There area lot of words to describe how I feel after the end of SOS 2013. Sad. Happy. Homesick. Lonely. Exhausted. Excited. Nostalgic. Confused. The list could go on forever. However, I think the biggest emotion I feel is pride.

When I went to the airport at LA with Maddy and Kai after our layover in Tokyo, we all had to speak with customs officers. Mine asked me where I had been (China), what I had been doing (teaching English), and how my Mandarin was (poor, bordering on nonexistent). After all that, he asked me “did you make a difference?” I had been quick to answer all of his other questions, but that one made me pause for a second. It’s a little arrogant to declare that I went to China for seven weeks and managed to make a difference. However, after contemplating for a little bit, I replied “I think so.” And you know what? I really do. At least, I hope that I, along with the other SOSers, made a difference. I hope that we made an impact on our students (read: friends) that is going to last more than just a couple weeks after PIJ finished. I know that they all made an impact on me, and I’ve definitely learned just as much, if not more, about myself and those around me as I did last summer.

It’s not easy to leave your friends and family for two months to head off to “rural” China. It’s not easy to switch from being a student to being a teacher. It’s not easy to think of lessons every night and teach them every day. It’s not easy adapting to China. It’s not easy to talk in your second language all day everyday for close to six weeks.  It’s not easy performing in front of a hundred people. It’s not easy learning to put others before yourself. Nothing that we, or our students, did this summer was easy. But we did it, and we all did it pretty well if I do say so myself. Therefore, looking back on this summer I think the emotion I’m going to remember most and feel for quite a long time is pride. I remembering having some doubts and concerns at the start (what leader doesn’t?), but the SOSers proved to me time and time again that they were more than capable of doing what PIJ asked, and needed, them to do. Our students also put forth phenomenal effort. The difference in their spoken English, and probably more important, confidence levels from the start of the summer to the end was enormous. Seeing how much everyone improved this summer (students and teachers alike) was nothing short of magical. Something that really stuck with me since the start of PIJ is part of what Alex said in his opening speech. He mentioned that we have 11 teachers and a little over a hundred participants in SOS. Those 11 teachers are responsible for teaching those hundred students, who will then go on to have their own classrooms of probably 50 or more students.  When it’s put that way, it’s easy to see how far reaching SOS’s influence is. I thought that was slightly terrifying at first, but I honestly couldn’t be prouder of the work that every single SOSer and student put forward this summer. I know that our students are going to have a lot to take away from this program that they can teach their students, and that is simply amazing. When people ask me what I did this summer, I usually reply with an easy “I taught English in China.” However, what we all did this summer was so much more than that (it’s impossible to summarize this summer), and I hope that nobody forgets that.

Some other SOSers have mentioned this, but I really do think that the memories we created this summer deserve to be remembered much longer than I guess what could be called a honeymoon period. Of course everyone said things like let’s keep in touch, we’ll talk every week, and I hope we can see each other again. How long will we really feel like this? My challenge for everyone at the beginning of the summer was to say yes to everything that came their ways, and my challenge for everyone at the end of the summer is to make an honest effort to keep communicating with our Jishou friends going forward. PIA is all about building bridges (have we mentioned this enough times?), which I think we did fantastic job with this summer. That was the easy part. The hard part is maintaining those relationships that we’ve made, and I have the utmost confidence that we’ll all rise to the occasion.

I want to close this last blog with a huge thank you. Thank you SOSers, thank you Alex, thank you Tony, thank you PIJ. Last but not least, thank you PIA. I said it last summer and I’ll say it again, I owe you big time. SOS is honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I can’t thank everyone that made this possible enough.

Signing off for the last time,

The End

In PIJ, one of our lessons was on stereotype. We taught them what it is, its pros and cons, and had fun singing and choreographing to “Stick to the Status Quo” from High School Musical. It’s ironic though. I think I ended up learning more about it than they were able to learn from us.

You know, I think every one of us made fun of Chinese people at least once in our lives. Chinese tourists are known to be loud and rude, and they are obnoxious hagglers, too. And we always hear about crazy-rich Chinese businessmen and commercial channels about gold-coated five-star hotel in China. On the other hand, we also hear that there are impoverished people in China, deprived of rights and opportunity. And we always say that China and its communist ideas are going to take over the world soon. This is what I thought of China, especially because I never had the chance to personally befriend any Chinese person as I lived in Tanzania and Kenya.

