TESOL students learn about duck neck, hot pot ... and genuine love

Posted: September 23, 2009

By Amy Robertson

Two young women's brown hair and pale skin let everyone around them know they were outsiders this summer—but they felt more at home than they ever hoped they could.

Kristen LeFave teaches an ESL class at YUST.
Kristen LeFave and Shayna Martin spent five weeks teaching English at the Yanbian University of Science and Techology in Yanji, in the province of Jilin, China, this summer. Both are Global Studies: TESOL students set to graduate this spring, and both were intrigued by Asian culture, forgoing the opportunity to go to Mongolia with the rest of their classmates and instead choosing to do their internships at the well-known university not far from the North Korean border.

They fully expected a number of things: One, to learn about being English teachers—they were eager to put three years of work into real-life practice. Two, to receive some kind of confirmation of what might happen after graduation in April. Three, to feel like the foreigners they were as all of this happened.

Two of their three expectations were sound.

"Going into the internship, I felt prepared and equipped with the tools I needed to teach well," says Kristen. "I had the kit, I just needed to practice using it."

But even after all her careful preparation, "there was a huge learning curve," she says. "There's so much more than just creating a plan and going into a classroom!"

"It's changed the way I view teaching," says Shayna. "Each year, I appreciate my professors more. Now, I appreciate them a thousand times over!"

Shayna Martin prepares a lesson plan for an ESL class at YUST.
As they hoped, both women also feel that their internship experience confirmed their call to teach English.

What they didn't expect was to feel so at home among the sea of people who looked and spoke so differently than they did.

"I was expecting at least a little bit of culture shock or something," says Shayna. "But I just felt really at home there even though I stood out like a sore thumb!"

She realized one day that YUST reminded her very much of Briercrest College and Seminary. It was the community—and it helped both Shayna and Kristen learn something they never expected to learn. Something that had nothing to do with teaching technique, grammar, or cross-cultural communication, and that transcended their language and culture.

"I learned about genuine love," says Kristen.

"[We] lived with four Chinese roommates who were amazing," she continues. "Their love and their actions just showed us so much that they wanted us to feel at home. It was such a testimony to me."

"They were so sweet," adds Shayna. "And they loved to bring home new things for us to try—like, every single day!" (Incidentally, Shayna learned from this that she does, in fact, enjoy spiced duck's neck.)

Shayna Martin and Kristen LeFave with some dorm-mates at YUST.
"I loved … the community and how much they valued others," continues Kristen. "And actually, I do think that maybe it comes from this [Communist] mindset of everyone being on the same page and being equal. Even in eating—we would order two or three meals, but it wouldn't be our own individual meals. You'd be sharing."

Kristen describes a meal called hot pot, which is like a Chinese fondue—everyone dips their food into a hot pot in the middle of the table. "We loved it!" she exclaims.

"Before I came back out here, I was at Chinatown in Toronto, and I saw this Chinese restaurant called Hot Pot. I was like, 'Oh my goodness! They have hot pot here! I'm so excited!' And I go in, and instead of having this communal thing, everyone has their own little thing that you'll put your own hot pot on and you'll put your own food in. It made me sad."

"Living in the dorm like that, it changed the way I see living in the dorm here," says Shayna. "These girls—some of them were Christians, and some of them were even members of the Communist Party. I definitely saw the girls in the dorm who were Christians bonding together, but they didn't cluster together. The fact that they were able to so openly love just everyone…" her voice trails off.

"Christ calls us to love others," says Kristen. "So we always think, okay, I'm called to love my friends and my family … but what about people that I'm just meeting for the first time and that I feel like I have no connection with?"