2018 Kunming/Wuhan/Qinghai Team

Kunming University of Science and Technology (Oxbridge)

We originally were going to teach technical things at KUST, but once we got there and taught the first class, we realized we had to massively switch our plans. Because KUST students are not super proficient in English, it was extremely difficult to try to teach anything technical; our level of Chinese was not good enough, and their level of English was not good enough either. As a result, we ended up doing primarily cultural teaching, with bilingual slides and mixed Chinese and English. Luckily, the teaching schedule at KUST was very different from every other school, and each class we taught to different students. Thus, we ended up doing the same thing for all the students (Life at MIT and American Culture).

Although there was a pretty big language barrier, the students at KUST were extremely welcoming. The main students we were paired with really tried to connect with us, teaching us different slang in Chinese, taking us to eat authentic Yunnan food and around the Kunming scenic area. We got to practice/learn Chinese a lot, and they were also able to practice some English with us. Another bump in the road in Kunming was the lack of reliable internet; we basically were unable to connect to the Internet except in one of our dorm rooms, and one of the students had configured my laptop to be able to connect to the Internet via Ethernet (bring a cable!!), and I had to have a hotspot for everyone else to be able to access the Internet. It was slow and difficult to make presentations this way.

Recommendations for future teams going to KUST include preparing slides with both English and Chinese, and being prepared to speak primarily (or at least a lot of) Chinese while there. While it was difficult at first, eventually we got used to it and speaking Chinese so often became much more comfortable.

 

Jurong Country Garden School

The students at JCGS are not only extremely bright, but also hardworking and very good at English. After the first day of our camp, it became apparent that many of the students seemed to be there not because they were interested in MIT or science, but probably because their parents thought that going to this type of camp would help them get into American universities. Nonetheless, we did our best, and tried to make activities fun, engaging, and not too overly “sciencey”. We ended up pretty much sticking to our proposed schedule, although we combined American and Hawaiian culture, and added Python because after the first Python class we realized that the students were extremely excited about what they could do with Python!

At JCGS, the language was definitely not a barrier, but some other challenges we faced included filling up the time, and engagement. Since a lot of the activities we had planned were very science-based but many of the students were more humanities-oriented, this was difficult sometimes. In addition, having three classes per day – 3 hours each in the morning and afternoon, and 2 hours in the evenings, was extremely difficult. To combat this, we added many “team building” exercises – activities like the human knot, trying to flip a newspaper, instruction-writing for “how to eat an Oreo” and more – and these served not only to break up the time, but also to help the students practice working together (something they don’t do very often) in a fun, low-pressure way.

Recommendations for future teams going to JCGS include preparing building activities that could take a long time. For example, we discussed writing good directions (first by having them write, in detail, “how to eat an Oreo”, then discussing scientific papers’ “Methods” sections) and then had them design parachutes, write detailed instructions on how to make them, and then dropped them from the building and timing them. Python was also a huge hit, as it was many of the students’ first introduction to programming. We ended up putting the .EXE file for Anaconda on our USBs and then putting that on the students’ laptops, as well as the Pygame library, so that the students could not only follow along with us in Spyder during the (interactive) PowerPoint, but also have some fun customizing games and see the potential that programming has.

 

Huazhong University of Science and Technology

HUST originally asked us to do a week-long biology camp. We were pretty stumped, since only Athena and Deborah were bio-oriented, Rodger focuses on materials science while Amanda does aerospace. While preparing some of the material was difficult because we had to figure out what to do with so much time they allotted to biology, HUST ended up being one of the most fun places we went to, largely in part due to the students welcoming us so much. The students at HUST had a very high level of English, and that combined with our largely-improved Chinese by the time we got there, made it a very fun time. Those of us who spoke Chinese were able to practice, and even those of us who didn’t speak Chinese were still able to bond and connect with students because everyone spoke English so well.

One thing I noticed by the time we got to Huazhong was that coordinators often ask us to do things based on our majors/what we seem to be interested in and then try to find students that are interested in our subjects. However, at HUST in particular, it was largely students that were part of SICA (Students’ International Communication Association) that were in our class and with us, and a number of them were not science oriented. For going to Huazhong, and honestly most schools in general, I think it would be most beneficial to prepare introductory materials. While this will inevitably end up being boring for a few of the more advanced students, I think it would still be beneficial for all students because they will be able to review things they already know, but in English instead.

 

Qinghai University

Being in Qinghai was extremely fun because the students prepared lots of different activities for us to do while we were not in class (in the evenings and weekend), as Qinghai U is not in the city but in the suburbs, and we were not allowed to leave campus. Nonetheless, being able to spend time with the students of Qinghai University was a huge blessing. The classes were extremely difficult to teach, as the students had weak English skills, and many of our presentations were more technical. Since it is extremely difficult to translate technical terms, we ended up spending a lot of our time trying to translate things, simplify things, or just skipping things since we got extremely technical at points. However, classes were much shorter than they were at other schools, which allowed more time for us to explain the basic points and skip the technical details.

The cultural exchange at Qinghai, however, was extremely rich. Because of the extreme cultural diversity and the fact that we were mainly hosted by the English Circle/Club (the students of which had extremely good English), we got to experience so many different things, and even got to try Tibetan food (not just different styles of Han Chinese food).  Just being able to talk to these students so easily (via WeChat and in person) made it very easy to form friendships and connect with the students at Qinghai University.

A few general suggestions for going to Qinghai University – if you can, get there a bit early because it is really difficult (especially for some people) to adjust to the altitude. Another suggestion would be to have a general idea of what you want to do with your free time in Qinghai, because we were asked what we wanted to do, and besides “Qinghai Lake” didn’t really have an answer. This goes for both free time on the weekends where you have the whole day, but also evenings when students prepared different cultural exchange activities for us (like dancing, calligraphy, etc.).

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