However, five weeks of teaching and getting to know about our dear PIJ students really shattered this narrow perspective I had of China.

The classroom gives an impression that this is an extremely Communist country. On the blackboard at the back of the classroom, they had drawn the Chinese flag, fawning its communist hammer and sickle symbol along with a Chinese soldier patriotically fighting for its nation. At first, this was bizarre! It was as if the Party was consistently watching over me, and it made me nervous and suspicious of my students. However, later I heard from Catherine that Bamboo, one of the brightest students in PIJ, refused to take a picture in front of it because he did not want to be associated with it. And I found out that most students in PIJ were not involved in politics and they were eager to talk about some social and economic problems that Chinese government fail to fix.

Not only that, but through speech club I got to learn about some political, social and personal issues that students cared about. Tiffany talked about the prevalence of family abuse in China and how harmful and unethical it is. Hilary talked about the threatened people group, the Mokens and the importance of protecting and preserving their culture. Kelsey talked about the importance of listening to others whereas Jane talked about how much she loves her family for their devotion and care for her despite their financial limitations. Stone Love surprised me with her passionate speech about socioeconomic discrepancy in China.

Whenever we ate meals with the students, whether it was expensive or not, they wanted to pay for us. The meal we ate together cost 7 to 15 Yuan per person. At first, they made it seem like the cost was moderate because they always wanted to take us to nicer places. However, later April told me that what we eat normally was rather expensive for them. Usually they chose cheaper meal close to 4 Yuan. From this, I learned that most of them are from poor family and are very careful with the money they have. Yet, they were always generous and even took time and effort to get us presents when we left.

Looking back at five weeks we had together, there were so many moments where the students showed genuine love, generosity, and hospitality. And as I got to know more of them, their lives became personal to me. Now, whenever I think of China, I no longer think of the stereotypical Chinese tourists nor communism. Instead, I picture every one of them – Kelsey, Dada, Hilary, Asily, Aaron, Jason, Yihan, Kris, Bamboo, Tiffany, Hazel, Amy, Jolina, Serena, Mary, Jane, Lillian, Angel, April, Alice, Eleven, Andy… And about their families, hopes and dreams.

It’s been an amazing summer. Not only did I make a lot of friends and special memories, it also had broadened my perspectives of China. On top of that, I really began to love and appreciate the Chinese culture and this has led me to rethink about my major and what I want to do for my life. I would say, if you enjoy teaching, if you really have no idea what you want to major in, if you don’t really know anything about Asia, and if you want to be loved by hundred innocent, generous Chinese students, I say come and join PIJ. ☺

But by the way, beware! There are some PIJ side effects. First, you forget how to write well in English. Everything I write nowadays sounds super awkward and full of grammar mistakes. Second, I speak a lot slower and use tons of – unnecessary- hand motions and facial expressions. Thirdly, I forgot how to manage time. I’m too used to the slow-paced, simple lifestyle in China. And lastly, I miss pearl milk tea too much.

More than a Memory

I left China 12 days ago. Now I’m writing this post at a Starbucks in Princeton, sipping a skinny mocha latte in air conditioning. Wow things have changed.
I arrived on campus earlier than most, because I’m an RCA (Residential COllege Advisor.) I’ve already met about 16 kids from the incoming class of 2017. In six days, they’ll be joined by 10 more, and together we’ll do our best to form a micro-community on Princeton’s campus. I’ve already dealt with a mini crisis. Last night, 10 pm, I get a voicemail: “Hey Dylan, this is Paul. My roommates are gone. I have no key. I’m in a towel. Haha.” While I was getting Paul sorted out, he said to me, “I’m really sorry about this. You haven’t even gone through training yet and I’m giving you problems.” It’s true, RCA training starts on Tuesday, but Paul doesn’t know that my real training started on June 25th, the day I stepped off the plane in Shanghai.

