Editor's Note: This is the first of two articles about local teachers traveling to China through theGo Global NC program.
Just traveling home took 28 hours—from the time she arrived at the airport in China to the moment she walked back through the door of her Kannapolis home. And that doesn’t even count the monumental trip there.
Or the several-hour high-speed train ride, or the cross-country flight from Nanjing to Chengdu, or the many, many bus trips.
But for A.L. Brown High School English teacher Jennifer Linn, the amount of time she spent getting to China and the various destinations therein didn’t hold a candle to the experiences she had while she was there.
“It was incredible,” Linn said. “Just an amazing opportunity. I’ve traveled, but I’ve never traveled that far or to a place that different from what I’m used to, so that was a completely new experience. And to get to go to places like the Great Wall and Forbidden City—you can look at all kinds of pictures, do all kinds of research, look at it online, and you can’t appreciate the scale of places like that without being in the space. So it was amazing to be able to be there.”
Linn joined 34 other North Carolina educators—two of whom teach in Cabarrus County Schools—on the international trip in late June through Go Global NC’s Global Teachers annual professional development program. The group toured historic sites, tourist attractions and a whole gamut of educational institutions during their nine-day trip.
“Our Global Teachers program provides comprehensive domestic workshops and an immersion experience in a different country every year,” Nicholas Rau, director of education and training at Go Global NC, said in a release. "We select a country that has a significant impact in North Carolina and the world or that is known for best practices, especially in education, that we can study and apply in our state. In 2018, we will study China because it is the world’s second largest economy and North Carolina’s third largest trading partner.
“In addition to learning about the country and culture, we will focus on technology, environmental sustainability, and unique approaches to education that may give teachers new ideas or solutions that would be useful in their own classrooms, schools, or districts.”
Linn had a special travel companion to China, as well. Freddy the Fox, mascot for Fred L. Wilson Elementary School, tagged along for the ride. Fred L. Wilson became Kannapolis City Schools’ first global studies magnet last school year, and Linn said she hopes the pictures she and Freddy took will not only help broaden her horizons but enrich the curriculum at the elementary school.
“I carried him all around China,” Linn said. “He probably needs a bath. He’s got some Chinese dirt on him. But he actually started conversations because people would come up to me and comment he was so cute, and I would take a moment to tell them who I was and why I was there.”
The group traveled to three major cities in China—Beijing, Nanjing and Chengdu—with smaller day trips worked in. The visited museums, the Lenovo headquarters, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, a panda refuge and a memorial dedicated to the Nanjing Massacre.
“It was really difficult but important,” Linn said. “You go in to shelves full of books, registers, of the names of victims, and it’s just overwhelming how many of them there are. As I went to write in their guest book, I had to stop three times because I couldn’t see what I was writing.
“People gathered around to see what I would write, and someone who could speak English was reading out loud what I was writing. I couldn’t figure out what that was about other than that they cared that I cared. So that was a moment.”
Linn said the experience of being around so many people who looked so different from her was an interesting and eye-opening one. Natives would come up to the group and ask to take a picture with them.
“We were treated really, really well,” she said. “It’s not the same experience as being a mistreated minority, but to be really obviously different from billions of people around you and not speak the language—although I did make the effort to learn a little Chinese before I went.”
A focus of the trip, of course, was the visits to various educational facilities. Linn said they toured a mix of private and public schools across grade levels, including a vocational school and an institute of higher education for teachers-to-be.
All of the schools had gated entrances with guards, Linn said, and had full-school morning exercises. Students would file out to a courtyard or the soccer field and do a mix of Tai Chi, calisthenics and cardio such as jumping rope.
“They’re in lines in their classes, and they all exercise together for 20 minutes,” she said. “I’m not sure we could get our kids to do that.”
One profound difference in the Chinese education system that struck Linn given her role as a high school teacher was how students applied to college. She said that to go to a university in the country, Chinese students took one giant test at the end of high school.
“It’s very different from the application process here in the States where you have a resume and they’re looking for well-rounded and activities; it’s your grades and your test scores, and they’re looking at the whole picture,” Linn said. “It’s not like that at all in the China university system. It’s your ID number and your [test] score. So it’s a lot of pressure. The students talked to me a lot about the stress and the pressure.”
Huge tests at the end of primary and middle school also determine what type of high school students can attend.
Kids who attend private school, however, typically are trying to go to university abroad, Linn said. Those students don’t have to take the national test, but they do have to leave the country to sit for the SAT or ACT.
Other big differences Linn noticed lay in the cultural perception of education. She said students in general seemed to respect the authority of teachers more in the classroom, with very few behavioral challenges.
“That was something that the professors and teachers at the [teaching university] talked about, the ones that had come to the United States to teach,” she said. “That was their biggest challenge because they weren’t used to students constantly asking to get out of the room, to go here or there, the bathroom or challenging their authority. It’s much less common in China.”
Linn said she thinks part of that comes from a cultural difference between China and the U.S.
“The mindset in China—and this is a broad generalization—but there’s more emphasis on community and the good of the whole and less emphasis on the individual,” she said. “So that’s a significant cultural difference.”