Month: June 2015

Teaching English at ELS Shanghai: an overview of my experience

As of June 26th, 2015, I have officially completed my month-long internship as an English teacher at ELS Shanghai! In this post, I attempt to provide an overview of my experience via general questions so any interested in teaching English abroad can benefit from reading about it! Hopefully I answer any questions might have about this type of experience!

 

What is ELS Shanghai?

ELS Shanghai is a private language center that helps student improve their English and prepare for study abroad in various countries such as the United States, Canada, Switzerland to name a few. Their main goal is to provide them with rigorous and language-intensive study via month-long sessions that prepare them in vocabulary, speaking, reading, writing and listening.

 

How did you find out about this opportunity?

 Last summer in 2014, my friend Katie’s stepdad offered me an internship to teach English in Shanghai for ELS. He works on the business side of ELS and knew of this opportunity. I had already accepted a summer job working for Wilderness Ventures so I wasn’t able to. Before this summer, Katie told me she was going to Shanghai for the same opportunity. Thanks to her stepdad, he was able to help me secure the internship for this summer.

 

What do you do as an intern/teacher for ELS?

I taught two vocabulary classes for the June session. The session began on June 1st and ended on June 26th. Each session is four weeks long. One of my classes was a 105 level, which is upper-intermediate, and the other was 107, an advanced level. Vocabulary classes last for 50 minutes with about ten minutes in between depending on the time of day and they meet five days a week.

As a teacher, I prepared lessons using the materials they provided me with(a vocabulary book for each class with units covering various types of vocabulary and homework exercises). I wrote three vocabulary evaluation quizzes, three spelling tests and gave a few assignments.

 

Here’s an example of a unit from the book I used:

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How did you teach the students if you do not speak Mandarin or Shanghainese?

The students were past the beginner stage so they were conversationally proficient in English. They simply wanted to continue moving up in fluency. Often, I had to simplify my language so that they understand at least 80% of what I said. I think the hardest part for them was memorizing all the vocabulary because on top of what I teach them (around 15 words per unit, 2 units/week), they had to learn about 300+ words throughout the month-long session.

 

How many other teachers did you work with? How many students were in each class?

There were about a little over 10 teachers total that worked at ELS Shanghai. The most students in a class are about 10 but each of my classes only had 8 students.

 

Were you paid? What were the benefits?

 I had to pay to fly myself out from the States to China but luckily, I received a generous scholarship from the Honors College that allowed me pay for my flight out, my visa and provide some money for food and transportation. Also, the company generously allowed me to live in a spacious dorm on the campus free of charge(there are only a few and they are only offered to employees at ELS). For the month-long session, I also received a comfortable wage (I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it), which provides me with enough money to live here for my time here, and three weekly Mandarin classes with a private tutor.

 

What did a typical week-day look like?

 7:20am: wake up, get ready and eat breakfast

8:05am: walk over to the building next door where I teach

8:30-9:20am: teach my advanced class

9:30-10:20am: teach my beginner class

10:45am-12:15pm: work out at a nearby gym

12:30-1:30/2:00pm: lunch

2:00-2:30pm: grades papers/start planning lessons

2:30-3:30pm: Mandarin lesson at nearby coffee shop

4:00-9:00pm: grade, plan lessons and cook dinner

10:30/11pm: go to bed

 

How much time did you spending preparing lessons, grading papers, creating quizzes, etc.?

It depends! Most days I spent at least two hours on lesson planning, grading papers, making quizzes, etc. I enjoyed it though and expected it going into the internship so it was not too bad.

 

What the most challenging part?

Finding ways to make sure the students felt engaged and wanted to be in class and learn. One great idea my friend Katie had, who also interned this summer, came up with the title “5 minutes in America” where I found a fun video or pictures related to a topic that would provide a smooth segway into our day’s lesson but also teach the students about American culture. It succeeded in engaging the students and motivating them to come to class everyday.

 

What was the most rewarding part?

When students talk more in class than you do, when students use what you taught them in class, when students engage with you outside of the classroom or simply, when the confusion disappears and students understand what you’re trying to teach them. These are just a few of the rewarding moments I have experienced as a teacher this summer.

 

Would you work for ELS again/go back to Shanghai?

Yes, without a doubt. My bosses trusted me and gave me lots of flexibility. The other teachers were helpful, supportive and fun to be around. The students were kind and fun to worth it. I enjoyed my experience and would definitely recommend it to any of those wishing to find an opportunity to teach English, work with a fun, supportive community and learn to grow in the international education field.