I know very little about myself. What I do know, however, is that I have to do something for a while, and then I have to think about the same something for a while and only then will I begin to process that something in a semi-meaningful way. In China, I did a lot of doing, but rarely did any of us have time for thinking. Actually, that’s not entirely true: we thought about our students, we thought about our lessons, we thought about the heat, but we didn’t really think about ourselves. That’s been the best part of the past 10 days. Having 30 minutes to myself and realizing, my God I behave differently. Some differences are concrete. I eat slower; I’m more conscious of my body and its processes; I speak simply. However, most differences are abstract. Here’s some things I’ve started to learn. A quick disclaimer: this is by no means meant to be advice, and I’m sorry if I ever sound preachy. I’m only trying to clumsily flush out my experience.

1) I’m a silly person
I sing to myself loudly when people are around. I speak in bad accents. I decide to play a certain character, but no one else in the conversation is aware of my decision. My only dance move is that knee knock thing that John Travolta does in Grease. My only adult fantasy is to be the coach of my child’s youth soccer team. I never chose to be a silly person; it just happened. It’s how I deal with stress, and this summer, there was a lot of stress. 2 AM- you have diarrhea, and a cockroach crawls into the bathroom, and it slips on the pool of water in the corner, and it slowly drowns in front of you. 6 AM- you’re on a 24 hour train, and it’s hour 16, and you got no sleep, and the baby across from you is really cute but he’s also screaming, and he is peeing anywhere and everywhere. 8 PM- you put something red into your mouth, and someone says oh I love duck blood, and you’re like what the hell is duck blood even though you totally know what duck blood is, and they say it’s blood from a duck, and you keep on chewing because this is your life now. I’ve heard people say that “life is too short to take it seriously.” I would change that to “life is unbearably long if you take it seriously.”

2) Other people are real
In psych 101, we learned about childhood errors of egocentricity. The most obvious is peek-a-boo. A kid can’t see your face, so they think you straight disappeared. I’ve evolved from that point but only slightly. My gut intuition still tells me that everyone in this world sees, hears, tastes, feels, and understands everything in the exact same way I do. I think my egocentricity largely stems from fear. Everyone else around me is just as complex, just as erratic, just as dumb as I am, and that basic idea absolutely terrifies me. Talking about this brings me back 4 years to the day I drove home from the DMV with a spankin new drivers license. I thought: Yeah! I can drive! And then I immediately thought, holy shit, I can kill someone.
Nothing shatters egocentricity like teaching. Everything I did in the classroom was about them- how can I teach this so my students will learn it, how can I teach this so my students will like it, how can I teach this so my students wont fall asleep. It’s easy for me to imagine that other people are like characters in the books I read and love, but I can’t think like that anymore. I have to start treating other people like they’re real.

3) I’m stronger than I thought
Sophomore year was wonderful, but I felt guilty a lot of the time. I felt like I was too soft, and I’m not talking about (just) my stomach. I took comfort for granted. I sought pleasure, but never felt that satisfied. China changed a lot of that. It’s not because I became a better person; pleasure and comfort were just harder to come by. In America, I got what I wanted quickly. In China, I waited, because I had to wait. Now I’m back in the United States. I still seek pleasure and comfort but not with the same vehemence. I don’t feel as guilty. I know that I like most comforts, but I don’t need them to be happy.

Here’s an email I just got from a student

Dear Dylan
how are you?
Long time no see, i miss you very much.
Recently, everything is fresh.i treat the fresh students and see a lot of bother and sister from different place,i feel very happy. And now i am a sophomore and we will face a lot of works to do.I am looking forward to the new thing.
how about you ? my old friend


This summer was much more than a memory.Thanks for reading- thanks and love to Alex, Kelsey, PIA, the SOS crew- and most importantly thanks and love to my students, my old friends.

The End

I hoped that Jishou would help me wind back the hands of time. I expected to go to a city in which buildings over five stories tall were seldom seen, chickens roamed the streets for food, and KTV places filled with surround sound and HDTV screens were only a dream of the local teenagers. Instead, I lived in a bustling city with around 300,000 people. While small by Chinese standards, I thought I was in the wrong city when I first stepped off the train. There were no chickens trying to visit my classroom, but only a cute, stray dog. The description of Jishou on the PiA website implies that it is incredibly underdeveloped and rural. It may be in the middle of nowhere, but it is still a busting, urban city.

