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Sharing Differences Between China and the US

January 4, 2007

Beth Eliason - China

During a visit home to Connecticut from China two summers ago, a devastating hailstorm in Rocky Hill and South Glastonbury destroyed the vegetable and tobacco crops of farmers on both sides of the Connecticut River.   The next morning's edition of the Hartford Courant reported the story, featuring a large color photo of South Glastonbury farmer Howard Horton surveying the destruction in his fields.

Because many of my Luzhou students were from farming families, I guessed that the story of the storm and its effect on one farmer in particular might generate some lively conversation in oral English class.  It might also present a chance for discussion of differences in farming between China and the US and lead to consideration of other cultural differences as well.

Back in China, I copied the article for students to read and mark up with vocabulary definitions.  Each class work group also received a color copy of the emotionally-charged newspaper photo of Mr. Horton, along with a map of the Connecticut River valley towns affected by the storm upon which I had located his farm, the homes of several of my friends, and my church, the Congregational Church in South Glastonbury.

As a teacher, you can never be sure if the lesson and activities you've planned will work as you expect.   This has been especially true with my Chinese students.   In China, a foreign teacher's main job in oral English classes is to give students engaging opportunities to speak English.   This topic far exceeded my expectations and hopes, so much so that we extended related activities into two more classes!

Students traced the path of the storm, learned the meaning of "nickel-sized hail," wrote and performed dialogues between Mr. Horton and his farmer neighbors, and discussed occupations where weather is a significant factor.   One female student, Wang Xue, asked, "How is Mr. Horton now?"   I replied, "I don't know, but would you like to find out?"  The class responded with a loud and enthusiastic, "Yes!"

So, to the next class I brought color markers, large drawing paper and my camera.  Every student wrote a short message to Mr. Horton  - "Don't lose hope!"  "After the clouds comes the sun."  "We support you, Mr. Horton." -  and many more touching messages of encouragement.  We took a class picture and pasted it in the center of the poster they'd created.           

After sending the message poster and additional photos of the class to a friend in Hartford, I sought someone to deliver the students' greetings.   My friend, South Glastonbury resident (and UCC minister) Anne Alvord accepted the mission, and on a cool day in early spring, made the delivery to her farmer neighbor.   Soon an e-mail with photo attachments reached me in China.   One photo was of Anne showing Mr. Horton photos of the class, and the other was of Mr. Horton, with his son, grandson and great-granddaughter, sitting on a tractor.  Mr. Horton was holding the students' poster, and to my surprise and delight, his son was lifting high a sign written in Chinese characters:  "All people of the world are brothers."  This was truly an unanticipated gift!

After getting the photos enlarged, I visited the class and gave every student a copy of the photo with the message in Chinese for their memory books.  (My students are very sentimental!)   Mr. Horton's story and the student's response had come full circle.  

This exchange and experience is just one of the highlights of my three years teaching in China as an Amity Foundation teacher.   As both an Amity teacher and Global Ministries' mission personnel, it is always my hope to be a cultural bridge-builder and to be able to convey a sense of the oneness of God's family.   For me, this story demonstrates how a student's simple question of sincere human concern led to heartfelt connection between people on opposite sides of the globe.  Thanks be to God!

Beth Eliason
Beth serves with the Amity Foundation through Church World Service as an English teacher in Nanjing.

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