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Guest Blogger Ya-Ching Chang: 4th Grade Cultural Exchange and Experiential Learning in China

4th Graders in the Chinese Program traveled to China for a 10-day cultural exchange trip to experience Chinese life and culture firsthand. Students explored Hangzhou and Shanghai, lived with Chinese host families, and attended Qiu Shi Elementary School with their Chinese peers.

Linguistically and Culturally Literate

Communication in a world language requires not only linguistic competence but also cultural understanding. Many language learners find it difficult to read between the lines when people from different cultural backgrounds interact or interpret things differently. Take a common social situation for example: if someone gives you a positive comment in Chinese, the proper response is “where, where” to imply thanks with modesty instead of saying “thank you” straightforwardly.

Interlocutor A: You speak Chinese very well. (你的中文說的真好。)

Interlocutor B: Where, where. (哪裡哪裡。)

Beyond the cultural factors, communication in a world language also involves many nonlinguistic factors such as gestures, body language, and other aspects of behavior. At ISTP, our 4th graders learn not only the language, but are able to perform proper manners and responses in the target cultural environment during the trip to China.

Performing “Behavioral Culture” In Drama Class

Professor Hector Hammerly describes culture in three useful categories: achievement culture, informational culture, and behavioral culture. Behavioral culture includes the common daily practices and beliefs that define an individual and dictate behavior in a given society. Some behaviors include eating habits, the manner of greeting, how gifts are exchanged, and how one treats relationships, such as a host family.

In preparing our 4th graders for the China trip, we identified some common scenarios through observing, understanding, and performing behavioral culture in drama class. Through contextualized role plays, students became more aware of proper manners and responses in various settings. During our trip to China, students took what they learned in class and applied it to their understanding of real life situations. Many students told me excitedly that the scenarios we acted out in class had come true!

Scenario One: Dining Etiquette – Round tables, with a rotating tray placed in the center, are very common in Chinese restaurants. One of the proper dining manners is to consider others. Diners must wait until everyone finishes taking the dishes in front of them before turning the rotating tray to take other dishes. Another important aspect is to let one’s elders eat first. Younger diners must wait until the elder says “let’s eat.” The seating arrangements are also very important for a Chinese banquet. The seat of honor is the one in the center facing the entrance, usually reserved for the master of the banquet or the guest with the highest social status.

Scenario Two: Gifting Etiquette – Gifts play an important role when meeting new friends and building new relationship networks in China. It is common for a person to decline a gift or money a couple of times before accepting it. The gift giver usually will persist gently until the gift or money is accepted. Another important aspect of gifting etiquette is to give or receive gifts with both hands to show sincerity. However, certain gifts can be viewed as taboos and possibly have a negative impact on a friendship or a relationship. People usually avoid giving clocks, fans, and umbrellas as gifts, since their pronunciations are associated with phrases implying negative meanings for a friendship or a relationship.

Students’ Reflections on the China Trip

Zoe L: "The first time I saw my host family, I felt very happy! I wanted to make new friends! When I was giving a gift, I used both hands, I was also standing up. That showed respect. I learned these manners from Ya-Ching. I gave them red things, eight of them. Red is a good color for Chinese people, and eight is a good number. My host family is really nice. They brought me to many good places. I tried to pay for things but they wouldn’t accept the money. I ended up having to sneak them some money (in a good way). We made friends, and I really, really miss them."

Eva C: "I wasn’t nervous about China because my family is Chinese. I know how to use chopsticks. I always eat Chinese food. But the first day at school I suddenly got nervous. I couldn’t understand them at the beginning. They spoke so fast, I couldn’t even tell what they were saying. The only thing I wasn’t nervous about was making friends, because I usually make friends quickly. After the trip in China, I spoke much better Chinese, I also learned better manners. I had so much fun in China!"

Neige G: "On this trip to China, it was a little difficult to find the things I would eat in America. When I first got to my host family, I was a little nervous because I had never seen them in person. But as I stayed there, I got to befriend them more and more. When I had to leave them, I was crying on the inside."

Teacher’s Reflections on the China Trip

During our trip to China, when students came to me with their eyes gleaming with excitement, I could not wait to hear about their new experiences! Our students got along very well with Qiu Shi students; they went sightseeing, picking Long Jing tea leaves, and some students even filmed a short video in Chinese. The host families and school administrators were very generous and hospitable in the Qiu Shi community. We really appreciate their support during our stay in Hangzhou.

Another valuable moment for me was attending the International Classroom Practices Convention (國際課堂節) in Qiu Shi. Chris was invited to share the IB inquiry-based practices and collaboration at ISTP, and I was invited to do a math demo lesson for teachers. In preparing my demo lessons, I had some great opportunities to discuss curriculum with Qiu Shi’s teachers and to learn more about current trends in the Chinese education system. In some presentations, I found that US and China share a similar teaching philosophy even though we teach on different continents. The convention’s core elements of best classroom practices are Fun in Learning, Fun in Thinking, and Fun in Applying Knowledge (學之樂,思之樂,用之樂).

Fun in Learning: Learning is beyond acquiring knowledge; it is about developing a mindset. A mindset promotes conversations among learners and develops interests, motivation, and positive attitudes.

(學習不止是知識傳授,更是心態養成,促進學生和學習內容能夠對話,激發良好的興趣、動機和態度。)

Fun in Thinking: Learning is beyond mastering all subject areas; it is about activating possibilities. The possibilities facilitate communications among a diversity of learners and promote critical thinking, judgment and expressions.

(學習不只是面向全體,更是潛能激發,促進學生和學習同伴差異對話,提升思考力、判斷力和表達力。)

Fun in Applying Knowledge: Learning is beyond knowing the world; it is about experiencing the world. Experience fosters reflection on the learning process, analyzes and understand the values of learning.

(學習不只是了解世界,更是活動體驗,促進學生和學習環境內省對話,明晰知識及其背後的價值。)

As an old adage says: “Knowledge comes from books and from experience of the world (讀萬卷書,行萬里路). ” Our overseas trip provided more than just an opportunity for students to communicate in the language they have learned – it helped them to make connections between global communities, broaden our horizons and promote cross cultural understanding.

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