(America’s Next Top) MODEL SCHOOL!!

Week 3 was our first week at our training sites! My site is called New Parade Training Center (henceforth known as NPT) and despite the name, is not new at all and we aren’t training to be in parades. We’re training to become amazing English teachers!

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Here’s a picture of most of our NPT trainees — Christina, Carl, Zahra, Kati, Damien, Amanda, Travis, Kelly, Cameron, Leah, Minette, Colton, Julia, Ryan, Nicole, and I! Smack dab in the middle is our Site Manager Zhong Lan, who is amazing!

Weeks 4 and 5 of Pre-Service Training, we were knee deep in Model School! We had to pair up with another trainee so that we could co-teach the class, and my phenomenal partner was Nicole. Now, if you’re another NPT member reading this blog post, Imma let you finish, but Nicole Foster is the greatest Model School partner of ALL TIME!

Model School was not actually a class where we taught our Chinese students how to walk the runway, smize (smile with the eyes, of course), or participate in cat fights, but was actually our first shot at practicing teaching Chinese students.

We decided to make our class focus on Oral English with a concentration on comparing American and Chinese culture, so before our first class we had to come up with general themes for all of our classes and divvy up the days. Nicole and I taught the first and last classes together, then alternated days in between. 

We had no idea going into these two weeks how good our students’ English level would be, we just knew that they would be around 16-17 years old. We had the bare minimum of resources—a small white board, four whiteboard markers, a small desk for our things, 20 desks we had to arrange in a tight space, and an air conditioner that pointed in the wrong direction so that it was always hot teaching in the front of the classroom. These conditions were very similar to my previous job at Manos Unidas, so I wasn’t devastated not to have a projector, computer, speakers, and so on, but it was quite a challenge squeezing 19 students into a room so small. 

Nicole and I came up with about 40 names featured in Disney films hoping the students would pick them… The only student who picked a very Disney name was Cinderella.

We were very surprised after our first class how good our students were! They were quick to understand activities, they spoke English very well, and they were super entertaining! Teaching them was almost too easy. 

We started with 19 students and despite our wishful hoping that we would lose some and be able to take some desks out of the room, we only lost one student over the course of two weeks. That one student didn’t drop out because she didn’t like us, but because she had to go back to her hometown for vacation. So, that means that Nicole and I are amazing teachers—or the students just really wanted the certificates saying they attended our class. I’m going to keep believing it’s the former.

We taught classes on American hobbies, animals, sports, diversity, holidays and traditions, movies, music, families, and food. My favorite activity probably happened during my class about American movies. I passed out movie titles that already exist (i.e. Dumb and Dumber, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the Princess Bride), and had the students make a skit acting out what they thought happened in the movies. It was so hilarious! I filmed most of them, so look for some videos in the coming days. :)

Apart from teaching, we also had to observe at least two other people teach their classes. I observed Kevin, Jimmy, and Nicole, of course, and they’re awesome! NPT is an incredible group!

Check out our shabby classroom and amazing students!

Despite the sometimes exhausting amount of lesson planning and prep work, the two weeks flew by and we had to say goodbye to our lovely students last Friday. 

Their final assessment was to make a speech about one of the topics we learned about, and they did really great. After that, we played Jeopardy, passed out their certificates, and gave them candy. The students said a lot of sweet things about us and we posed for a million photos with them. At some point it was easiest just to stay in one spot in exactly the same pose and wait for a student to jump in for a photo. 

Nicole and I with one of our students, Crystal!

Today was our first day back at NPT, and it felt strange not teaching our students. It felt good to teach again, and it made me even more excited for full time teaching in the fall, wherever that may be!

Now we’re back to lots of language, mock Language Proficiency Interviews, TEFL sessions, and SITE PLACEMENT INTERVIEWS! On Wednesday, I have my Site Placement Interview (which will last a mere ten minutes), and then we find out our permanent site next Thursday. The weekend after that, we’ll start to visit our sites. I’m excited to find out where my Chinese home will be for the next two years. :)

Every week we have to submit booklets sharing our thoughts or comments on the week’s events and the staff will make comments and offer guidance. This week, all I got from my TEFL trainer was this one word. Hahaha!

Every week we have to submit booklets sharing our thoughts or comments on the week’s events and the staff will make comments and offer guidance. This week, all I got from my TEFL trainer was this one word. Hahaha!

Seen on the walk to school this morning—a hungry statue.

Seen on the walk to school this morning—a hungry statue.

This is how I feel every day in Mandarin Class trying to get the tones down.

