Sophie Nye was the Grinnell Corps Macao fellow for 2006-2007.
Sophie Nye's Reports
Report 1Sophie Nye
I've finished almost half my time here in Macau and the place has become familiar. It's a ready mix of East and West that makes it easy to get around. There are plenty of expats here and plenty of people who speak English, so language has never been a problem. In fact, English is so readily available that it's easy to become complacent and never learn any Cantonese, which is by far the predominate language in the area.
The most important part of the job is obviously teaching, which is what we have been sent here to do. Stepping into a classroom for the first time is terrifying. I was very nervous and had no idea what I was doing. Luckily another teacher in the office had taken me under her wing and given me a few ideas. Still, having a lesson plan is very different from actually teaching a lesson. I ended my first class completely exhausted and disheartened. My students were completely unresponsive and I was pretty sure I would be a miserable failure as a teacher. It is true that there were several things I needed to improve and which I have improved. What I've learned over the last few months about teaching English as a second language is invaluable. You have to be incredibly patient to do this job. Most of my students will not understand what I say the first time I say it. Thus, I've learned how to get an idea across using several different methods at once. I act things out (I am now an excellent mime), and I use many different synonyms until I see the light bulb click on behind their eyes (I'm pretty sure I can be classified as a walking thesaurus now). I've also learned to slow down my speech considerably, and I've come into the habit of saying everything at least twice, if not three or four times. At least twice. My students can now understand me, but I'm pretty sure I drive other native speakers insane. I've learned how to enunciate and to speak loud enough so that everyone can hear me. I don't use the microphones that are popular with Chinese professors, so talking loudly is important. I encourage my students to speak loudly too, especially when they are giving a speech. I sit in the back of the class room when they go up to the front so that they are forced to speak loudly. Since that first class I've become an old hand at teaching. I'm comfortable getting up in front of forty people and directing them for two hours.
The students themselves are a mixed bag. Some of them are incredibly bright and eager to learn. This is especially true of the freshmen. I have a lot of fun in classes with them. They continually amaze me not just with their English skills but also with their hard work and fantastic creativity. As for the returning students, entire classes of them can be unresponsive and difficult to motivate, especially those who have failed the class before.
The students have a habit of giving themselves hilarious English names. There's Looklook, Choco, Hardess, and Fun. There's my animal class with Monkey, Lion and Shark. Tank is a really sweet kid and Roc and Rock are exactly what their names imply. Bee is nice, but a little slow. Carlos, "The Big Missile" is a sweet kid who dresses like a rap star from the early 90's and has excellent English skills because he lived in "The Big Apple" for four months. Bush and Bin Laden are really good friends. Sail and Wizard usually sit next to each other. I had a girl who called herself Eleven because her friend was named "Seven." Sweety and Candy are probably the most popular names at the school. You get used to calling out very strange names while taking attendance at the beginning of class.
Life in Macau is what you make of it. The first living situation I was put into was more like a hotel with six of us in our little rooms sharing a living space and small kitchen. Thankfully, I've recently moved into a new apartment for two. We have a TV with cable, double beds, hot water and a washing machine. I've bought a cheap DVD player that I hauled all the way from Guangzhou and I'm planning on paying to have the internet put in. Life is very modern and up to date. In fact, it's easy to get practically everything here. Still, there are some things you just get used to, like live shrimp jumping around your dinner table, trying to escape their eventual fate of being boiled alive. There are men everywhere hocking enormous loogies in the streets and people mobbing around the bus door, determined to be the first one on. It's a dog-eat-dog world, every man for himself! At the same time, it's incredibly technologically advanced. All of my students have multi-functional machines that they wear around their necks. These things act as cell phones, mp3 players, movie players, cameras, external hard drives, teleportation devices, and well, you get the idea. If it doesn't do a million and one things, these kids won't even look at it. I feel cumbersome and overburdened when I carry around my cell phone, my iPod, my camera, my HSB stick and, god forbid, my old-fashioned book wherever I go.
It took a few weeks to get a multiple entry visa into China, but now with that it's easy to skip over the border to Zhuhai. Movies, jewelry, massages, and pretty much anything else can be had for cheap prices. I've had time and opportunity to catch up on all the TV shows I was never able to watch during college.
Sometimes it feels like I haven't been here that long, that nothing has happened. At other times it feels as though I haven't been back home, or any place familiar for a very long time. A couple of months ago I ordered a fruit bowl for dinner. It had these white, slightly crunchy cubes of something that was really sweet in it. "These are really good!" I said. "What are they? I don't think I've ever run into them before." So an obliging dinner companion popped one into his mouth, chewed, considered and then said, "It's an apple." You know you've been in China too long when you encounter an apple and think it's some delicious, exotic fruit you've never seen before.
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