 

Hopefully you enjoyed reading about this experience as much as I enjoyed it sharing it! Feel free to comment with any questions or comments! I’d love to hear about any other teachers out there who have taught English abroad! 🙂

 

 

 

Yes, you may spit in public: Cultural Differences in Shanghai after 4 weeks

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[Photo taken on June 18th, 2015 while walking to the subway from IKEA]

It’s been two weeks since my last post(I haven’t sat down to write in a while) but I finally found time to write about a few cultural differences I’ve noticed while being here in Shanghai, China. Here are the main ones:

People are genuinely kind

For the most part, Chinese people in Shanghai tend to be kind. They smile at you, they laugh, and they help you when you ask for it. I haven’t had any issues yet(fingers crossed) but I don’t expect to either.

Chinese people are very superstitious

Often you will hear fireworks go off randomly around the city. Anytime a new store is opened, they shoot off fireworks to scare away the ghosts. The color gold is used to also scare away ghosts and “protect” certain buildings and stores. Also, the number 4 is unlucky because it is a homonym for the word death meaning it is the same word, but in a different tones in Mandarin and some other dialects of Chinese.

Spitting in public is socially acceptable

In public, common to hear people gathering up all the saliva and mucus in their mouth and then yucking it onto the street. It may be disgusting to hear and see but it’s most likely due to the air pollution that they have to eliminate all that gross stuff from their system. I

Men grow out their pinky nails to pick ear wax

I wish I had a picture to show for this but yes, some men will have long fingernails on their pinkies with the specific purpose of cleaning the earwax from their ears.

“scooterpooling” and “bikepooling” is common

Almost anywhere I go in Shanghai, I always see multiple people on scooters and bicycles. I carefully observed scooters and bikes when I’m walking and it seems as though almost all are built to hold at least two people. I personally think it’s awesome! They’re saving electricity(most scooters are electric) or just sharing a ride! I wish my bike back home had a seat on the back for someone- I’d give friends rides more often! I don’t have a picture I took but here’s one I found on Google Images so you get the idea:

bikesharing

Well, hope you enjoyed the short post with a few observations about cultural differences in Shanghai! Next week, I will write about what my experience has been like teaching English! Zàijiàn!

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An adventureous night in Vancouver led by serendipity and the kindness in strangers

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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

As we started approaching customs, the short time frame I had to decide whether or not I wanted to start a conversation with these two strangers was coming to an end. It was now, or never. I took a deep breath and asked the simple question, “How far is the airport from downtown?”

Before I continue to explain how this one moment carved the path leading up to a night of several serendipitous events, I should start from the beginning.

Two weeks ago on May 24th, 2015, I was leaving from LAX Airport and flying to Shanghai, China with a 13-hour layover in Vancouver, Canada. After eating dinner in the airport, I headed towards my gate. When I neared the gate, I scanned the area to find a place to sit. Two blonde girls that appeared to be my age or slightly older were sitting and chatting. I noticed a few open seats in the row across from them and decided that if I sat there, I might make a few friends.

I dropped my bags and sat down. The conversation between the two girls seemed to have faded as they both were reading when I looked up from my seat. I decided to join the reading party and pulled out the intriguing book I was currently reading called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts(*I highly recommend it! It’s about a man who escaped from prison in Australia, fled to India and worked in the slums, black market, and fought in the war. True story).

A significant amount of time passed and the reading party continued. Then the Air Canada desk attendant announced over the loudspeaker,”Any foreign passengers that are not Canadian citizens must come up to fill out a form before boarding the plane.” I pulled my nose out of my book and realized the message was directed at me, as non-Canadian citizen. I went up, grabbed a form, then returned to my seat and proceeded to fill it out.

“Sir? Excuse me.” The younger-looking blonde girl with the tattoo of a feather behind her ear who was sitting directly across from me asked in a tone that voiced her doubtfulness with choice of “sir” to address me.

I looked up with my own form of uncertainty. “Is she calling me sir?” I chuckled to myself in my head. My choice of attire most likely influenced her word choice. I wore brown dress shoes, simple khakis with a brown belt and an azure-colored polo tucked in.

Once we made eye contact, she continued, “What is that you’re filling out?”

“This? Oh, it’s for U.S…” I stopped short.

“Citizens?”

“Yes” I laughed.

“Oh, okay good.” She said smiling back.

A sign of relief washed across their faces. I assumed they must be Canadian so they didn’t need to fill out the form.

Both parties returned to reading their novels. A few minutes later, I overheard the other blonde girl say to her friend, “Sir is a little bit formal.” I smiled, looked up at them and chuckled, “Yeah, it was a little formal but I guess I’m not sure what else you would use?”

They laughed. The blonde girl in front of me added, “Yeah, ‘dude’ or ‘guy’ would have been weird.” I smiled and laughed. That was the extent of our conversation before we boarded the plane. Unfortunately, I didn’t sit next to them on the plane either. However, the first serendipitous moment happened soon after.