My best buddy in China! Her name is Kāfēi (in English, Coffee), and she lets me walk her to and from my training site and again after dinner. 💙💜💚💕

My best buddy in China! Her name is Kāfēi (in English, Coffee), and she lets me walk her to and from my training site and again after dinner. 💙💜💚💕

From Hotel to Host Families

Long time no see! I am slacking on this blog for sure; I’ll blame that on the Pre-Service Training, jet lag, and time I want to spend with my amazing fellow Peace Corps Trainees! 

After the amazing adventure to Panda Land, we had more sessions on Saturday before getting our first full day off on Sunday. I went with a group of people to Tianfu Square, where we visited People’s Park.

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Some of the modern buildings outside of the Tianfu Square metro.

On the way to the metro (which only has two lines, easiest metro ever), we passed the U.S. Consulate—I had no idea it was only a few blocks from our hotel. Outside there were many menacing looking guards, so I didn’t try for a picture.

The metros are so clean and easy to use, and Tianfu Square was only a few stops from where we were staying. Once you leave the metro, you’re surround by Tianfu Square, which has many monuments, skyscrapers, a university, and of course, a statue of Mao.

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Tianfu Square’s Metro.

After exploring the Square for a bit, we made our way to People’s Park, which was so lush and gorgeous. I am happy that there are so many parks in Chengdu, because they provide a feeling of refuge from the bizarre traffic patterns and noise.

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The entrance to People’s Park.

In the park you’ll find a lake with boats you could rent and ride, vendors selling rabbit heads or robotic toys, old people doing tai chi, lizards, monuments, lots and lots of karaoke, tea houses, gardens, koi ponds, and kooky Americans looking like tourists.

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These Americans! Adam, Erin, Damien, Megan, Tim, Mallory, and Bryan.

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Little lake, little boats.

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Photo shoots were happening all over the Park.

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Lil green guys.

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Door knocker to a garden.

All in all, People’s Park is an amazing escape from the hectic Chinese streets. We enjoyed ourselves.

Week 2 of PST was much like Week 1, with my schedule looking a lot like this:

5-6 AM: Wake up for the day, read emails, watch some Fifa.
6-7:30 AM: Get ready for the day.
7:30-8 AM: Awesome breakfasts of waffle fries, dumplings, watermelon, etc.
8-8:30 AM: Get ready for classes.
8:30-12 PM: Sessions on either Health, Safety, TEFL, or Peace Corps.
12-1:30 PM: Lunch.
1:30-5:45: More sessions, immunizations, or interviews.

The biggest difference was that on Wednesday and Thursday, we finally started our language classes! Language classes have 4-6 students in them for maximum Mandarin comprehension, and my original class had 5 students.

We were given Chinese names as well, and while some people were named names with cool meanings like “fluttering rose petals on a summer’s night” or “intense warrior with a moustache” (not really, but you get the gist), my awesome name is…

The last name, Guō, is a family name meaning “wall that surrounds a city”, and my first name, Bīngbīng, literally translates to “Ice Ice.” Ice Ice Wall. So basically, I’m the ice wall from Game of Thrones!

I think it’s hilarious and I laugh every time someone calls me Bīngbīng, because it is the greatest name ever.

So Week 2 of Mandarin (also known as Putonghua) was fun, frustrating, and full of giggles. This language seemed impossible in the first class, since so many things sound exactly the same, but slowly yet surely, it’s making more sense to me and it’s easier to differentiate the sounds.

Last Friday, we all packed up from the hotel, and split off to go to our Training Sites and move in with our host families. There will be a later post about this, since I don’t have many good photos of my host family yet! For now, here’s a photo of the view from the balcony last night when we could actually see the moon: image

PANDAmonium!

After a week(ish) of training sessions, new foods, and jet lag, the Peace Corps took us on a field trip on Friday morning to… the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding! Also known as Panda Land! (Well, that’s what it should be called, anyway).image

The entry to the Chengdu Research Base! And yes, that is Kung Fu Panda playing on that giant screen. 

Unfortunately, it was raining yesterday (as it does most days here), but it stopped after an hour or so. We all started off in a massive group into the base, which seemed huge due to the massive amount of bamboo everywhere, and finally spotted our first panda. 

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His name is Qiu Bang!

From there we split up into smaller groups to walk around and I got to explore the base with Erin, who told me that around 60% of the animals there were animatronic and we needed to figure out which ones. 

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A few young pandas. Not animatronics. 

For those of you who don’t know, all pandas obviously come from China and China decides who to loan their pandas to. They do this by going to zoos requesting pandas and finding out if they have the means to create a suitable habitat for them. If a panda is born outside of China, it’s allowed to stay in its birth country for a while before returning to China. I thought that the pandas at the National Zoo, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, were from the Chengdu Panda Base, but they’re actually from Wolong. 

