Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 Intensive Sessions/Camps Exchange Program: Summary and Reflections

Expanding my horizons on teaching and cultural awareness with camp site visits in the U.S. with AE E-Teacher Program

Sponsered by the U.S. State Department for EFL teachers to create and implement short-term intensive English language immersion programs, I was so honored to get accepted into this 10-day exchange program with participants all around the world by observing and participating in some of the most inspirational camps. Being immersed in this all English environment, I got to experience using the language to take in so much content, interact with camp directors and volunteers, and express my thoughts and feelings.

On top of that, cultural experiences, including home hospitality dinners, visits to museums and music bars, all made this trip absolutely memorable. May these exquisite moments guide me to plant more seeds in my career, benefiting more students as well as teachers with ideas and techniques that I've learned from this program.

Being an E-Teacher Scholarship Program alumnus means you constantly receive the latest updates to online courses, webinars and exchange programs funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. State Department. According to the program overview and eligibility requirements, I proudly presented what made me a qualified candidate with my English teaching blog, videos, and field experience in English camps in the application form, complete with how I planned to share this exchange with teachers in Taichung at workshops.

I did the medical exam and received two MMR shots to be medically qualified for the 10-day program in the United States. Then, for the very first time to travel to the U.S., I went to the American Institute in Taiwan for my J-1 visa with the DS-2019 form completed online. Also, they kindly issued an official invitation letter to my school so that I could take official leave, with my left classes taken care of.

Host Cities: Louisville and Detroit

World Affairs Council of Kentucky & Southern Indiana and Global Ties Detroit, both having extensive experience hosting international exchange program participants,  respectively organized the program schedules and activities during our stay. They're truly the unsung heroes that made everything possible, including airport pickups, program introduction and orientation, camp site visits, cultural experience arrangements, and so on. On behalf of Group 2 participants, we can not thank you enough.

Camp Site Visits
So, how exactly was the exchange program conducted? Did we just sit in the classroom and listen to what the lecturers had to say and took notes? Of course not. A typical day would begin with an introduction to the camp program by the director or volunteers. Next, we would have a tour of the camp facilities and classroom observation as well. Following that, we could ask as many questions as we wanted during the Q & A session. Last but not least, we would do the debrief after heading back to the hotel to call it a day.

Camp Hype

"I wanna have a program that is drug-free, that is violent free, and it's diverse."
"I wanna advocate for unity, acceptance and tolerance among all the different religion, all the different faith that make up this region."

Ali's touching story of how he had a tough childhood, made a crucial decision to give back and worked so hard to benefit more with great vision can truly make you reflect on what you have done and wonder whether there's more you can do to make the world a better place.  The CEO has won substantial government funding and received growing recognition of his effort that racial and religious differences can be solved through projects like athletic activities and life skills training.

Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation

Lex said he had witnessed and experienced the negative influence of gang violence, and drugs in his community. Their program welcomes gang members and even provides tattoo removal service. With the renovated warehouse, there are studios for participants to be engaged in a wide range of hands-on tasks, such as 3D printing and video editing. One of the volunteers, who is a former camper and wants to give back to the community, showed us how they were working on the prototype of a DSLR stabilizer.   

Catholic Charities

"Basically, I'm a liaison between our clients, refugees and immigrants, and the school system. Because of the language barrier and different cultures, our clients and the school are often afraid to communicate with each other."

"How many books do you have?"
"I have two notebooks. "
"I have one dictionary."

This was the sentence pattern that the teacher was teaching in a class we observed. The students there are immigrants with a very basic level of English. However, because they come from different countries, English is the only medium of instruction in class. The goal of this ESL program is for them to achieve self-sufficiency.

Well, here in Taiwan, we use Chinese to teach English, and the main goal for learning English is to get good grades on tests. The common practice of teaching a pattern like that is to analyze the structure first and then overwhelm students with terminology and rote memorization of grammar for countable and uncountable nouns. As for pronunciation, stress and intonation? Well, you don't need them to test into a quality senior high school. 

Money Matters Youth Camp

"Financial advisers and stock brokers came to volunteer to provide knowledge about money not just for the very rich but available for everybody."
"When we earn money that comes in, what do we take care of first? Do we take care of our needs first, or do we take care of our wants first?"

For example, the lecturer herself suffered a great loss in the 2008 Financial Crisis, thinking it's really important for the young generation to develop finical literacy. She introduced some basic technical terms, such as debt, saving, investment, dignity and so on. During lunch, I had a chat with some students about what they just learned, and they were in shock when learning about my real age and how Taiwanese students have to spend such long hours at school taking exams and doing homework, which always arouses curiosity and helps carry on the conversation.

