A Day in with CSi in Xi’an

1 city

2 universities

14 team members

19 days

63 English classes

Xi’an. Early morning. Sharp tones of strings come to us through open windows of our high rise hotel. Peeking out at the park across the street we can see the synchronized movements of scores of men and women as they perform their morning exercises. The team meets in the lounge of the team leader’s suite. Sitting on chairs, the couch, the floor and window ledge we receive and share information in coordination for a successful day with Chinese students. There is a feeling of solidly being in one another’s corner. There are offers of encouragement and help. Details are nailed down. We move to breakfast in the hotel restaurant where we choose from an array of savory options. Conversations buzz, laughter breaks out as we prepare for a day of teaching and engagement with students and faculty.

Heading out with our teaching partners, we review details for our lessons that day. The morning then passes quickly as we review pronunciation, explain and practice idioms, and become engaged with fiction or non-fiction texts through a variety of exercises. Questions regarding culture flow back and forth. “What is your favorite Chinese movie?” “Do you ride a bike to work?” “How many hours by train is your hometown from here?” Conversations begun after class continue into lunch over plates of noodles and vegetables for steaming bowls of dumplings. Voices rise and fall as chopsticks move from bowls to mouths. Afternoons give way to stimulating meetings with faculty members. Cups of hot tea, fresh fruit, and biscuits confirm the Chinese reputation for hospitality. Chinese teachers of English eagerly discuss techniques of teaching and student engagement. Some teachers share the way in which their lives were touched by foreign teachers when they were students. The warm reception by the teachers encourages us to look forward to returning to this campus.

For Coach Brown and his assistant Beth afternoons are punctuated with the thump, thump, thump of basketballs. They meet with avid players to offer instruction and encouragement. Students flock to the courts to practice their dribbling, shooting, and rebound skills. Hungry to learn, students work hard to improve in the warm spring sunshine. Some CSI team members mingle with the crowd, engage with students and cheer on the players.

Dinnertime finds us in small groups at area restaurants. Students interpret and explain the menu choices. Decisions are made adding dishes such as crispy fish in sauce, special green beans, and tomatoes and eggs. Strong aromas from the kitchen whet our appetites. Hot tea is passed. We ask students about their English names. How did they choose them? When did they begin to learn English. What do they hope to do with their lives? The dishes begin to arrive. Adjusting our chop sticks we dig in, gently turning the lazy susan to take our turn at the fragrant dishes. At the end of the meal we bid goodbye to the restaurant staff with smiles and thanks and make our way to the evening meeting.

Excitement rises as students arrive to the lecture hall for the evening meeting. Aaron begins batting balloons up, down, and around the rows of students. More students arrive, filling the hall. Applause erupts as Corey begins to lead all in song with her individual and appealing style on the guitar. Voices lift in song. Rhythmic clapping of hands. Cheering and whistles at the end of “Country Roads.” Now, it’s skit time. Hands lift and compete for attention as students clamor to participate. Foolishness and laughter ensues. How did that girl manage to get the cookie from her forehead to her mouth and not drop it? (no hands allowed, of course!) Breath is lost laughing as she squinched her nose and mouth to move the cookie down her face. Good sport! She won! It quiets down as the speaker for the lecture is introduced. Topic this year: Leadership. The atmosphere in the room becomes contemplative. At the conclusion of the program students and team members pursue conversations before heading back to their rooms for the night.

We make our way back to the hotel. It has been a long day. Meeting in our room on the 18th floor we can hear the cracks of whips from the park as men keep tops spinning, spinning, spinning. We join to review the joys and challenges our day. New relationships with students and faculty. Thanks and encouragement to team members. Advice is shared on how to make tomorrow even better. The support for one another makes us all stronger.

At the end of the week there is a satisfaction of a well spent week. We have shared ourselves with many new acquaintances who we trust will become friends. As we say goodbye, we look to the hope of returning next May.

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