Monday, August 18, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Cecilia Garman

By Cecilia Garman, class of 2011, English and Creative Writing major. 

I am currently living in Harbin, China, teaching students from ages 3 to age 14 at a private English school called Kid Castle. In order to be able to teach English abroad, I had to get my TEFOL/TESOL certificate. 

Teaching the small children takes a lot of energy and patience. They have almost no English skills, so I really have to begin at the beginning. The older children have a better grasp at some parts of English and are able to have a conversation that is understandable, if a little limited. I like to teach the older students better because I get more out of the interactions. I like to think that I am able to pass along some of my love for English and a passion for learning to the students that helps push them into doing better.

When I say I teach English in China, it’s very different than what American students think of as English class. Here, I am teaching the students to speak English. I start from the basics of the alphabet and ‘What’s your name?’ and I work my way up from there. The students at Kid Castle won’t get into literary analysis until after they leave us, in high school or college level English. I get to teach the language, not the art of English. The grammar class I took has been the most helpful to me with trying to help the older students (who are around 12 or 13) to understand the rules of English language.

Living in China has been, at times, a little overwhelming, especially since I speak next to no Mandarin Chinese. I know enough to get by now, so I’m satisfied with that. The strangest thing about living in China is seeing how different the language really is. Because all the signs on shops and billboards are written in simplified Chinese, it’s a little mind boggling to be able to understand almost nothing when I look around me.

I love the experience of being in a foreign country and trying to fend for myself. I’ve forced myself to try things and go outside of my comfort zone and it’s been a really rewarding experience. I’ve learned that baozi is a really good thing to eat for lunch. It’s a steamed bun stuffed with meat or vegetables. I’ve seen an entirely different way of life here. And at the same time, I’ve seen things that are so much like home that it makes me a little homesick. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything though, despite some of the ups and downs I’ve faced.

I was able to travel to Europe thanks to AU’s study abroad program, which helped prepare me for living life in another country. The best preparation I’ve had to come to China that I got from AU, though, has to be from Dr. Lehman. I took an African literature course with him, and I was my first in depth exposure to a foreign lifestyle and culture. I learned cultural appreciation from him; not just for the new culture I’m experiencing, but also for the one I left behind to come here. Without Dr. Lehman’s stories and the experiences he shared with us, I think I might have had a much harder time adjusting to life in China.

After I’m finished with my year in China, I plan to head to other countries to continue teaching English. I have made it to three continents so far and plan to visit three more.