The thing that will stick with me most from this summer is the drive to succeed my students exhibited and their motivation to learn. After graduation, most of them will become English teachers. Many will return to their hometowns to teach and how they did in this summer program, or even in school, will not have a large effect on their future plans. The reality is that most English teachers in China can’t speak English. My students weren’t studying in order to put their grades on a resume or apply to an internship. They were learning because they loved to do it. The joy of studying English was enough to make them give up their summer and being with their family. I can only speak for myself, but I was groomed to believe the only thing that mattered in school was getting an “A.” Starting in middle school, I never chose classes because I wanted to learn about that subject. I chose it because it would look good on my transcript. I studied because I wanted the grades to prove that I could handle the pressure of attending a top prep school. I attended a top prep school so that I could prove that I could attend a top university. Learning for the sake of learning was never a primary concern. If I happened to like a subject I was taking, then great. If not, as long as the course title started with “AP,” it didn’t really matter to me. In most areas of China, it is the same way – maybe even more so because of the nature of their college application process. The emphasis is placed on testing well, not learning well.

At Jishou Normal University, it was incredibly refreshing to see students that derived satisfaction not from grades, but being able to master new concepts. Not from beating their peers, but working with them to create ingenious skits and projects. When I return to Princeton, I hope to bring a piece of Jishou back with me. I don’t want to learn for the sake of jumping through hoops, but for myself. I hope that being a student won’t be a job for me, but a privilege so that in the future whatever I do won’t be a job either. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, right?

I finally returned from China on the 30th and I have been trying to catch up on PiA homework and talking to students since then. They aren’t really my students now, but my friends. I know that these next few months are going to be crucial with whether or not they fade into my memory or truly become lifelong friends.

Thanks to all of the other teachers on the trip for making this a summer of new experiences, new friendships, and learning. Also, thanks to PiA for giving me the opportunity to do SOS.

Making Sense of the Haze

My plane (and Maddy’s) arrived late at night on the 21st, and we both made our separate ways home the following morning, having slept about a combined 3 hours at the airport. Needless to say my first day back felt incredibly long. The first thing I ate at NY Penn at 5 am? A McDonald’s breakfast meal, the only thing available at the station at that hour. I hardly ever eat fast food in America, but I was hungry, and I guess that solidified my return. Of course, I immediately put as much hot sauce as I could on my breakfast burrito – Jishou has taught my taste buds to crave the pains of spice more than ever.

1.5 weeks later, not too much has happened in my life. I feel like I’ve been making a whirlwind effort to see high school friends (the precious few who haven’t left yet) and also my college friends who are trickling back to campus for their OA duties. The moment I came back, I tried to launch myself headlong into seeing people, preparing for school, and generally keeping myself busy with whatever, but I haven’t taken much time to look back over my stay in China. It’s weird how a change of place – China to the US – causes a sudden change of “mindset.” All of the nostalgic and doleful feelings of parting with Jishou and our tearful PiJ students faded into a dreamy cloud as I made my sleepy way back home to Princeton from JFK at 4:30 in the morning; it was almost like I was just waking up from some long, amazing dream I had at the airport and coming home to resume my real life.

While I’d like to say that the strongest reminders of my time in Jishou at this point are memories of the people and places, that just isn’t the case. After the telltale jetlag wore off, all I could think about was the food I was now missing. My high school friend told me that I had “gotten hooked on the wrong kind of Chinese food” because it was “too oily,” but I strongly disagree. I mean, most of the time our meals were dripping in oil, but all of the raw, unfettered flavors made up for that. Back here, all the food seems like it’s got something to hide in terms of flavor. And it’s not just the food itself that keeps coming back to me: when I went to a bubble tea place in New York that had Chinese on the menu, my automatic reaction was to start saying some of the Chinese drink-ordering phrases I picked up, like “Hello,” “thank you,” and “I don’t want ice.”

But it’s not like I’m satisfied with remembering only my culinary experiences in Jishou. Historically, I’ve rarely been one to keep in touch with people I’ve met at summer camps and things, I think because I’m easy distracted by new environments. In a way, I’m glad I saved opening and reading most of my students’ letters for when I got home, because probably if I’d read them in China, I’d feel sentimental in the moment, and that feeling would be lessened after coming back to America. Now, those letters are still waiting for me in my room, waiting to take me back across the bright landscape of summer memories that I keep setting aside.

