Briercrest TESOL students rebuilding lives in China

Posted: July 2, 2010

By Amy Robertson

The Beijing team and one other student spent a week teaching English at the University of Winnipeg in February 2010. Left to right: Annie Erickson, Tamara Bowering, Oschean Ulmer, Robbie Bancroft, Olivia Plouffe. Submitted photo.

our of Briercrest College and Seminary’s TESOL students are spending their summer in China’s Earthquake Recovery Zone.

They aren’t rebuilding houses—they’re rebuilding lives as English teachers.

Annie Erikson, 25, Olivia Plouffe, 20, Oschean Ulmer, 23, and Tamara Bowering, 26, are helping fill the gaping hole that May 2008’s earthquake left in the Sichuan province’s educational system. More than 7,000 schools collapsed, killing more than 5,000 teachers and students.

The four women have joined a team of six teachers from the English Language Institute – China. For four and a half weeks, they’ll teach 160 middle school English language teachers in Deyang who survived the quake.

“I feel so honoured to be chosen to go to this area to teach with ELIC,” Erikson said. “It would be my delight to help these teachers feel more comfortable and confident in the English that they know so well, and then being able to take that confidence to their students in their classrooms to better equip them.”

Plouffe is looking forward to the relationships she’ll build with her students. “The teacher-student relationship can be such an incredible bond,” she said, explaining that ESL students often look to their teachers for much more than just language skills. They look for help, survival skills, care, and affirmation.

It’s a sobering responsibility, and understandably, Ulmer is a little nervous:

“I think the part that makes me anxious is knowing that I will be responsible for my own students’ education,” she said. “Standing in front of people and talking has never been a favourite of mine.”

But in spite of the nerves and the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do, all four women feel prepared.

Plouffe describes their education as very “holistic.”

“The Briercrest philosophy fosters a learning environment where students are built up academically, professionally, emotionally, and spiritually,” she said.

A heavily damaged classroom in Sichuan, China, after May 2008's earthquake.

They and a classmate, Robbie Bancroft, who will be teaching in Afghanistan this summer, spent a week teaching English at the University of Winnipeg in February 2010, which gave them confidence-boosting classroom experience.

“When we went on our practicum to Winnipeg, I already appreciated so much of the schooling that we had already done because it prepared us for what we were doing,” Bowering said. “To see everything fit together and put what we had learned into practice was so much fun. If I didn't have the schooling that I do behind me, I don't know if I would feel prepared for what was coming.”

“We are so pleased that our TESOL students can play such a significant role in this region of the world,” Dr. David Catterick, a TESOL professor at Briercrest, said. “Because of the circumstances in 2008, this is a very sensitive but vital project. We are excited that both ELIC and the host institution in China considered our students ready for the job.”

Their group began orientation in Beijing June 30 and will travel to Deyang July 7. They return home August 7.

Erikson graduated with a B.A. in Global Studies: TESOL April 24, 2010. Plouffe, Ulmer, and Bowering will graduate with the same degree in April 2011.