OSCA China 2012

OSCA Beijing 2012

 Our team arrived in dribs and drabs on 5th July 2012, with some members meeting at the airport to get the same flights out to Beijing.  After mistakenly ordering Japanese food for our first team meal in China, the jet lag hit us and we all crashed in our own fancy ensuite rooms, ready to hit the ground running the next day.

The morning was the start of a pretty packed preparation week, which started with meeting Suse – a teacher from RDFZ (the school we were based at for both camps), and making massive lists of all the equipment and stationary we would need for both camps (estimates of ‘800 sheets of paper’ and ’65 cupcakes’ per camp seemed extortionate but actually didn’t go that far!).  The block we were teaching in was going to be demolished as soon as our camps were over (buildings are typically built to last for 10 years in China because it’s cheaper to re-build than renovate), so the rest of the day was spent deep-cleaning and beautifying our classrooms, which looked as though nothing had been invested in their upkeep since building them!  We also went over lesson plans, and started work on our extra-curricular activities and afternoon activities (each teacher plans a big activity for all 120 kids, e.g. a fashion show, British birthday afternoon, or a murder mystery).

The rest of prep week was spent exploring Beijing and the surrounding area, with a trip out to see the Great Wall and a day spent cycling through Beijing’s hutong (the old parts of the city), which was incredible and one of the best days of the entire trip.  We also tried our haggling skills at the countless markets as well as experiencing Beijing’s nightlife (specifically a club called Propaganda)

The opening ceremony to the first camp was terrifying!  Standing in front of 120 kids and introducing yourself, singing the OSCA song (to the theme tune of Bob the Builder) - with actions - and performing a Cinderella pantomime was a new experience for most of us and took some getting used to!  After interviewing each student individually, we set the 6 classes of 20 and each took our newly assigned group to their classrooms to start ice breaker games before Lunch.

I had class 4, the highest of the lower ability sets, but taught classes 4 – 6.  When miming ‘possessed zombie’ and ‘fat Christmas turkey’ become routine, self-consciousness soon goes out the window, and you stop caring that you are covered in board chalk (having written every single new word you say on the board 3 times by the end of one morning), can’t act (‘possessed’ is quite tricky, in all fairness) or sing (neither can they) and start loving the teaching experience, content in the knowledge that the kids are having a good time and, regardless of what anyone else says, your class is in fact the best of the six.

Teaching kids who do not speak English, when you cannot speak Chinese, was very challenging (cases of –‘Do you understand?’ – ‘Yes’ – ‘So what do you want to write about?’ – ‘Yes’ – were far too common).  However, with the help of the teaching assistants, the satisfaction you feel at the end of the camp when you realise how much the kids have learnt is like nothing else.  After seeing the effort the kids were making to speak English and formulate correct sentences, I want to make the effort to learn Chinese for them.

By far one of the best parts of the camp day was the afternoon activities.  Organising a huge event for 120 kids is challenging, but when it works, is so much fun!  One of the best was the disco dancing afternoon, where each teacher taught a different dance routine to each class on rotation, which culminated in a massive dance-off in the school’s purpose-built ‘party room’ to the Macarena; Cha Cha Slide; 5,6,7,8; Reach (for the Stars); Saturday Night and the YMCA.  We also hosted a British birthday party afternoon (complete with cake fight), Olympics / sports day afternoon, fashion show, and a murder mystery (highlight of this being one teenage boy standing over my ‘dead’ body and shouting “Cinderella! Is you dead?!” in half-broken tones), amongst others.

Taking 120 kids on a school trip is quite an experience and I can understand why our teachers at school were always reluctant to take us!  Camp 1 went to Beijing Zoo and an alien exhibition, and Camp 2 went to the Old Summer Palace and Ice Age 4 (we were definitely more excited than them!)  Bus-ing 120 kids across Beijing on three coaches, across main roads (when they dawdle and don’t understand ‘hurry up!’ as the traffic drives at them) and up three lifts to the top floor of the supposedly largest shopping mall in Asia to get to the cinema right at the back is no mean feat.  But this was a really great way to get to know more about the kids outside lessons and see what they were really interested in (e.g. 14 year-old Sheldon, who chose his English name from The Big Bang Theory, and who was competing in an international chess competition in May, or 12 year-old Tommy, who was (taller than me and) at RDFZ on a basketball scholarship and who wanted to be an MBA star).

The closing ceremony of both camps was surprisingly emotional, knowing that we would probably never see the kids again. The class plays were amusing (Steve Jobs pays Harry Potter to murder Bill Gates, which is solved by Sherlock Holmes; other suspects being Kung Fu Panda, Lady Gaga and Hamlet), and showed how much the kids’ confidence had increased over the camps. I hope they enjoyed OSCA as much as we enjoyed teaching it!

After OSCA, three out of the seven of us returned to the UK to do internships / to work, and four carried on travelling down through China to Hong Kong via night train (to Xi’An); plane (to Guilin); coach (Yangshuo and Xingping), and night bus (to HK).  The best day here was hiring bikes in Yangshuo and cycling out to be punted down the river on bamboo rafts, before picking up our bikes again and going for a swim.  China is such an amazing country; the scenery is breath-taking and there’s so much to explore.   The rest of China is so varied and so different to Beijing that I would definitely recommend travelling through China afterwards for as long as you can.  Travelling here has definitely instilled in me a life-long love for China and I intend to return as much as I can in the future! In terms of cost, flights were about £90, night trains/buses were £20 – 40, and hostels (which were amazing!) were about £3 – 5 per night – HK is much more expensive and largely comparable to London (August 2012 prices).

Typical Day:

8: Wake up, walk to street vendor to buy breakfast

8.30: Grab equipment needed for lessons that day, meet teachers and TAs in equipment room

9.05 – 9.55: Lesson 1

10 – 10.50: Lesson 2

10.50 – 11.05: Break!

11.05 – 11.55: Lesson 3

12 – 1: Lunch in the school cafeteria

1.05 – 2: Tutorial time – teacher speaks to students individually whilst the others write camp diaries, practise play for closing ceremony

2.05 – 3.20: Extra Curricular Activity: e.g. group games, rocket-building, tower-building – each class rotates through the teachers across the camp

3.20 – 3.30: Break!

3.30 – 5: Afternoon activity, Suse talks to kids before they go home

5: Free time – Grab food / go out for a meal later, sightsee in Beijing / go out in Beijing.