Yali Students Reaching Out

Senior 1 student Renee hands out candy to the winner of an English game in Fujian.

In the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Yale’s Chinese Student Association (CSA) organized a series of activities and events to raise funds and awareness on behalf of the earthquake’s victims. Among these activities, the most ambitious – and most lasting – was Reach Out China.

During Yale’s Spring Break in March 2009, several members of CSA organized a trip – Yale Reach Out China – bringing Yale students to Sichuan, China, to do a week of service as English teachers. At the time, two of the Yale-China Teaching Fellows at Yali Senior Middle School in Changsha, Hunan Province, were also searching for opportunities to allow their students a chance to contribute to relief efforts.  They teamed up with Yale Reach Out and started a relationship that continues to this day.

Following the success of the 2009 trip, the Yali Fellows have continued to team up with Yale Reach Out China to offer Yali students an intensive week of community service. In 2010, we delved into issues of urban poverty at migrant worker school in Beijing. This year, from March 6-13, we explored rural development at Baisha Junior Middle School in the Fujian Province countryside.

Besides Yale, we have also teamed up with a third school, Xiamen Foreign Language School (XFLS). Students from the 3 schools divided into triplets – 1 Yali student, 1 Yale student, 1 XFLS students – to team-teach English at Baisha. This was a unique opportunity for our Yali students to intensively engage with a very different region (geographically, economically) of China, while also building relationships and cultural understanding, and exploring the idea of community service in a cross-cultural context.

During the trip, our students maintained a daily blog of their experiences and ideas, writing in both English and Chinese. Please check it out to learn more about their experience: http://www.blog.sohu.com/people/yalisuo2011.

Editor’s Note: Several of the Teaching Fellows who will be joining us as Leaders during the program teach at other Yale-China teaching sites, though they have all spent time in Xiuning. We have asked these Fellows to share their experiences at their own teaching sites in order to give you a fuller picture of education in China, providing a wider context for the project sites in Xiuning.

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Baking Bread in China

It took me a while to accept that fact that I did not come to China to eat good bread. I came to eat dumplings, noodles, pot-stickers, and stir-fry.  I came to sample the multitudinous kinds of tofu, and to try each of the 8 (or 4, or 9, or 10, depending on whom you’re asking) famous Chinese Cuisines. But I did not come to eat bread.

Nonetheless, every time I pass by a Chinese bakery, I am filled with pangs of longing for plain, oven baked bread. For that elegantly simple combination of flour, water, salt and yeast, that is both glorified in haute-cuisine and is still a non-ironic staple for hundreds of millions.

Chinese bread is not so simple. On many occasions, I’ve sampled bread expecting to eat something like a French baguette, only to have my tongue shout in alarm as what it tasted was sweeter than a lollipop.  One time, we fellows bought what we thought was a sweet-bread to make french toast, and discovered that the sweet outside of the bread was complimented by a savory meat-filled core. It was not the best breakfast.

So, when the craving hits, it’s up to us to recreate the French peasant experience in rural China.

First, you gotta get your flour. Out here, forget whole grains, rye, or spelt; You’ve got one option: 面粉, mian fen, or bread flour, which everyone here uses to make 拉面 pulled noodles. We get ours across the street.

Salt is easy. Except for the past two weeks, when every store sold out of Iodized salt because of a national frenzy of people believing that iodine will help prevent radiation poisoning from the Japanese fallout.

As for water, certainly don’t use the tap. We get ours in 20 liter jugs that are delivered to the high school in quantities enough to hydrate the two thousand plus students.

And yeast, I brought a jar back from America to make things easy. But, yeast is a wild organism. Soon, I’ll try cultivating a little of the Xiuning variety and see happens.

Ovens are in short supply here. They are not a traditional Chinese cooking method, so electric ovens are tiny and expensive.

After a lot of love (which in the dead of winter involved maintaining a double layered steam bath for the dough as it was rising), we get the final product. Bread. Even a little sour. Here’s a picture of the most recent success story.

When you yourself come here, you too will have the opportunity to sample some Chinese baking. It’s not bad, as long as you’re expectations are appropriate.

Ask not for a baguette, and you shall receive.

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Teaching Three-Part Harmony

Choir rehearsal for "Robin Hood" musical at Xiuzhong

Teaching three-part harmony in China is like teaching three-part harmony in America—it’s difficult! Here at Xiuning Middle School (Xiuzhong for short), the only music the students produce is either in the shower or in their weekly “arts” class (and these classes are only scheduled for freshmen and consists of unison singing only). As part of an annual extracurricular tradition, the four Teaching Fellows here at Xiuzhong are preparing a musical, “Robin Hood,” which is set to go on stage in mid-May. After our first rehearsal last month, I realized that we had a fairly practical distribution of sopranos, altos, and basses among the 12 chorus students. I decided to try teaching individual parts to the three vocal sections.

What I learned was that when students have not had exposure to singing in sectionalized harmony, it is much easier to begin by feeding students their vocal lines in a call-and-response style. This kind of rote memorization and repetition of melodies was an effective way of teaching harmony quickly.

This past weekend during our annual spring teaching conference, I worked with some visiting Teaching Fellows from Changsha and Hong Kong to try to employ a more self-sustaining method of singing. We rehearsed one of our songs without the crutch of a piano, and we discovered that a cappella singing (without accompaniment) was perhaps not as easy as those singers at Carnegie Hall make it seem! The moment I took them outside of the music room—and therefore outside the comfort of hearing their lines with the piano—their polished harmony collapsed, as well as their confidence. Nevertheless, I expect the students to rise to the occasion, as students from previous plays have done.

Opening night is just a month and a half away! We started with students who were just headshots and names in our computers, and now the actors have become the characters. On top of everything, all of the students are using only English! We’re so proud, and we can’t wait to share more stories about these amazing students!

Check out these two audio samples from our “Robin Hood” choir rehearsals.

Two Tigers–the students sing “Frere Jacques” in Chinese in a round at the first rehearsal.

Happy Birthday–the students sing a version of “Happy Birthday” in three-part harmony. This is their second time rehearsing this song with all three parts. They learned this in 15 minutes.

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Countryside Photo

The current Teaching Fellows just held their spring teaching conference at Xiuning Middle School this weekend. As part of the conference, they took a trip into the next county over from Xiuning (Yixian) to visit some historic villages. Here is a photo of the countryside along the way:

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In this space, Yale-China Teaching Fellows (current and former) will share their experiences and answer your questions in preparation for the Yale-China/Yale Alumni Service Corps (YASC) program in Xiuning in 2011. Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and visit often!

Editor’s Note: Several of the Teaching Fellows who will be joining us as Leaders during the program teach at other Yale-China teaching sites, though they have all spent time in Xiuning. We have asked these Fellows to share their experiences at their own teaching sites in order to give you a fuller picture of China, providing a wider context for the project sites in Xiuning.

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Get Ready for Xiuning!

In the coming weeks, we hope this blog will serve as a forum for Yale-China/YASC cultural exchange participants to interact with Yale-China’s Teaching Fellows on the ground in China.  Prepare for your trip by learning about life in China from these “foreigners” who are experiencing it first-hand!

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