During the 3 hour flight from LA to Vancouver, I simply minded my own business and read. The two older women next to me both put in headphones either to prevent any conversation between us or to create a white noise to ease resting during the flight.

When the flight landed around 10:45pm, I realized I was going to be spending the next 13 hours in the Vancouver Airport…I thought maybe if the city were close enough, I would go exploring but the research I had done prior to flying was so preliminary that I felt uncertain whether it would be a good idea or not to leave the airport. I certainly didn’t want to risk missing my flight.

Since I figured I would be spending the next several hours in the airport, I decided to take my time getting off the plane. The combination of not being in a rush to make a connecting flight or go anywhere, plus the fact that my large backpack was in the overhead compartment and would take a good amount of time to take down convinced me to wait until a large amount of people had exited the plane before I get off.

While waiting for a gap in the line off the plane, the two Canadian girls I had spoken to briefly smiled  and said bye as they walked past me. Then, the gap I had been waiting to seize appeared. I took advantage of it. I loaded my large blue 48L Osprey backpack on my back and my medium-sized black 25L REI backpack on front then exited the plane.

And this is where the story picks up from where it started. I was about 5 feet or so behind the two Canadian girls- just enough to be able to start up a conversation.

The two girls looked back at me and the other one who I had not spoken much to said, “Downtown? It’s not too far. You can take the Canada line straight there (similar to a light rail). It might take 30 minutes or so.” My simple question broke the dam created by society stating that we “should not talk to strangers” and a river of conversation finally flowed out.

I learned that their names were Katie and Kelsi and they had spent the weekend in California for fun. They went to Disneyland, the beach and had a wonderful time. Both were 22 years old and studying at a university in Vancouver. Katie was undecided and Kelsi studied sports sciences.

Before reaching customs, they both convinced me to take advantage of my layover as an opportunity to explore downtown Vancouver. We stayed together, chatting through customs till I went to the kiosk to scan my passport and realized I had ended up in the line for Canadian citizens.

I hurried over to the line for foreigners then proceeded to the customs agent when a window was available. After lots of intimidating questions such as why I’m in canada, where I’ll be staying, who’s paying for it, etc. I entered into the great country of Canada.

Not sure where to find the Canada line or even what to do downtown, I sat down near baggage claim and attempted to find a wifi network to connect to. Unfortunately, none of them were unlocked or free so I sat there looking a little helpless. Lucky for me, Katie and Kelsi grabbed their bags and then offered to help me.

They walked with me over to the storage center then offered to walk me to the Canada line upstairs. They wrote directions to arrive downtown via the Canada line on an old receipt from a Nike outlet store. I told them I could figure it out with the directions they gave me then hugged them and said goodbye. The fact that they were total strangers yet demonstrated the kindness of a friendship  that had lasted for years amazed me. I felt extremely grateful for their help and the serendipity of the situation.

From there on, the serendipitous moments continued as if someone had planned the entire night for me.

I took the escalator up to the Canada line and went to the machines to buy my ticket. Not sure exactly how much fare to purchase to get downtown, I stood in front of the machine for about two minutes before a kind man in a green vest approached me.

“Are ye lost?” he asked me in his thick Canadian accent. I told him I wanted to go downtown. He told me exactly what stop to get off and even handed me a map. At this point, I think to myself, “Gosh, the Canadians are so friendly. I should just stay here.”

I got off at the City Centre station nearby and found myself in downtown Vancouver with no plans or knowledge of the city.

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I started walking down a street that looked busy and found myself a small pizza shop that sold slices for $2.75. I bought a supreme slice, sat down at a table and munched away that evening’s dinner. Luckily, there was wifi so I could look up places to go. At first, I decided to google pubs and bars in Vancouver but then I thought, “Why am I sitting here on my phone when I could easily ask someone or just go to a random bar see what happens?” I finished my slice of pizza and headed out to continue the night’s adventure.

I recalled Katie and Kelsi mentioning a bar called the Roxy somewhere downtown. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was so I just decided to walk down the street and see what I could find. I went down once then went back up the same street and decided on a place called The Roxyburger. The outside patio was full of people drinking beer and chatting. Inside, there was a bar and tables where people were eating food. I sat at the bar and ordered a beer. I laughed to myself and thought, “Okay, I’m here but now what? How does one go about meeting people without intruding on a group?” I sat there for a good 15 minutes, people watching and enjoying not knowing how the night would unfold. A guy and a girl came up to the bar and looked over at me momentarily. They were ordering shots I guessed and the bartender told them to move over to the empty seat next to me. He poured them two shots of an alcohol that I didn’t recognize.

“Have you ever tried a buttery nipple?” The girl turned and asked me.

I was startled for a second then laughed and replied, “No, what’s that?”