I want to remember my students. They taught me a lot too, and they were always willing to listen and accept me as their teacher, no matter how far I veered off course during class at times. I feel like this summer we were never really able to get past a certain point in getting to know them – partly because of language barriers, and partly because of the teacher-student dynamic. But in Jishou, I remember telling them, “I want to come back here someday.” And that’s still true over here. “When’s someday?” I’m not sure what “someday” means, but until then, I’ve got QQ, email, plenty of ways to contact them every so often.

And of course, there’s our teacher group. You guys are all such interesting people, and I wish I’d given myself more time to sit down with you and get to know you more thoroughly. I’m not sure what will happen after we acknowledge each other back on campus and think, “Hey I taught in China with you huh?” I really hope we can make those mahjong meet-ups a thing.

Anyway, thanks so much everybody.




How to Explain?

I arrived back in the states this past Tuesday, after a successful and rewarding post-SOS journey through Guangdong and Hong Kong, the land of my parents’ childhoods!  Although I’m still waking up at 7 or 8am every day, it is second nature now, a la PIJ lifestyle.  I feel far more motivated now than at the beginning of the summer to get up and go about my day.  I think my daily routine during SOS helped me rediscover just how wonderful it is to keep busy doing meaningful things, even when I’m out of school.


Now we’ve just gotta find the original “Treasure Ding of the 21st Century” by NYC’s UN and compare it to this replica in Zhaoqing!


The front yard of my dad’s childhood home in Jiangmen, say what???  (that’s my dad’s cousin’s daughter right there)

Friends have begun asking how my summer in Jishou was, and frankly, I find myself lost for words.  My mind flips through various scenes, and the feelings and sensations I recall are so strong, yet words hardly do justice to the experience.  I can recall the feeling of my skin baking in the scorching 110°F weather, without a single cloud in the sky.  I can feel the fire that flowed through my veins when I was in teacher mode in the classroom.  I remember the weight that lifted off my chest when I reached the top of a very tall mountain in Dehang that I was not at all fit enough to handle at the beginning of PIJ.  I will never forget the weight of the Grape Lady’s sense of gratitude — and the weight of my promise to her — in the heavy bags of watermelon, grapes, bananas, and muskmelons she gave me every time I passed by her on the street.  (I promised to help her reach out to her daughter and her daughter’s adoptive parents in New Jersey.  Her letter and photos for her daughter are now in my hands.)  So many feelings that all culminated in a sense of personal growth, joy, and fulfillment gained in a world completely different from Princeton.

Yet, it would take multiple conversations over the course of this year for me to explain how exactly SOS has rejuvenated me and taught me so much about life.  I hope I can continue the conversation with friends and family.  But if after our conversations, you are still wondering how a summer of service in a rural, developing area can change the way you see the world and see life, I cannot say more except that there’s really no way to explain it.  You would need to go experience it for yourself.


Students (but more importantly, friends!)


Freshly picked watermelon from my homestay in a student’s village


Dehang National Park

SOS 2013, thank you for the memories!  I will never forget this summer.


The beauty lies within…


From Teacher to Student – Last Thoughts With the End of SOS

Back home, I always enjoy telling people what I did this summer. Though, just saying “I taught English in China” doesn’t really summarize the experience well, since it was way more than just teaching. And of course, most people don’t know what Jishou or Hunan is. Having taught in a city like Shanghai would have been a totally different experience for many reasons and I’m trying my best to do the SOS experience justice.

I’ve also been preparing for a 19th century literature class that I’m taking in the fall. Surprisingly, these books remind me of my time in Jishou. Some girls in Jishou would wear pale colored, frilly, lacy clothes while holding a pale colored, frilly, lacy parasol to keep from tanning. They loved pale skin and would even buy bleaching creams in order to achieve this dream.

