- James T., Madagascar

Story of my life.

A Farewell to NPT

It has now been two and a half weeks since we left New Parade Training Center (NPT) for brighter horizons. Despite the fact that NPT consisted of a dingy, dirty hallway, graffitied classroom walls, uncomfortable plastic chairs, and a mouse that liked to swim in squat toilets, NPT was a great place.

There was an amazing jiaozi restaurant less than ten minutes away, a Wowo convenience store that supplied beers for our after school debriefs, a chocolate lab named Kafei who sometimes came upstairs to say hello, and wonderful, wonderful people. 8 weeks at NPT proved that the people you see everyday and interact with make the experience. 


This restaurant became known as ‘Best Jiaozi’, because, well, these are the best jiaozi in China. I miss the sweet yet spicy sauce more than anything.

We finished up our language classes and took our Language Proficiency Interviews before all of the other sites, meaning that Thursday afternoon and Friday were free days. We went to the Sichuan museum on Friday, and got to see a lot of Chinese artefacts, art, and even two dinosaur skeletons.


After meandering around for two hours, we gathered to go downstairs where some Chinese youngsters were practicing calligraphy. We were allowed to break off and choose a youngster to teach us calligraphy.

Nicole and I paired off with an 11 year old named Lily who tried to teach us simple strokes but would get frustrated, say “Noooooo”, and then laugh at us. 


Nicole and Lily.


Calligraphy brush and paint.


Nicole and I thought Lily didn’t like us very much, but after we all posed for a group picture with our calligraphy instructors, she ran over to us. We thanked her, and she said, “I like youuuuuuuuuuu!” and gave us an awkward 3-way hug, then ran away. Nicole and I started cracking up, what a kid.

In the afternoon, we had a few sessions about hanzi and gǔ zhēng. A gǔ zhēng is an instrument that has a somewhat harp like sound. It’s the most relaxing sound in the world! 

A woman brought hers in for us to learn to play it, and it was surprisingly easy to play. We all fell in love with the way it sounds and want to buy one ASAP. 


The master teaching Leah how to play.


The Autumn Girls and our LCFs, Dong Laoshi, Huang Laoshi, Yang Laoshi, and Li Laoshi.

We had amazing LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators), and my language class was amazing. Zahra, Julia, and Nicole became my best friends over the summer, and our class was always full of sleepy ha-has, secret sharing (especially from Julia), and Wowo runs.

No comment, hahaha.

NPT art featuring our TEFL trainer Mike, LCFs, and Site Manager done by my best buddy, Jimmy Grist. Check out his website!

All in all, NPT was an awesome training site and I miss everyone I don’t get to see everyday anymore. :)

Site Announcement and Visit


On August 7th, all of the Peace Corps trainees gathered at a hotel in Chengdu to find out their fate—Site Announcement Day.

We had to take a bus from NPT to our original hotel, and one volunteer was late, meaning we got stuck in traffic. We all sat in frustration as time ticked past and our bus barely moved along. My tummy was in knots—I had heard I’d be staying in or near Chengdu, but I was more worried about being split up from my friends than where I was being placed. 

Our Site Manager, Zhong Lan, told us that the ceremony started without us, so we got even more worked up as we imagined walking into the hotel, having a folder thrust into our hands, and then being ushered to our sessions without time to process where we were going or who we were going with. 

THANKFULLY, we eventually made it to the hotel and walked into the main conference room where two other volunteers were performing rap songs. I found Mallory and asked her if they already had found out, but they’d waited for us! We were so relieved. 

They had us split up into training sites, so NPT gathered in the corner and we all held hands (except for Kati, because she’s a party pooper) as Zhong Lan approached us with a bag full of folders. I was the first folder, and I’m pretty sure I screamed when I saw I was going to Chongqing! 

I’ll be teaching at Chongqing Normal University (Chongqing Shifan Daxue), and yes, they put the most abnormal person at a “normal” university. Ha ha. Here, “Normal” just means it’s a University for future teachers. That means I’ll be teaching English to future English teachers, and also to non-English majors who will teach other subjects. 

The majority of my closest friends are in Guizhou province, but I also have some scattered in Gansu and Sichuan. At first I was pretty bummed about it, but that just means we’ll all have to visit each other. :)

The week after Site Announcement, we went on our site visits. Every province left at different times, but since Chongqing is only two hours by bullet train, my site visit was only from Monday-Thursday. 

