Twin Challenges: Cycling and Service

Many of the freshman and sophomore SAS Interim Semester trips focus on service, and for this trip our boys were charged with teaching English to rural Chinese primary school students. We spent three days there, and it was quite an experience.  Here’s one of their older buildings — evidence of another era.


I was surprised to find an American founding father on the wall (though I’ve been told the quote is by Mozart, which is all the more confusing):


And less surprised to find daily calisthenics:


Chinese students have a reputation for sometimes having less respect for their teachers than you might expect. And in this area, most of the wealthier families send their kids away to the city to school, so the village school ends up with the kids whose families who have fewer resources to support education. We found that some of the Chinese kids were quite a handful – hiding under desks, running away, falling asleep, barking at the SAS students (that was a first for me). They weren’t at all afraid to be physical (there’s an SAS student beneath that pile below):



There was one little kid, whom our student called Demarcus, who slapped, punched, and even bit us. But he turned out to be very sweet most of the time, especially once he’d been taken under the wing of one of our very patient students:



Our boys quickly learned that it is an enormous challenge to teach English to third and fourth graders when you’ve never taught before. The Chinese kids had very little knowledge of English, which made our task all the harder. But SAS boys who have been taking Chinese classes boldly used their Chinese language skills – I was really impressed with them – and those who didn’t speak a word of Chinese muddled along as best they could (which was also impressive in its own right).




The SAS students spent a good deal of time outside with the Chinese kids:



And by the second day, the Chinese students really began to warm to the SAS boys. Some classes settled down and really started to learn some English.


Many groups had success using drawing as a teaching technique.  Here’s a picture of me drawn by a Chinese third grader (made as part of a game of English pictionary):


We even had an SAS vs. China soccer match. The game started in our favor – our boys are a year older than their oldest students, and we had a few soccer players along – and we won handily, 4-1.



Our time at the school culminated in a set of final performances, in which the Chinese students sang songs that they had learned like “Old McDonald” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”


There were some tearful goodbyes at our departure. We were only at the school for three days, but the kids forged some remarkably strong bonds.


While teaching English was the most significant (and probably most memorable) component of our trip, the course title was “Cycling and Service in a Hakka Village.” So we biked to and from school every day, four kilometers each way up and down windy mountain roads. The biking was a real challenge for some of the kids, especially the less athletic of the bunch. We also had more than a few kids who didn’t know anything about how to adjust their seats or change their gears – we ended up giving a crash course in biking (the fact that I, a mediocre biker at best, was giving bike lessons seemed both hilarious and odd).


The culmination of our biking experience was a forty-four kilometer ride on our final day in the Hakka village. This ride was both really challenging – the roads were truly steep, with long hills in some places – and easier than I’d expected, because we made several stops along the way.





If you travel with boys, you need to stop for snacks at least once every hour or two:


The twenty-two kilometers back, during which we had the fewest and shortest breaks, were the most difficult. Only seven of the twenty boys, along with me and Vincent (one of our two guides), opted to attempt this part of the trip. It felt like quite an achievement!



We stopped at the school for one last chance to see the kids:


It was great to end our nights around a fire, spending some time reflecting on our days:



3 responses to “Twin Challenges: Cycling and Service

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