I remember in class one day, we did a lesson on Our Little House on the Prairie. We presented a Christmas where homemade presents given and the family was really happy and loving in spite of poverty. The students all talked about the importance of family and how materialism couldn’t overcome that. They were really ardent about that notion. So I decided to extend that principle to marriage. I simply asked my precept that week (which was all girls), if money could buy love. I was expecting the students to keep with a consistent answer with their earlier opinion about family saying true love matters more, but instead they said, “Yes, money does buy love.” They supported their choice by giving me a lot of reasons that had to do with supporting the family: “you need money in case your family needs to go to the hospital”, “you need money to pay for your child’s education”, “you need money to take care of your parents when they get old”… They said that love does, of course, matter in marriage, but if they had to choose in an extreme case between true love and financial stability for the family, they would rather choose money in a loveless marriage.

I learned a lot this summer and this is just one of those things that I learned. This was, of course, just some loose and superficial parallels that I drew myself from the little I know of China. Anyway, for now, I am moving back from the position of teacher to student. I am preparing for new semester at Princeton and cannot wait to start sophomore year. I’m excited to see my fellow SOSers back on campus and to visit the PiA office in a little more than a week!

I just finished replying to an e-mail from Dolphin Hilary and wished a happy birthday to Starfish Bamboo on Facebook. I’m still talking to students everyday on the Internet. Even though keeping in touch with them is nice, it is bittersweet. A thin layer of hopelessness concerning future meetings forms more and more concretely on our conversations day by day as the students ask me questions about my return. Even if I went back to Jishou any time soon (which I don’t think I will because I’m not sure if I’ll be in China in the near future), a lot of the students would have graduated and be elsewhere in the country. In that case, I’m not sure I would be able to travel wherever the students would be in the massive country that is China. Therefore, I probably won’t see them again, since a lot of them will stay home and won’t come to America (because they don’t have the means or the opportunity to do so or because they don’t want to). However, you never know what the future holds! For now, I’m waiting for Tony to come here!

Goodbye Jishou,

Thanks for an incredible summer!


Here is one last derp Starfish class picture

Here is one last derp Starfish class picture

Oh My Lady Gaga – It’s Over

Over two weeks have passed since my last blog post, and I have bittersweetly come to realize that this will be wrap up my “Summer of Service”. In short, this has been one of the best summers in my life (it probably even beats June 1994!), and it has certainly influenced my perception of the world and, in turn, myself.

The last Tuesday night of PiJ stretched out slightly longer than expected; when I finally sat down to write my letters to my students it was already midnight (after an impromptu late night BBQ “snack” with Kai, Catherine, Sohee, and our students Macy and Lin. While I cannot claim that each letter was written with an equal level of passion, writing those letters was somewhat therapeutic in a painful way where I reflected on the friendship that were only starting to seriously develop, and how I was to be torn away from them so quickly. My lemon tea could not keep my awake and I soon found myself “working” in bed. The next morning was a frantic rush as Kai, Catherine, and I wrote short notes/signed the notes that someone else had written (we divided up our class and each of us wrote letters to 1/3 of our students). We showed up a few minutes late – but who really cares on the last day of class? Our students had beautiful letters to give to us (many of them pieces of origami), which I certainly shall cherish for a long time.

I was particularly touched by our class’ spirit at the closing ceremony. We didn’t have anything planned, but as we started handing out the certificates of completion each student subsequently hugged Catherine, Kai, and me. The starfish level may not be as loud or boisterous (or strong as seen through the Olympics) as the other levels, but they have heart. We are not the cheering level as much as the hugging level.


After the closing ceremony we had a whirlwind afternoon and evening: Cat and I ate lunch with Hilary and Lin and realized how much worse our table manners have gotten, Kai, Cat, and I went to KTV (karaoke) with our class and found out many of them are really great singers, I met Jen and Hilary for bubble tea, and then I ran back to prepare for the closing banquet. Throughout this round of social events I couldn’t help but think when looking at my students – Will I ever see you again? This question is unanswerable because I really don’t know where my life will lead me, and as much as I would like it to lead me back to Hunan – I don’t know if it will. I will try to keep in touch with them, but I am uncertain if I will ever share a meal, laugh or joke with them again.