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I’m not sure exactly how many giant pandas they have at the Chengdu Base, but I saw quite a few. 

Not only did they have giant pandas, but they also had RED pandas! Erin and I found the outdoor enclosures and we saw quite a few red pandas enjoying some breakfast and exploring their habitat.

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Look at that face!!

Erin and I walked around one of the red panda enclosures and we found a building. Upon going through two doors we found ourselves INSIDE an enclosure, with a red panda sitting on the walkway right in front of us! We were super excited about it, and found started snapping photos close to the red pandas. We couldn’t get touch them because there was a sign saying, “Red pandas are somewhat fierce”, but we got plenty close!

Erin and some waltzing red pandas!

Super excited about this little guy!

As you can see, there were fences around the stairs and walkways, but there were big holes for the red pandas to come in and out of if they wanted. They were too adorable!

Breakfast time!

The Chengdu Research Base has the biggest captive red panda population in the world! After being so close to them I told everyone we passed to go check it out, because that was the coolest experience there.

All in all, the entire park was amazing and I’m glad we got to go. If any of you Stateside friends are contemplating visiting China, I recommend this place! :) 

Yay pandas!

I’m so fancy, you already know! I’m in the fast lane from LA to Tokyo (..then to Bangkok, then to Chengdu)

Greetings from Chengdu, China! 

The abridged version of this article: I took a lot of planes, met a lot of cool people, and am going through training at the moment. If you like that little snippet, read on!

I didn’t post before coming to China because I was running around trying to see as many people as possible before I left. Thanks again to everyone who took some time to see me before I left! You are all amazing and wonderful! 

The night before I left I stayed up all night packing (and repacking… and repacking… and repacking) and watching the finale of Game of Thrones with Jesse (awesome sauce). We took off for the airport at about 5:30 AM and the most difficult goodbye was to my little pup, Jack! (Sorry mom!) I love traveling but the biggest problem is leaving my dogs behind. He wasn’t happy about me leaving and kept trying to get in the way of me packing.

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And yes, all those clothes came with me.

Due to traffic, by the time we got to the airport and I checked in, I had to go straight into security. That meant a really rushed goodbye to my mom and brother, which kind of sucked. Oh well, love you two!

At the gate I met two other future Volunteers, Leah and Eugene, and they told me they were worried I’d already Early Terminated, haha! But no, I made it! Leah and Eugene are awesome!

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PEACE for Peace Corps! :)

When we got to LAX, we got a bus to the Radisson, checked in with Registration, and then went to In-n-Out Burger! It was delicious, and I wish we had those in PA. 

We had Staging from 2-7 PM, which consisted of a lot of group work, talking about Peace Corps values, goals, and so on. A lot of us went to dinner at a bar and grill called Melody’s, which was fun, but you had to shout at the person next to you so that they would hear you.

I didn’t have a roommate in LA, which made me very anxious all night that some poor girl was trapped in an airport and wouldn’t make it in time for the flight to Tokyo. I woke up the next morning to find that no one ever showed up, so I packed up my bags and met everyone in the lobby to leave for the airport at 8:30. 

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Peace Corps bags taking over the lobby!

We got to the airport around 9-9:30 and started checking in. I was lucky to be at the front half of the line and got checked in pretty quickly, and spent some time at a bar in the terminal getting lunch and a Blue Moon with another awesome volunteer named Zahra. We watched the Italy v. Costa Rica game and then made our way to the gate. Because there were only two Delta employees checking in 83 people, about 13 people had to sprint to the gate in order to make it in time. 

The flight to Tokyo was amazing, and I was in the back of the plane with an awesome open area next to my window seat, so I could stretch out my legs. The mini-tv screens in the back of the seats had tons of movies, and I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Rio 2, and Skyfall.

The flight was around 11 hours, and then we landed in Tokyo for a brief two hour layover. I walked around looking for something to drink, and at one store a man was yelling, “Want a drinky drinky?” which I thought was hilarious, but I went somewhere else instead. 

The flight to Bangkok was another 5 hours, and we were on the exact same model airplane with the exact same seats, so I was happy about that. When we arrived in Bangkok, some of us had to collect our bags and others didn’t if their baggage went straight through (thanks LAX, you suck). We rode some buses to the Best Western to get a few hours rest, and I got to room with another volunteer who didn’t have a roommate in LAX, Reilly, who was also a former Rotary Youth Exchange Student! Woohoo, Rotary!

