Michael Cho is a Chinese American, Cantonese to be specific, raised in South America for 10 years. This past summer, he had the opportunity to travel to China as part of a teaching program to teach English to school children in China. He is the co-founder of Impress Ink (www.impressink.com) and a former president of the UCF Chinese American Student Association. He serves on the Asia Trend Community Learning Center’s Youth Advisory Board.
How did you find out about this program? What are the requirements? How long is the stay and how much are you paid?
I took some time to do some solid research. I reached out to Chinese Cultural and Education Center (CCEC) (http://www.ccecbridge.org/) based in Spartanburg, South Carolina and they offered me a 1 month all expense paid program over the month of July 2014. You basically need to have a bachelor’s degree, teaching experience and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification) is strongly suggested. It was a month long program split into two separate summer “camps” for public school Chinese Students. This program was specifically an American Cultural enrichment and English program. It gave me great insight about the fact that Chinese Youth love American Culture. In China, the people are very open to learning about the cultural side of America, but it’s the political side that’s sensitive. The one month long program is non-paid but all expenses including airfare, food, lodging and even touring is included.
Do you encourage others to try this program out?
I truly believe it’s a must-do experience for young professionals. You really immerse yourself in another culture and you have a responsibility to motivate and educate them.
All the students felt privileged to be taught by a foreigner, but you being a teacher yourself – it’s a privilege to be able to influence the youth of another nation. It’s certainly a different experience than backpacking or traveling, because I believe you don’t get to immerse yourself within the deep fabric of the culture and enact real cultural exchange.
Personally as a Chinese American, I know that I will never live in the land that I came from, but by being able to give back just that much is a very rewarding experience.
What are some things you learned about China when you were there?
Chinese Youth have one of the most rigid academic schedules, some students go to school from 7am to 7pm and then they have about 5 hours of homework after school. Many of my students loved sports but due to the academic standards, making time for it was very difficult. Everyone loves American Culture whether it’s the music, movies, actors or athletes. They know Jeremy Lin..it is a sign of pride, but in terms of idols everyone knows Kobe or Lebron James.
They don’t have to many role models in China. many students look up to foreigners. That’s maybe a reason the students were felt very privileged to have me as an Asian American Teacher (I was the only Asian American in our group). We could relate although my culture was still different from theirs.
Although I got a chance to see the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City in Beijing, temples and all those majestic sights, being able to interact and learn from the people for 30 straight days was the best experience I had.
What impressed you most about the school children and what surprised you the most?
Their motivations, influences and interests and curiosities are very similar to American People – they are very respectful, they regard teachers almost as a second parent. When I asked my class of 35 students what they wanted to be when they grew up, over 70% answered: teacher. They are very generous also – I had to buy another piece of luggage just for the gifts I received.
What do you think students in China need today?
Curriculum in Chinese Education is very stringent, it’s focused towards passing exams. We are not the only country that has the “assessment test” dilemma. I think they need room to be creative, opportunities to take initiative and be able to express themselves in things they are passionate about. I think this will improve the Chinese culture in terms of the Arts, Sports and everything in between.
What are some typical daily meals for children in China? What was your favorite things to eat in China?
You can find Rice in every meal, vegetables, meat is usually the smallest portion. All the students in the morning would either eat Man Tou (wheat buns) or drink Rice Porridge, that’s probably why most are very skinny.
I was privileged to eat all types of food from Hebei Province which is very different from what we eat here in American which mostly consists of southern, Cantonese style dishes. The favorite thing I ate is a popular street food called Lu Ruo Huo Shao, Donkey Pancake. Yes, donkey meat sliced between two crispy Chinese pancakes, a similar texture to a dense croissant. It was delicious and I think all the American Teachers liked it.
What are some things that you noticed about changes in China or things you were most surprised about?
Construction is in every corner. There will always be a crane in sight. A small city in China, is over 1 million people. Everyone lives in an apartment for the most part, The sou. Night markets are very fun, sometimes about 1 mile long filled with inexpensive food and shopping goods. Everything is big in China whether is a shopping mall, supermarket or restaurant. The last time I went to china was in 2005, the difference is tremendous and wealth is everywhere.
China is definitely moving ahead.
Photos: Mike Cho