I awoke at 4:00 AM on Thursday morning, and I lay in bed mourning how fast this summer had gone by, and wondering if I could have done more. After pacing around the hotel like a caged animal (quite literally since the gate was locked), I left when the maid unlocked the front gate at 6:00 AM. That morning I walked down the river that runs through Jishou one last time, taking pictures of the beautiful bridges that traverse the river. I then took some back streets to return to campus, and I eventually found myself pretty lost (although I knew I was under 1/4 mile from the main road). After reading some One-Child Policy propaganda painted on the side of a building, I tried to make my way out. I eventually found the road I was on narrow almost to a point. After turning away once and getting even more lost, I knew where I was. I squeezed myself through the 1 foot wide hole at the tip of the point and I found myself on a driveway leading up to the main road. Whew! But the magic of that morning was not done yet. Just as I was walking up to campus I ran into Hilary getting into a taxi. I helped her with her luggage and we hugged one last time. Goodbye.

The rest of Thursday was something of a blur. Catherine, Kai, and I went out for a Starfish lunch with some students, I got a haircut, Catherine, Kai, and I helped Professor Robert Liu practice his interview for a fellowship at North Carolina State University, I had my hair cut, Tony and Alex pulled a stray hair from my eye using tweezers, Jen and I met our Jishou University friends, and Maddie, Richard, and I had one last bedside chat in the hotel. Ah, the end . . .


I can’t, however, forget about our four-legged friend who made this summer even more special. She is Potato, the stray mutt/terrier. She may be a bit dirty, and she may playfully bite more than I would prefer, but I am amazed by the process of our friendship. During the first week she wouldn’t even come near me when I had food, now she gallops down the street to meet me. She has really become the PiJ dog: hiking mountains with us, going to breakfast with us, watching the talent show with us. When Tiffany’s speech was being introduced at the Talent Show, Potato even tried to accept the first-prize status on behalf of Tiffany by galloping on stage to greet the emcees, Tom and Jason. I am gonna miss that little mutt.

But even Potato couldn’t get on the train with us, and some prolonged goodbyes later we had left everyone – even Tony. =(

Shanghai was a different world. Probably the highlight was eating Xinjiang BBQ (Kai and I made it home!), but I think coming from Jishou, Shanghai never had a chance to succeed in my opinion. It has all of the splendor, but none of the earthy charm that I found in Jishou.


Jen and I then split off from the group when PiJ officially ended on Monday. An 18 hour train ride in hard seats later, we were in Guangdong Province so Jen could reconnect with her heritage and I could learn about 1/4 of my heritage. Besides learning how warm-hearted Chinese people are towards guests, this entire mini-trip gave me a second perspective of China. From the food (sweet and simple instead of spicy), to the cities (overall much wealthier), to the manners (a much higher emphasis on cleanliness) and even the language (Cantonese, not Mandarin is the basic language of communication) I found a different “China”. Furthermore, while some of my students’ parents, or they themselves have worked in factories in Guangdong Province, I got to hear from the Cantonese perspective what it is like to have your homeland overrun by “foreigners”. This entire experience really relates back to what I learned this summer about China – What is China? China is composed of 34 governmental divisions, 56 ethnic minorities, and 1.4 billion people. And each person has their own story. Wow.

Now I am back in America, sitting, sleeping, and preparing for the coming semester. This summer seems so far away (temporally and physically), but I don’t see how it can ever be forgotten. I am really starting to think I learned as much this summer as my students (maybe more), and I really don’t want it to end. For now, I can only work to solidify these bridges built over the last two months and wait for the day when they can be crossed again.




How about your hometown?

What have I been doing at home? Thanks for asking, faithful SoS blog reader!

1. Answering vaguely huge questions like “Was China amazing? What surprised you?” (can I think for a sec?) and some more down-to-brass-tacks questions like “Did you have a body guard the whole time?” (we didn’t)

2. Eating super high-calorie food to gain back the weight I wish I’d lost in China but didn’t

3. This! (reconnecting with family and even getting along sometimes)

4. Trying to read 4 books at once before heading to school as suggested to me by a friend, a grandparent, and both parents. Oy.

