Before leaving Nanchong for their teaching service, the SST group took one more field trip, visiting Lingyun Mountain National Forest Park east of Nanchong. Professor He Mingyu of the China West Normal University’s English Department served as our guide. She had been an exchange scholar at Goshen College in 2002 and eager to meet this year’s group of GC students.
As our time in Nanchong came to an end, we planned a party for our host families to thank them for welcoming us into their homes for six weeks. They were patient with us when communication was difficult, they cared for us when we came down with colds or sore throats, and they introduced us to hot pot restaurants and to KTV (that is, karaoke, a common entertainment here).
October 1-7 is National Week in China, a week-long vacation commemorating the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Schools at all levels are closed, so our classes at China West Normal University were suspended. Although roads and tourists destinations are crowded during this week, we used three of the open days in our schedule for field trips.
China SSTers are spending their first night in the towns that will be their homes for the next five weeks. They will be teaching English in three secondary schools, living with host families in each place. All three schools are hosting SSTers for the first time, so all sides are negotiating relationships and expectations anew. Given our encounters today, it is clear that all the schools are eager to have the Goshen folks teaching oral English. Having native English speakers in the classrooms is uncommon for schools in these places where foreigners are rare.
On two recent afternoons the SSTers learned and shared music and dance with Professor Wang Xiao and her students from the College of Music. Ms. Wang introduced Chinese musical notation and explained the history of two popular folk songs, “Kangding Qingge” (Love Song of Kangding) and “Mo Li Hua” (Jasmine Flower), and taught them to the SSTers. Ms. Wang had arranged for some of her students and another music faculty member to perform traditional works for us, and then she invited Goshen students to sing and play in return.
Deng Xiaoping, China’s principal leader from 1978 to 1992, famously described his country’s distinctive economic blend of free-wheeling market forces and centralized controls as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Since then, people within China and those who visit have often tried to articulate the “Chinese characteristics” that mark various aspects of life here. During the study portion of SST – the first six weeks of the term – we’re been experiencing Chinese academic life and its distinctive characteristics. We’ve been learning on two levels: the material that teachers present to us directly and, indirectly, something of what it’s like to be a university student in this part of the world and how education functions here.