My friends in Guizhou and Gansu had train rides that lasted 10 to 20 or more hours, some had only hard seats, and they had to deal with squat toilets, so I felt very lucky to be so close to Chengdu on our airplane-like train with a western toilet and toilet paper (both are rare finds in China). It was a quick and comfortable ride. 

When we arrived in Chongqing, our host families and or waibans (school officials who help us with things like apartment issues, scheduling, etc.) were there to scoop us off and escort us to our respective universities. I have a site mate, Dan, so our waiban assistant, Jessie, brought a host family member for each of us and we loaded up a van and rode out to Chongqing Normal.

When I heard I got Chongqing, I thought, “Awesome, I’m in a massive city!” However, as we were driving to Chongqing Normal, Dan and I talked about how green it all was and how it didn’t look super-urban. 

They drove us through the campus, which is massive and very green, to our apartment building, and we were taken upstairs to drop off our things. As I walked into my apartment, I looked out of my balcony to see…

imageThe view of the mountains from my balcony.

It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I found out I was “moving to the big city!” However, I have the best of both worlds, city and nature. Also the air is better for me here than in the city center.

Since site visit was about a month ago, it’s silly to detail my entire experience. Here are the highlights:

  • My Chongqing host family consists of a mother, father, and 9 year old son. I call him “didi”, or little brother. He plays chess for about three hours a day so after being forced to play a few games with me, he decided that I was an unworthy opponent and played himself. 
  • My host mom had me see the movie Brick Mansions with her. Maybe it’s because the two other movies I’ve seen in Chinese cinema were two terrible Chinese films, but I found it entertaining. It wouldn’t win any Oscars, but I can’t hate a movie that’s two hours of people playing “Don’t Touch the Floor”. It made me want to take up parkour.
  • I went to Ciqikou, the ancient town in Chongqing, where there are street vendors and cute shops. I got to pet a stray dog and a piglet. When I asked my host mom if I could take the piglet home to save it from a future of pork lo mien, she told me it would get too big for my apartment. Poor little piggy. 
  • Chongqing hot pot is better than Chengdu hot pot. Sorry, but it’s true. Hot pot, or “huoguo”, is a big pot of oil with spices. You order what you want to cook in the pot, the waiter brings the items to you, and you cook it at your table. Some of my favorite hot pot ingredients are quail eggs, goat, and lotus root.


A street in Ciqikou.


My little piglet friend!

imageHot pot!

All in all, my site visit got me excited to move in and start teaching! 

Side note: I wrote this post several weeks ago but never posted it. The next few posts are a bit backlogged, so these things happened in the past few weeks!

No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.

—Robin Williams as John Keating in “Dead Poets Society” (via usatoday)


Tomorrow morning I will be taking the train to Chongqing to check out my future stomping grounds! I’m excited to see the university, stay in my apartment (hopefully), and check out my neighborhood.

Everything is happening so fast, and that’s the way I like it!

In other news, my Mac won’t pick up my host family’s wifi, so I’m unable to post any pictures on FB or Tumblr right now. And since that’s my favorite part of any post, I’m going to leave MACklemore here and hope that when I get back, he has his act together.

Things for you to look forward to:
- Site Placement Day,
- Awkward interactions on a pier in a park,
- Host Family wonderfulness,
- Thoughts on Chinese cinema,
- Review of Chongqing,
- And a never-ending list of medical ailments (China, I like you, why you no like me?)

Arrivederci amici! 😘

I’m moving to Chongqing!! :D I’ll be teaching English teachers English!! I’m so excited!

I’m moving to Chongqing!! :D I’ll be teaching English teachers English!! I’m so excited!

Another long post.

Week 6 was very long and tiring, but China 20 has survived. This week was packed with language classes, so we spent a lot of time with our language class. That meant I got to spend a lot of time with Nicole (also known as Ná Ná), Julia (aka Jin Jin), and Zahra (aka Dan Dan). We had a really awesome language teacher, Huang Laoshi, and she was a lot of fun!

Well, at least we tried for a good picture…

Everyone was pretty nervous about Wednesday because we had our Site Placement Interviews in the morning AND our Mock Language Proficiency Interviews in the afternoon. My language class sat nervously reading over our responses for the SPIs as we were called one by one in for an interview, and as soon as I went in for mine I forgot half the things I wanted to say. 

