Rebecca Mwase was the Grinnell Corps Macao fellow for 2007-2008.
Rebecca Mwase's Reports
Report 1Rebecca Mwase
Riding home from the teacher's conference this weekend, I couldn't help but think how lucky I am. I mean, I was on a bus to Zhuhai with a whole group of strangers who had kindly invited Nissa and I into their group. How did this happen? What made these people so generous?
Well, it all started in the Changsha airport. Nissa and I were rehashing the conference and I was finally finding time to write in my journal when I looked up to see a young Chinese guy hovering over me. I said Ni hao, as I always do and immediately his interest in us grew. He started talking to me in Chinese, asking where we came from, what we'd been doing in Changsha, where we were going etc. Soon we were asked to take pictures with him and then his whole group. I had forgotten how ridiculous and fun it was to randomly meet people and immediately become great friends. After taking about a zillion pictures with his tour group (a company trip to see the mountains around Hunan province), I continued to chat with him and other group members, curious and brave enough to approach. This conversation lasted until our plane began to board. In the meantime, their tour group leader had come to find out who everyone was talking to, and that's how we met Elaine. Elaine, who also spoke English, asked us where we were going, and when we told her we were on our way to Zhuhai, she quickly conversed with the company manager and then offered us seats on their bus home. For me, this was an unnecessary kindness, but this story illustrates the type of consideration and camaraderie we've met with since coming here.
In Macao, this quick and easy rapport has resulted in creating many good friendships and provided me with many people with which to practice my Mandarin skills. A fellow teacher at the college has offered to be language partners with me, and now I meet with her twice a week to work on listening, reading and learning new vocabulary. As improving my Chinese was one of my main goals in pursuing this program, this increased opportunity to practice is fantastic.
I must say that not everything has been as easy or as fun to cope with. Teaching is difficult, getting acquainted with different grading criteria, shifting work schedules, not to mention filling two hours of class time with interesting information has had me continually frustrated, but as exemplified by one of my classes last week, when I accomplish this juggling of tasks, and begin to see student's think through problems and continually improve their skills, I feel good and motivated to continue working hard for them.
Now I can't say that this has all been an easy roller coaster ride. I would be lying. One of the unexpected challenges I've had to contend with is conflict between teachers in my department. How should courses be arranged, what types of tests are appropriate to assess a students' progress etc. Participating in meetings to discuss differing opinions, provide suggestions and ultimately creating well-defined criteria for evaluating students has been rewarding. I now see how much effort it takes to be a good teacher, to challenge students' and be fair to them in the process. There are things though that are out of my control, things I have yet to find ways to handle. I have a student who may be depressed but the boundaries set up between us (the teachers) and them (the students) are hard to traverse. How do I offer help but yet remain uninvolved, is it right/good for me as a teacher, to sit by and see this student continue to deteriorate in his studies as a possible consequence of this problem. How do I know the correct way to proceed?
Working at M.U.S.T. has provided some unique opportunities that help to enhance this experience. For example, this month we've had a movie series sponsored by the US Consulate in HK and the American Film Institute. Project 20/20, a program to promote international cultural exchange through film, provided the school with five movies to screen to the students that provided a different experience and exposure to the English language. Last night, the directors of the first three movies came to campus to participate in a discussion with the students about the movies. I was able to take part in the planning and execution of this movie series by serving as a host/introducer for one of the films and also facilitating the discussion between students and directors. Seeing students truly enjoying these cultural activities has further pushed me to become more involved and dedicated to this job.
Outside of school, there are many things that I have found to fill my time. I've joined a gym with fantastic yoga classes, attached myself to a group that spends its Saturday's running around the islands chasing elusive markings and managed to find/meet/make friends with people from varying age groups and nations. It's pretty amazing the variety of people here, it has a great impact on the food which is amazing and tempers all social interactions.
Surprisingly I haven't felt really homesick since coming here. Macau is extremely modern and there's hardly anything in the States that you can't find here. I have internet at home and at the office which makes corresponding with family and friends back home a piece of cake and random visits by Grinnellians in the past month has cured my longing for truly stimulating conversation, so, life is good.
At this point in the year, with finals fast approaching, mountains of grading to do and ticket prices skyrocketing I look forward with great anticipation to Christmas Break. Nissa and I have planned a large encompassing trip of most major cities in North Eastern and Central China and will be embarking on a month long journey that ends in Taiwan with a Grinnell reunion. It will give me a chance to recharge, relax and get excited for the semester to come. The group I met in Changsha talked to me about their difficulties learning English and discussing it with them was an immediate reminder of who and what I came here for. Sometimes I feel like I'm not helping anyone, but when I have interactions like that, when I see the light bulb go off in my students' heads, I remember to focus on who I'm trying to help and to begin working there.
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