This is the third time we took our university students to HuangShi in Hubei to help run a summer camp. This time I have my two older daughters with me. They turned out to be very helpful. Both of the group leaders in their respective groups were full of praise for them.
My group was assigned eight students from 10 to 13 years old, most of them entering grade 1 in high school in September. This was quite unexpected because the camp targeted senior high school students. For this reason our group were called the “intensive care unit”.
The students with the best English in our group could barely speak simple sentences in English, the worst could barely pronounce simple words. This was a huge challenge. We eventually decided to divide them into two smaller subgroups for the English lessons, and I got the group with the three boys who could barely pronounce any words at all. We ended up learning how to pronounce simple words such as “cat”, “ship”, “sheep”, “name”, “lame”, ..., and to speak simple sentences such as “My father is a teacher.”
They were very bright though, and very eager to learn. M wrote down every single word and sentence that I wrote on the blackboard. Jo would scream with joy whenever he learned to pronounce a word correctly. Ja was easily distracted, but he turned out to be very curiously and have learned many things about Hong Kong browsing on the Internet. I make each of them pronounce each word many times, correcting their mistakes, showing them how to move the mouth to get the correct sound, and to distinguish between correct and incorrect pronunciations. They told me their previous English lessons were very boring and nobody had taught them English that way before.
At first, J refused to participate in any activity or game that involved saying anything in English. I took him aside to confirm with him that it was because he was ashamed of being very poor in English and simply did not wish to lose face. I gave him a short private lesson to show him that he could learn English if he tried hard enough. I also told him I would be willing to tutor him individually if he participated in the group activities. Afterwards he started to try harder. J, like many of the other kids, had a short fuse and can be easily provoked. I told him he needed to discipline himself if he wished to be successful in life - and he agreed.
All the kids were full of energy. They were always pushing each other, teasing each other, jumping on the tables, rocking their chairs, falling over their chairs, throwing things around, playing balls in the classroom, literally climbing on to us, and coming close to fighting many times. It was extremely exhausting trying to keep some semblance of order in the classroom.
Byt they were also very fond of us, clinging to us and asking all kinds of questions. We were able to discuss with them many many things: about English, computers, Hong Kong, their families, their schools, their aspirations, why we came to HuangShi, ... In the end we were able to share with them our view of life and our beliefs. And they were very receptive.
That’s why I found the trip to be exhaustive but satisfying.