JH was still soggy from the permanent drizzle that had settled over the city the day we got off the plane. As we boarded the bus to head to school, everyone was a bit apprehensive about camp.
At least in my mind, the questions began to arise: How will we perform? Will we actually help the kids? Is all this work worth it? Will the support that we raised be spent wisely here? And most importantly, How will teaching English bring the Gospel of Jesus to these people?
Before I discuss these issues, let me elaborate a little about the structure of the camp, just in case anyone wants to borrow this format. As soon as we arrived, we would have a group assembly. Evan was in charge of coming up with a skit to capture the kids' attention during this early meeting. Various team members would carry out the skits, which usually had the kids rolling with laughter by the end.
Next, kids would follow their teachers to their classrooms, where we'd have 50 minutes of traditional class time, teachers in standing in front of the students lecturing, using games and activities to get them involved. When class time ended, the group of students was split in two, one group going to music class for an hour, the other group going to word games, which reinforced the lesson taught during class. After the hour had passed, students, who were grouped with regard to age and English level, would swap places.
At about noon, we'd head back to town for lunch, and then back to the hotel for mid-afternoon xiuxi before returning to the school at 2 p.m. Afternoons were literally all fun and games. The group would split again, with half of the students going to recreation and the others to arts and crafts. After 1 1/2 hours, we'd switch. These activities allowed the kids to let their creative and athletic energies flow, and we taught them a little bit of English as they went along.
During the morning assembly on Day 1, we did an American Idol simulation. Frank used my black guitar to impersonate Elvis, Joe sung a horrific version of a popular boyband song, and Charlotte "won" with an opera rendition of "Happy Birthday." After the assault on the ears was over, I joined my fellow teachers and met my class.
I couldn't have asked to be stuck with better teachers. Jon Sieg is amazing guy whose Chinese is on a level similar to mine. Combining our knowledge, we could translate pretty well. A goofy but caring guy, Jon taught with an uncanny energy that the kids could feel, and they had the most fun when he was in front of the class. Both having experience teaching English in China, we made a good tandem, each stepping in when we felt like the other was floundering.
Christy Saucier rounded out the group. The 16-year-old is mature for her age, and she looks like she's five years older than most of the students. When we played the "guess our age" game, the students wouldn't believe that she was either their age or a little older. She mostly relied on Jon and me to set the tone for the class, but she stepped in nicely when called upon.
Our first lesson with the kids was very simple. We practiced easy sentences like "Hello, my name is...," "Where do you live?" and "What do you have?" Contrary to what we expected, we had to adjust the curriculum to fit our class, which boasted a relatively high English level. I did hear a lot of canned responses, stuff they had memorized from dialogues and books. They had problems understanding questions pointed directly at them, and they were uncomfortable with questions that don't have automatic responses. Basically, they were running into the same problems I've been facing while trying to learn Chinese.
But we're here to help them get out of their comfort zones, something that's necessary when learning a language. If you never have the courage to practice, you'll rely on book knowledge and never improve your conversation skills. My poor conversational Chinese attests to that.