Orientation/Training at Buckland College (with a side trip to the government hospital)

Seth and I both had to take the TESOL training at Buckland to be qualified to teach English as a second/foreign language in a Chinese school. Only makes sense. The only problem is that usual TESOL training is 120 hours. Buckland has managed to pull enough strings to condense the traning down into 40 hours (five 8-hour days). This is extremely skeleton training as it is. But add on top of that, two days is the practice teaching where you do nothing for two days except for a 45 minutes teaching demonstration. Also the whole first day is Buckland Orientation and Introduction to Chinese culture and the first part of day two is a health check. So there is only about a day and a half of learning. While this seems like a great deal (it was free for us, after our class people will have to pay 1200 Kuai for it) and it seemed like good training at the time, once we went into our assignment, we realized just how ill-prepared we were (but more on that in a future post).

So for the first day, Owen Buckland, the principle of the Owen College and the president of the Buckland agency, gave us our orientation.

He gave a history of the Buckland association and an overview of what to expect in our assignments with regards to culture. He talked a lot about food and drinking. Much of Chinese history has been partnered with famine and starvation, so food is a very important part of Chinese culture. Also, they really love to drink. If they do not push you to drink with them or have enough alcohol to go around, they are not being a good host. This can be difficult for light drinkers or people who don’t drink at all. But by continually politely refusing or making up white lies as to why you cannot drink, everyone can save face. He talked about making sure to be familiar with our contracts so that the schools will be sure to live up to it. He also talked about personal security and to be careful with our money and passports, especially around monkeys.

The next day was the health check. OMG, it was pretty bad. We had to go to Guilin about an hour and a half away even though there are hospitals in Yangshuo because for the visas we had to get official government health checks. Now, you would think that a government hospital, that specializes in foreigner examinations would have higher standards of cleanliness than say…a McDonalds. But you would be wrong! It was disgusting. One woman, Kate, who spent a couple of years in Thailand and basically travelling all over Asia said the bathroom of the hospital was the worst she had seen in her entire life (on the flip-side, the McDonalds in Yangshuo has the best bathroom I have yet seen in China. Period.).

They divided us up, boys and girls, and then into groups of 3. The exam was divided into 4 parts: physical exam, x-rays, ultrasound/EKG, and blood test/urine test. The physical exam for me and Tara and Kate was done by this little old mean Chinese lady who did not speak a lick of English (again, in a hospital that specializes in foreigner service). She weighed us. She checked our vision (and made Kate take off her glasses for it which was weird because she obviously needed them). She made us lay on a table and felt our tummies and our boobs. No idea why. They did chest x-rays where they had us take off our tops and bras and put on a white shirt, but we all had to wear the same white shirt! It was so bizarre! We went in one at a time and had to each put on the same shirt (who knows how many people before us had worn it) and in the same size. We are all different sizes! Some of us bigger girls could barely get the thing on. Oh well, at least the x-ray doctor was friendly.

The ultrasound/EKGs were odd. Not sure what they were looking for. They did the ultrasound of our abdomens. I was a little worried they would see my cycts or endometreosis, but I guess they didn’t find anything. The EKGs were annoying because she did each of us, there were like 5 girls together by this time, and printed them all out and then tried to put them with the rest of our paper work. THey, naturally, got out of order, and Kate had to try to tell the lady who also did not speak any English that the papers were out of order. She finally was able to show her the time-stamps were out of order and then she understood.

But the pee test, that was the worst. Up to this point in the trip I had managed to avoid using a squat toilet. So now, not only did I have to use a squat toilet, I had to pee in a cup. Oh, and did I also mention that it was the most disgusting bathroom ever? So, no need to go into details, but it was quite an interesting feat. At least I had the basics of peeing in a cup down since they are quite routine in America. Another girl in the group was from Australia and was worried since she had never even peed in a cup before, let along use a squat seat. Ah China, so many firsts!

Anyway, I am sure that is far more information about peeing than you wanted to know, so I will move on. That afternoon, we had our only TESOL training. It was taught by Ping Wang (our main contact before coming to China) who studied in America for three years and has a master’s in TESOL. She talked about some of the basics of teaching English in China. What is unique about teaching in China is that from very young, the Chinese are taught English in school, but only to read and write it. They could probaby leave every American child in the dust when it comes to grammar and linguistics. However, the problem is that they are not taught to speak it. Ask a Chinese person “what is your name?” and you will get blank looks. But write down “what is your name?” and they will gladly write their name for you. Communicating with the Chinese in English is like communicating with a deaf person. They can read and understand, but they cannot hear you or speak to you. Knowing this definately helps the teaching process. If at any time, the students do not understand you, you can always write what you are saying on the board so they will understand.

Wednesday we spent the whole day with Patrick. Patrick was just like us two years ago, coming over to teach English with Buckland. But now he is an assistant director under Ping and is a teacher trainer. His focus was on lesson planning. This was a good class because as any teacher knows, you have to have a plan. The only problem is that his ideal lesson plan has 5 parts: warm-up (usually an easy game), bridge, input (teaching), activity, review. This works great in a class of 30 or less, but not in a class of 70-80. The more students you have, the longer it takes to do anything, especially explain the rules of a game. Seth and I have found that in 45 minutes, we really only have time for input and a short activity if we are lucky.

Thursday and Friday were the practice teaching days. We went to Omieda School, a private English school owned by one of Owen’s brothers. The pictures can be seen on Facebook here, so I’m not going to repost any here. It was fun and a good experience. I got to talk about animals and Seth did monsters. But it was not the most practical experience. There were only 15 students in the class and their English was excellent. We teach classes of 60-80 where their English is minimal and they don’t like to speak up. It was good to get in at least a little practice, but didn’t really give an accurate representation of what we would be facing.

Overall, the training/orientation was good and we did get TESOL certified, but I think that people who got actual TESOL certification or degrees in their home countries probably had far better training. I am still thinking of taking some TESOL classes online just because I personally don’t really feel qualified to do this job.