OSCA China 2013

OSCA BEIJING 2013 

The OSCA Beijing camp is definitely an excellent way to teach English to secondary school students, travel to China, have fun over the summer, meet new people and eat lots of good food!

Basic project details

The OSCA Beijing team comprises six teachers and a camp director. There are two camps of 10 days each, with a day’s break after the first five days of camp and a couple of days between each camp; the entire project takes around five weeks. While the dates for 2014 will generally not be confirmed until late Lent/Hilary Term at the earliest, they are likely to be similar to the 2013 dates of 6th July to 6th August (smack in the heat of the Chinese summer!). 

There are around 120 students in each camp, divided into two groups of three classes each, numbered 1-6 with students in class 1 having the highest English standard. The standards can be quite variable, with students in class 1 having near conversational fluency and students in class 6 unable to write complete sentences in English. Both classes present different challenges, of course, but the students are uniformly lovely and eager to learn. It’s such a fantastic feeling to watch the students develop their confidence and speaking abilities throughout the camp; there are always some absolutely amazing transformations.

There are nine teaching days in each camp, with one day set aside for ‘educational field trips’, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We are able to choose where we want to take the students, subject to a few practical concerns like distance and admission costs. But the tradition is to go to a tourist-y place of interest in the morning and then hit the cinemas to watch a Hollywood movie (in English!!) in the afternoon. Excellent fun and a well-appreciated day of relaxation for the teachers. We are also assigned TAs for each class, who are extremely helpful if the teachers don’t speak Mandarin Chinese. Being able to interact socially with our Chinese counterparts (TAs are typically university students, some of whom might even be studying overseas) is a great aspect of the camp as well.

The first morning of each camp begins with an Opening Ceremony where the teachers put on a ridiculously camp pantomime, usually based on a fairy tale and prominently featuring cross-dressing men. (That never fails to crack the students up and start camp off on a superb note!). Each student is interviewed to classify them into the right class for their levels of English. The camp ends with a Closing Ceremony – and this time it’s the students’ turn to put on a play for us! It was really quite impressive to watch all the plays, because they are entirely original and student-written, and some of them have impressive props and plot twists. You could see how much effort students put into it, and it’s so endearing when you see them concentrating really hard on remembering lines on stage. Everything comes to an end with a photo montage of the highlights of the camps (often highly embarrassing).

More about the school

Rendafuzhong (RDFZ), the high school affiliated to Renmin University, is one of the top high schools in Beijing, with approximately 6,000 11-18 year-olds. It has a massive campus with every facility you could think of: indoor swimming pool, 400m track surrounding a football field, basketball courts, indoor gymnasium, etc. Unfortunately, you probably won’t get to use most of the indoor facilities but many of the boys play surprisingly serious games of football in the blazing heat during lunch or after school. The classrooms are in a newly renovated building as well, which means air-conditioning (something you will only fully appreciate after you feel the 38 degree Celsius heat). Teachers are also accommodated very nicely on the guest floors of the international accommodation building, which means individual en-suite rooms with double beds, air-conditioning and (albeit flaky) Wifi.

The school is located in the Haidian District, which is the university district – there are many universities and schools nearby, meaning excellent and cheap amenities (the subway station is right outside the school) like restaurants, pubs, supermarkets, etc. with a very lively and young atmosphere.

A day’s schedule

9 am: classes start

A mad scramble to hook our laptops up to the projector, and then the proper lesson runs for about 50 minutes. Each teacher delivers the planned lesson three times to three different classes, in either the top group (1-3) or the bottom group (4-6). The ten-minute breaks between each lesson are a necessity after 50 exhausting minutes of speaking extra clearly and slowly.

12 pm: lunch

A welcome reprieve from the students; as lovely as they are, after three hours of repeating the same lesson, most of us are mentally exhausted and ready for a break before a longer afternoon’s worth of activities! We had great fun sharing highlights of the day – usually when the kids (or us) said something hilariously wrong.

Lunch is usually taken at the cafeteria, which does a slightly greasy, institutionalized version of Chinese food. There are vegetarian options as well, if necessary, though Beijing in general isn’t very vegetarian-friendly. Part of the camp provisions is also a meal card with enough credits to just about last the entire month if used wisely, but you can also top it up if you need to. 

1.30 pm: journal writing / tutorial time

Also known as quiet time – mostly we made our students write journal entries, ostensibly to give them an OSCA memento, but also to let us have some preparation time for the boisterous drama session that is to come.

2.30 pm: drama time

This is when we do drama exercises and start writing/casting/rehearsing for the Closing Ceremony play! It’s a great way to boost students’ confidence in speaking, and there is ample opportunity to have lots of fun (in English) as well.

3.30 pm: extra-curricular activity

Each teacher chooses an extra-curricular activity with every single class, so you get a chance to interact with everyone and get a feel of how different class dynamics can be! Past activities have included origami, bottle rockets, dance classes, etc.

4.30 pm: afternoon activity

Each teacher plans an Afternoon Activity, which is a massive event for all 120 students and is a great chance for everyone to interact. We have done events like British birthday parties, murder mysteries, fashion shows, among others, to great delight and enjoyment. This is an excellent idea because it ends each camp day on an energetic and upbeat note, which means students return to their parents lively and beaming – a fantastic endorsement!

5.30 pm: end of the day/beginning of the night

Teachers collapse into their rooms for showers and Facebook (the Oxbridge VPN comes in very, very handy for that) before dinner anywhere from 6-8 pm. There are many cheap and good restaurants in the vicinity; we loved this noodle place in the nearby shopping mall, which does great pick-your-own-ingredients bowls for the equivalent of about £1-3. There was also a lot of time to explore different areas of the city and hit a few ‘nighttime establishments’ for (ridiculously cheap) pints, though of course always keeping in mind the fact that we had class the next day!

A short note on travel and living in China

Living in China will be a huge culture shock from the UK - the major attraction for many OSCA teachers! During preparation week, there will be opportunities to visit most of the main tourist attractions like the Great Wall (the toboggan ride is definitely highly recommended) and Tiananmen Square, but the greatest experiences are often had in less famous places you discover on your own.

Many teachers decide to lengthen their stay in China or Asia by making extended travel plans. Our camp director graduated from Oxford that summer and hence decided to book only a one-way ticket to Beijing – and she’s still in China now (at time of writing: late-October)! China is a massive country with dizzying variations in culture, geography and history so travelling afterwards is an absolute must. If you avoid the tourist traps, the cost of living is generally so much lower compared to the UK (given exchange rates and extent of development): domestic flights can be as low as £60, night trains/buses were £20-40 and hostels (some of which can be amazingly luxurious) would be around £5-8. Good food can be had for less than £4 a meal. Being able to spend a month (or longer) in China can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I definitely highly recommend joining OSCA.