Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hiking Club To Peace Mountain

Every Peace Corps Volunteer is required to have a primary project and a secondary project. Globally, Peace Corps primary projects fall in the fields of Agriculture, Youth in Development, Community Economic Development, Environment, Health, and Education. All primary projects for PC China volunteers are centered around English teaching. This semester at Three Gorges Vocational College, I teach Oral English to Tourism, Logistics, Management, Hotel Management, and Gardening majors. Last semester I taught Animal Medicine, Animal Feed, and Aquatic Products majors. Other than my Tourism students, who can really benefit from English and do, there is little practical reason for most of my students to learn English.

Almost all of my students are from rural Sichuan Province and rural Chongqing Province, and a handful are from Gansu and Xinjiang provinces. Some students will move to a city for work, but many will return to the countryside after graduation.

These circumstances do not determine an end and my project is certainly not a vain endeavor. There are still many students who love to learn English and even more who are eager to learn about western culture. But for those who are not interested in either, I attempted to find an alternative. For my first secondary project (hopefully there will be a second), I started a hiking club. Secondary projects have few boundaries. They are left to the volunteers discretion and imagination. All secondary projects strive for sustainability.

I wanted to create an environment where students were not so distracted by the formalities that come with speaking/practicing a language, to make speaking more casual. One major thing that mentally bars students from speaking English is the fear of judgement from their peers and failure in front of their peers, resulting in low speaking confidence. In class, some students, literally will not speak because they are so terrified. I thought that on a mountain hike one would be too busy worrying about falling down and breathing to care about whether or not one's pronunciation is sound enough for his or her peers. I figured at this point English speaking would become more casual.

During my first semester I took a poll and was surprised to find that nearly fifty percent of my students liked hiking and considered it a hobby. But when I asked them what they did on the weekend they would say, "Sleeping. Ummmmm. . . watch TV." There are mountains in our school's backyard and many of my students had never thought to explore them. I took another poll and found that about eighty percent were very interested in a hiking club. Two weeks into the second semester on a cool Saturday afternoon we convened.  Thirty five students (hopefully less next time) showed up and we left for Peace Mountain.

 Hiking Club meets biweekly. We try our best to stay out of farming fields, but sometimes you have to cut through. 

 Although the club is simple to manage it is time consuming because you have to do the scouting yourself, at least until it is sustainable and the students can run it. 

 Safety is our highest priority. I brought a small medical kit. All students should have water even if they don't want to bring it or think they don't need it. 

 Environmental education is another goal. Many students litter. After warning them about littering I did not see one littered water bottle on our hike. In the future I will apply for funding to get guest speakers lecture on the subject. 
 Sunday and I at the summit of Peace Mountain

 English-Chinese exchange

 As you can see it got a little crowded at the summit. The hike cap is twenty students. We made an exception this meeting. 
The first week of Hiking Club was a huge success. We had an overwhelming turnout. To my knowledge there was no littering. Exercise. The exhilaration of exploration. Something new.  Most importantly, in the three hours we spent hiking - I have never heard more English being spoken by Chinese people in my life. 

A special thanks to Gabby, Maivy, and Marisa for helping me guide the first hike.

A bit of conversation from the hike:
Gabby: "You must be careful when you are hiking."
Girl Student: "Teacher, I am from countryside. . ."

For those interested in starting their own club. We created a QQ group for the club. There around 200 registered members. Students from all majors included. The QQ group is the best way to distribute mass info. One heroic student runs the QQ group. And, as you can see speaking English is not a requirement or a goal. I believe this makes the students more comfortable.  This was the first mass message to all the members:

The Hiking Club has three goals. 1. To create new friendships on campus 2. To teach students new ways to protect the environment 3. To manifest the spirit of adventure. But first we must be safe. So we have decided that only 20 students can come hiking each week. Students will be chosen randomly. Ten boys and ten girls will chosen each week. Hiking Club will be held every two weeks.Rules: 1. No littering. If you litter you cannot go on a hike again. 2. Be safe. No pushing or fighting on the trail. 3. Listen to the teachers.

远足俱乐部三大宗旨:1、增进同学情谊2、推广环保实践3、挑战冒险精神。   考虑到安全因素,每次活动限20名同学参加,人员随机选择,男女各10人。远足活动间周举行一次。              注意事项:1、严禁乱扔垃圾。如有违反将取消参加活动的资格。2、安全第一。禁止在路上推搡打闹。3、一切听从老师安排。