We only had four hours of sleep before jumping back on buses to the airport, where we had some breakfast and got on another 3 hour plane ride to Chengdu, China. On the plane I was sitting next to a volunteer named Jeremie and we saw this bottle of scotch on the cart called Hankey Bannister, so we ordered it and the flight attendant’s eyes almost bugged out of her head because no one had ever asked her for it. Despite the hilarious name, it tasted awful, and neither of us finished it! 

When we arrived in China, we got through customs and got our luggage fairly quickly, then made our way out to the greeting area where various Peace Corps Staff were there to greet us and create a breadcrumb trail of Peace Corps to follow to a truck that took all our baggage and buses that took us to a hotel, where we’ve been ever since.

Pre-Service Training is in full swing and our days are filled with various sessions about health, safety, policies, TEFL training, and culture. We’ve had rabies injections, health interviews, and regular “getting to know you” interviews. 

We’ll be in this hotel for two weeks, so I have a roommate from New Mexico named Mallory. She’s super awesome (as is every future Peace Corps Volunteer!), and we both have sparrow tattoos, so obviously that means we have a spiritual bond.

We have a huge breakfast buffet at the hotel and it’s delicious! Here’s a photo of the first day (I tried to try a lot of things):

The dumplings are amazing! 

We have free time to go out for lunch and of course we’re on our own for dinner, so we’ve had time to try out a few of the local cuisines. So far I haven’t had anything too off the wall—except for snake the other night! 

A few volunteers and I went to a restaurant where they had pictures of noodle bowls with various things in it, and we asked for chicken, which they didn’t have, and then vegetarian, which they didn’t have, so a few of us ended up ordering something we figured was fish. When our food came I looked down and said, “I think this is snake,” because it looked like someone literally peeled a snake’s meat off of the bones. So, Erin asked if it was by wiggling her arm and hissing at the waitress, and she nodded and smiled, so there it was. Since it looked exactly like what it looked like, I didn’t want to try it, but I did end up trying a piece that didn’t look as snake-like and the rest. Didn’t taste bad, and I did swallow it, but it wasn’t for me so I ate some noodles before passing my bowl to Jimmy to finish.

View from our hotel room.

Today a few of us went exploring and walked though a park in Chengdu. It was the first day since we got here where we could actually see the blue sky—since we got here it’s been rainy and smoggy (or cloudy, I can never really tell). The park was really beautiful and smelled great, so we enjoyed ourselves.

This very long post has been the past week in a nutshell, so I apologise for the length! My future posts will be much shorter and more focused on specific things. For example, tomorrow we’re going to the Panda Research Center, and I can’t wait to see the pandas! :) Thanks for reading! 

The Final Countdown (dun dun dun dunnnn!)

Today marks exactly one month until I leave for Staging!

I booked my flight to LAX with Sato on Friday and now everything is starting to feel really real. So much to do, so little time! I haven’t even started packing yet, let alone bought any luggage to put my things in anyway. I just always felt like China was so far away, but it snuck up on me a ninja. A stealthy, stealthy ninja.

I have seven days of work left, two weekends of friends visiting, and three weeks until my brother comes home from Hawaii for a visit (woohoo!). During all this I need to buy luggage, pack, buy last minute things, visit family, drink a lot of tasty beers, and adore my doggies. Which now that I’m writing it all out, actually isn’t that much. I just need to do it!

And now I leave you with a red panda from the Philly Zoo.

Final Medical Clearance!!!

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I received the fantastic news on Tuesday morning that I am medically cleared to go to China! I was almost as excited as when I was initially invited to China. 

Medical Clearance for China meant completing a Chinese Physical and a Peace Corps Physical, which sounds simple enough… but actually takes a bit of running around and you have a bit of a tight timeframe to get everything completed (including any follow up you might need). My doctor is over an hour away, so I got to spend the better half of four days getting my tests done—physical exams, six vials of blood for testing, three immunizations and a TB test, a chest x-ray, EKG, and an eye appointment—and then returning for the results and trying to get my doctor to see me again to sign off on everything. 

At my doctor, it takes a month to get results for an EKG so I had to get my EKG done at an urgent care in Gettysburg. Other than that, everything was done at my doctor’s in Carlisle at the military barracks. When my doc finally signed off on everything (shout out to Dr. Reh for being awesome!), I uploaded and mailed out everything and got a response from the Peace Corps in two business days! 

Everything on my ‘China forms looks great’ according to the awesome PC nurse Susan, so I’m good to go!

I did not expect the Medical portion of the Peace Corps to be so stressful, but the tests are so intense that I started worrying “Maybe something’s wrong with me that I don’t know about!” For any future PCVs going through the same thing, try to breathe and relax, because it’s really not that bad.

But yay! Finally! Medical Clearance! Now I can purchase some luggage!