Sometimes being far, far away from home is a positive. Sue Shenkman, a Jamaica Plain resident, recently found that out, spending five weeks over the summer teaching and traveling in China.
“I think I grew so much as a teacher and person being out of my comfort zone,” said Shenkman in a Gazette interview.
Shenkman traveled to China through SABEH, which stands for Sino-American Bridge for Education and Health. It is a nonprofit organization that provides exchange programs for American and Chinese teachers and healthcare workers to share practices and knowledge.
Shenkman, who is a nursery school at the Corner Co-op in Brookline and an English-as-a-second-language teacher both privately and at the Boston Language Institute, spent her first two weeks at Hanyin, a county in the southern part of Shaanxi Province, China. She taught Chinese teachers there American educational practices and English.
She said the Chinese teachers were very open to trying new things as their experiences were “totally different.” They sometimes have as many as 70 kids in a classroom, according to Shenkman.
Shenkman said the Chinese teachers were interested in learning how to increase interaction and develop relationships with their students. She said the teachers are not always able to that because of the class size and the fact that their educational system focuses on test scores.
“Their jobs are tied to test scores,” said Shenkman.
Shenkman said many people in Hanyin had never seen a Westerner before, but that when she smiled, they smiled. She also said she took walks with the teachers and they invited her into their homes.
“The teachers were incredible,” said Shenkman. “They were very welcoming.”
After Hanyin, she spent two weeks in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi, teaching middle school students English at a summer camp. Shenkman said learning English wasn’t the first thing most of the kids wanted to be doing during the summer. But she added some children were motivated because they would be attending school in Concord, Mass.
Shenkman said what the students really enjoyed was swapping cultural stories and learning songs, such as “We Will Rock You” by Queen. She also told the students about how her 17-year-old son was home-schooled until the age of 11.
“They were really interested in the different ways of being educated. It’s so different from what they have as options,” she said.
Shenkman spent the last week traveling, going to Shanghai and Beijing and seeing the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square.
“I think I learned how much people are the same wherever you go,” Shenkman said about her trip to China.