Our interview was in one of the grimy rooms at NPT, graffiti and all. We were interviewed by the four Site Managers and Joann, who oversees them. The Site Managers are from Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, and Gansu, and they have seen us teach during Model School (albeit for less than 5 minutes), seen our resumes, our responses to a survey we sent in before we arrived about what we want in our site (big versus small city, a site mate, etc.), and they also get an observation report from our TEFL teacher, Mike. 

During my interview, I made them laugh on three separate occasions, so I guess my Site Manager will be whoever thought I was the most entertaining, hahaha!

I don’t really care where I go, but I am hoping for a big city.

Our Mock LPIs weren’t as bad as we expected, and it involves being able to have a conversation in Mandarin for 20 minutes. I’m really glad they give us a practice one, because now I know what I need to work on and I feel more relaxed for the final.

Cheesy, cheesy pizza.

Since Wednesday was also Leah’s birthday, we made our way over near Sichuan University for some pizza and burgers from a place called “The Spot.” 

I got a personal pizza, which I don’t regret because there were 4 different kinds of cheese on it, but everyone’s burgers looked amazing. My 9-inch pizza was 50 RMB, which is roughly 8 USD, but for our small volunteer budgets, it was an expensive meal. 

Kevin going to town on his burg.

The only time my host family wants to leave the house with me is to play KTV. For those of you who don’t know what KTV is, it’s karaoke. I always make my friend Kati who lives in my building come with us, so that we can be equally bad. Even though our voices cause side effects such as: bleeding, temporary deafness, and earaches, my host family thinks I really love it and that I want to go multiple times per week. 

Friday, all China 20s gathered at Sichuan University for various sessions on TEFL, health, safety, and diversity. Some highlights:

  • During our Safety and Security session on Natural Disasters, our security director gave us tips on how to survive earthquakes—“If you are in an earthquake, and you’re still alive, you should do this…” and stated that, “In Peace Corps we try to prepare you, but the rest is up to God.”
  • In the Health session about staying healthy while traveling, they warned us again not to touch any animals because all animals have rabies and will kill you. Multiple people turned around and stared at me, because I may or may not pet lots of cute puppies and kitties… 
  • NPT decided to clap and cheer for Mike (our TEFL teacher) during the TEFL session because he wasn’t permitted to speak more than a sentence, which made him embarrassed. He pretends he doesn’t love us, but he loves us.

Part of our Natural Disaster/Fire Safety training involved getting boxes of shredded paper, pouring oil on it, and lighting them, then having most of us take turns spraying the fire extinguisher on the fires. It was fun.

We found this sweet pup o’ love less than 90 minutes after being told not to touch animals. 

The day ended with everyone breaking off into groups for dinner. A group of us headed to a really great restaurant near our first hotel, and Nicole, Erin, Mallory, Jimmy, and I were seated next to a group of men who all took off their shirts, smoked, and drank. I tried to take a subtle picture for Erin, but they noticed so they started taking pictures of us. When we finished eating they offered us cigarettes. This is China. 

Borrowed the picture from Erin, whose lovely blog you can read here.

As usual, most groups reconvened at Savage, a bar that hands out free Tsingtao beers from 9-10. How they make any money makes no sense to us, but hey, we like it. 

On Saturday we had a brief class on weddings, having babies, and birthdays, before we went on a language field trip. Our language class went to the East Railway Station, which is much nicer and less crowded than the North Railway Station. It was quite the adventure.

Then for lunch, everyone’s host family brought some food and we had a large potluck. It was good, but since everyone takes a piece of food and stands at the table to eat it, rather than loading up their bowl, you had to use your elbows to get anything. What I did taste was really good, but I resisted the chicken feet.

A shot of the spread and a third of the people.

After lunch the tables were removed from the room and we were ushered to perform like monkeys wearing high heels. I actually didn’t do anything, because I don’t have any talent at all, but we got to see some dancing, good singing, not so good singing, hilarious magic tricks, and party games. It lasted forever.

For dinner, a few China 20s got together with some China 19s and got to hear all about their exciting lives. A few of them are doing Eco Camp, a summer program that allows their students to spend time on an organic farm so they were meeting up in Chengdu before it starts. We grabbed some dinner and then had a beer by the river. I was super tired from being out the previous three nights in a row, but it was still really cool meeting everyone and hearing their stories. I just wish espresso existed in China (or was tasty and affordable)!

Yay China! I wrote this post over the weekend but due to multiple complications, I didn’t have time to post! In just 9.5 hours I will know where I’ll be living for the next two years! I’m so excited!

(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!

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.