities to converse with native speakers, so these programs focus on conversational usage (and some pronunciation). Our students were definite over-achievers and put an incredible amount of effort into their assignments, such as designing travel presentations, presenting film reviews (complete with video and slides!), or creating skits.

HUST students HUST students

Cultural Exchange

Despite the fact that our students needed to spend lots of time studying for their classes, all of them were also interested in movies, TV, video games, sports, and other stuff. Most of them already had English names, and it’s always fascinating to me how these are chosen. Some were given by English teachers; others more personally chosen to reflect individual interests (Beyond likes the band of the same name, Harmonicor plays the harmonica—quite impressively well!, Kobe enjoys basketball...). People in China, it seems, change their English names often, as most of them only use these for English classes unless required for their professions. They were all passionate about music (especially pop music), and we had a large number of musicians in the class. They were all curious about various aspects of American culture (politics, most of them not so much), and seemed to enjoy watching clips from a San Francisco walking tour video I brought with me. By the end of our summer session, they were all addicted to The Big Bang Theory and had added the word “expertise” to their vocabularies courtesy of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (two things of which I am inordinately proud). I also made a point of showing them the appalling Daily Show clip about Mandarin programs in a Southern California town (not everyone in the US appreciates cultural diversity as much as we San Franciscans do).

Simon stickerI was particularly charmed by the ease with which the students became friends, and their generosity in helping each other. By the end of the session they had set up a QQ group to stay in touch, and—perhaps—continue practicing English together. During our last week, we had a lovely dinner in a local restaurant (Cathy checked out several to find us a perfect spot, with two adjoining private rooms), many toasts exchanged. Afterwards Nick offered to show Sally and me a typical dorm room (really not that much different from my own college digs!). And on the final day of class, we had a celebration party with games, music, gifts, and cake.

HUST Classes 30 & 31

HUST Classes 30 & 31
First row: Doris (TA), Rita, Jocelyn, Monet, Cindy, Juanita, Cathy (TA)
Second row: Musa, Melody, Tracy, Zoe, Sabrina, Elaine, Denise
Third row: Beyond, Jeffrey, Nick, Max (HS), Simon, Harmonicor
Fourth row: Max, Vincent, Raymond, Kobe, Eternal

Wudang: Taoism and Tai Chi
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