“It’s sweet. They’re really good. Take one with us! We’ll wait for you!”

I thought, “Ah, sure, why not.” I ordered one, took the shot with them and then said, “That wasn’t too bad.”

“Yeah, we like them,” the girl replied as they started to get up to return to their table outside.

“Hey, could I join you two? I’m here because I have a layover and obviously don’t know anyone.” I laughed in self-pity.

“Of course you can! We’ll introduce you to our friends!” The girl replied and the guy smiled at me.

And then, the next section in the night began. The girl’s name was Emily and she was from Oregon. She had traveled from Oregon with two friends to see Milky Chance in Vancouver and they decided to stay in Vancouver for a little. The guy’s name was Daniel and he was from Australia. He was traveling in Canada for a little. They introduced me to the rest of their group which included a few Germans, a few Australians and a few Canadians. Everyone was between 21 and 25 and very friendly and welcoming! They referred to me as “Joe from Arizona” or with a few, just “Arizona,” which I found rather amusing.

I chatted and hung out with them for a while before a group of Canadian guys in college from Manitoba, Canada who knew Emily, invited us to go on an unofficial pub crawl with them. We all agreed to go and then we headed out. In total, there was about 12 of us.

One guy that stood out the most from the group was named Brady. He was Emily’s friend and from Oregon. We connected really well. He was friendly, genuine and outgoing. He studied photography at a small college in Oregon and was the one who bought the tickets to see Milky Chance. Emily, and her friend Peyton, both had known Brady since high school and asked if they could go to the convert with him. At each of the two bars we went to, he offered to buy me a drink and then we had an interesting conversation about who we were and why we did the things we did.

Around 3:15am, the group of international travelers I had been spending most of the night with decided to head home. Brady offered for me to stay the night at their hostel but then remembered they checked everyone’s keys so unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. I said my goodbyes and then remained at the bar till about 3:30am when they kicked everyone at. A server at the bar gave me directions back to the Canada line station but said it wouldn’t start running again till 5 or 6am.

Out of plans and ideas, I decided to walk back to the station anyway and figure out a plan there.

When I got there, the gates were locked and it was closed, just as the server had warned me. I sat on a bench and contemplated my options. Well, it was dark near the station and I didn’t know if the area was dangerous so I decided to head back towards the pizza place and the Roxyburger.

On my way back, I peeked my head into the Burger King that was still open. “Should I go in, order food and just hang out?” I contemplated to myself. I decided not to, thankfully, and headed to the pizza shop.

I was in luck. It was still open.

“Hey look, it’s the guy from Best Buy,” one guy joked as I got in line for pizza. I then realized there were no longer serving pizza. A girl and a guy, who looked to be my age, started talking to me. They both wanted pizza and asked if I wanted to join them to buy pizza somewhere. They didn’t seem to be dangerous or suspicious and the guy who joked about me working for Best Buy was with them so I said “Sure, why not?”

We walked up and down the streets looking for restaurants still open at 4am in the morning on a Sunday. They asked me why I was there, what I was doing, etc. and we made small talk. They were all friendly and seemed like genuine individuals. Their names were Jordan, Morgan, and Ivo and they were all 23 years old. I told them I had never been to Vancouver before, let alone Canada and then told me they would take me to the best spots and hang out with me until the Canada line opened back up.

The only food place we found was a 7/11 that serves taquitos- you know, the ones you think “Hmm, those could be good” but then you second guess yourself and say, “No, what am I thinking. Who knows how long those have been out?” Well, that was the only hot food available so I bought two. They weren’t delicious but they did the job and kept my hunger at bay.

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They brought me to Yaletown, which is this pier with lots of large yachts and boats. We sat down and talked about life until about 6am when the station opened back up. Ivo even offered to take the Canada line with me to the airport to make sure that I returned with no problems. After having talked about culture, he also offered to introduce me to ice caps which is a coffee slushie that he said was really popular in Canada, or at least Vancouver.

I said goodbye to Ivo and thanked him for helping me. Then grabbed my bags and curled open on the ground to take a 4 hour nap before heading to my gate around 10am. As I lay there and reran the route of the all-nighter in Vancouver, I realized the night took itself in directions I could never have imagined. I feel extreme gratitude for the kindness all those I encountered treated me with during my long adventure in Vancouver. It reminds me that there are lots of good people out there in the world and one of best thing we can do to make sure those good people don’t disappear is to be kind to all.

Life reveals her inner beauty when you simply surrender the desire to control her and you let her sail you which ever way she decides to blow the wind.

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Update: To make this story even crazier, the guy I met named Brady is a dating a girl who went to high school in Oregon with one of my really close friends at the University of Arizona. The world is so big yet it’s so small.