5. Spending all too much time playing with the kitties my family got while I was away

James examining piles of unpacked Jishou goodies

James examining piles of unpacked Jishou goodies

Hugo snoozin

Hugo snoozin

6. Not knowing how to respond to student emails like

“Dear Maddy,
how are you?You are busy or  not? I want to describe something we did together to show who I am but I find it is hard.I wish we had spent more time to know each other .what a pity !In my mind,you were weird.Oh ,yes.I want to ask you a question.For example ,you were weird in PIJ but I think it’s ture and now you are also weird,so I can say “in my mind,you are weird “,right ?Sometime ,you looks like a boy ∩__∩.I really like that because I was a boy as well.Anyway ,I was so lucky in Orca.Others think Orca’s teachers are kindest.(I am not sure it’s kindest or most kind,maybe you can point out my mistakes)and I always said my teachers are  best .Weird Maddy,Childlike Frenk and good wife Sohee.Miss you. I say OR…
with love and kisses
Jolina  ”

7. Packing for Princeton…slowly…

8. And blogging for the last time!  再见!!

Last Words

I remember the first time I heard about Jishou, described as a rural area with a slaughterhouse across the street. From the little details I could get from Alex and Kelsey, I created my own chickens-running-around-everywhere, crops-galore version of Jishou, and I think all of us were surprised when we saw Jishou for the first time. In that way, this trip had a common element of surprise: from the 25-hour train ride on hard seats to the amount of urbanization in Jishou.

While thinking about what to tell the future SOSers, I realize that a lot of the advice I want to tell is essentially the fundamentals we learned during TEFL training and Alex, only slightly expanding on their wise words: making the students talk as much as possible (student-centered = pair share), figuring out your objectives before you plan the lesson (all Alex), writing tests based on the objectives you taught during the week (makes test writing a lot easier!), making sure you give them enough background, especially vocabulary, before discussing the topic of the lesson…I could go on and on after five weeks of teaching. I’ve been teaching for five weeks, but if I could continue, I imagine continuing to constantly revamp my teaching style for teaching vocabulary or working them up to a discussion.

The Orca’s main goal for the final week of teaching was to give the students as much time to talk as possible with minimal instruction from the teachers, which sounds a lot easier than it actually was: I wanted to respond when asked a question or to share my views. Pair sharing was the one activity that always worked and required very little teacher involvement. By the final week, we were also starting to get the hang of how to lead up to a discussion and how much support our students needed. I remember at the beginning of the summer when we underestimated the amount of scaffolding that was needed for reading the text. Initially, we told our students to preview the lesson text and answer both the comprehension and the discussion questions, and we ended up with a lot of discussion question answers that were copied straight from the lesson text. It was then that we realized that they might not be comprehending the text as much as we had expected (we also learned later that they would not ask us if they did not understand a vocabulary word or more importantly how to use this word in a sentence). After discussing with each other, the Orca teachers changed our expectations and assigned the discussion questions after discussing the lesson text in class as homework, to serve as an informal assessment.


Teaching aside, the final days with our students surprised me, not in terms of sadness but how frank they were about our future relationship: students stated “You’re not coming back to Jishou, right?” and the unlikeliness of us keeping in touch, which really made me more cognizant of how the program should not end after the end of this summer. Their words brought my attention back to the big picture of PiA: building mini bridges. For me, I am making it a personal goal to keep in touch with my students and to keep these bridges strong: I want to hear about how easy their English class is after PiJ or the difficulties they face as teachers, for my students that will be teaching next month. I’m still impressed in how much effort my students have shown to keep in touch by creating Skype and Facebook accounts.

I’ve also noticed how much my fellow teachers and I have become more confident, outspoken, and happy because of these transformations, and it could very much be because we had to play the role of a confident, mature teacher. If anything, PiJ has allowed us to change our mindset, as one of the students in PiJ says. We were able to accomplish so much this summer and helped prove to ourselves that we are capable of so much more than we thought when we started this trip. Bargaining for things, which used to be stress-inducing task for me, was actually fun in Shanghai during our last few days. Maybe I had even too much fun. Monica can attest to this one lady who ended up violently poking my head a couple of times after bargaining down a 60 yuan bracelet to 10 yuan.

P.S. Silence is magical. Waiting, without fail, prompted a student to talk, whether it was for clarification of the question or answering the question. A student even wrote that my glances during these moments of silence encouraged them to speak up when they normally would not have.


The Orca Class of 2013