Henry Ford Summer Camp

Well, it was actually a field trip rather than a camp site visit because we didn't get to observe any camp activities. However, this museum is absolutely amazing for any curious minds to explore how innovations and individual actions can change the world, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and the Wright brothers.

There's a quadricycle runabout that Ford invented in 1896, which was his very first experimental vehicle.  J. F. Kennedy's 1961 LINCOLN depicted his tragic assassination.  Authentic steam engines of immense size would spark your imagination of how the early American industrial revolution changed everything. Edison's original lab for light bulbs and phonographs was incredible.

YMCA Camp Piomingo

With a variety of artistic, athletic and team-based activities, including high ropes, zip line, rappelling and even The Equestrian program, this camp aims to create an environment to develop the confidence and character and bring out the best in campers.

We experienced some really awesome yells, cheers, and chants in camp activities and even at lunch. Also, we enjoyed a typical camp meal with pasta and chicken nuggets, which was really good and delicious. During the Q & A session, the director and staff kindly answered lots of questions from us.    

Sewing Seeds with Faith Summer Camp

This newly created camp also has great vision to provide a variety of activities interwoven with black history and culture for kids from low-income families. The director used to be a school teacher, but now he works with the camp because he wants to benefit more students. We observed several classes, including basketball, coding, cooking and choir practice. The kids did love singing. 

Risk Management

The main theme of this exchange program is risk management. Therefore, for each camp site visit, we would ask lots of questions regarding it so that we had tangible ideas to share with each other in the debrief, a set routine before we called it a day. Moreover, we worked in pairs to finish an action plan based on importance or the likelihood of occurring in our home countries.

Natural disasters, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, missing children, food allergies, and bullying are the main areas of risk management. Each camp has provided thick documents with procedures and protocols to deal with all kinds of emergency situations. Also, they claimed to have drills on a regular basis, with CPR qualified staff on site.

Frankly speaking, I  took little interest in the topic before making those visits because I was usually preoccupied with lesson planning for the English camps at my school. I thought risk management didn't concern me. However, I've come to realize that you really can not be too careful, and it's better to be prepared for the unexpected.   

Cultural Experiences
It would be very difficult to top all those great inspirational and educational moments other than cultural activities, including three home hospitality dinners, museum visits, music bars and so on, for I got to relate to the history and cultural backgrounds of Lousiville and Detroit more.

Home Hospitality Dinners

This was definitely a real eye-opener for me. The hosts invited the whole group to their homes to have dinner and get to know more about different cultures. We enjoyed some really good home-made dishes and catering food in three very beautiful houses. On top of that, I really had a blast chatting about various topics with the hosts' friends and neighbors, who were complete strangers to me. I grabbed every opportunity to practice carrying out a conversation with them, which was quite something for such a crazy English learner like me. I couldn't have expected to talk about the 1967 Detroit Riot, the 2008 Finical Crisis, Civil War, how China has been very hostile to Taiwan, to name just a few. Of course, we didn't always have serious topics like that, but indeed it was a good way to connect with the locals and show a bit of my curiosity to know more about the cities' history and culture.

Relating More to the Host Cities

Before this trip to Louisville, I never heard of "Derby" and wouldn't bother knowing about the sport at all. However, after learning so much about its long history and rich legacy, I had a different perspective and wanted to appreciate the beauty of it when paying a visit to Derby Museums. Also, Muhammad Ali Center is another famous cultural attraction, with videos of the great boxer's fights and many of his religious, political and social ideals. I was moved by his determination to be the greatest and took many photos of his inspirational quotes.

The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is absolutely a must-see at Detroit.  I was totally amazed by the authentic huge steam engines that drove early American industrial revolution. I learned a bit more about Civil War with the special Lincon exhibit,  standing before the rocking chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated 150 years ago. Inside the village, I imagined how excited Thomas Edison was when he finally got all the ingredients right at the lab to invent the light bulb and phonograph. It was also in exactly the bicycle shop that the Wright brothers built their earliest flying machines. All these kind of made you feel like traveling back in time and ponder how great inventions have forever changed our way of life.  

Building a Bond

With this amazing exchange program, I've met very wonderful teachers from countries in Central Asia, Russia, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and Brasil. We were in good hands of the Content Facilitator and staff of the two host organizations throughout the ten days. Despite lost luggage and quite a few flight delays, we were the best group, no doubt about that.

Guys, if you're reading this, you already know I've been so into creating an authentic environment for my students to practice the language and experience a bit of different cultures with Skype exchange programs. Therefore, let's make this happen, shall we? Oh, one more thing. I'll be more than glad to show you around my city and other beautiful places when you come to Taiwan. 

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