Poisoning the next generation – CSE Shanghai

I felt in love with summer camps ever since I participated in one when I was 6 at Queens College, NYC. This summer I enrolled in one called Crimson Summer Exchange (CSE), organised by my university (HKU) for high school students. On the website it says “the programme is a summer teaching programme in which a group of Fellows comprised of students from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cambridge and Oxford Universities deliver self-designed lesson plans to secondary school students to encourage intellectual and cultural exchange amongst all participants using English as the medium of communication and HKU fellows will participate in each group and interact closely with the participating students”. The programme slogan is “Inspiring the Next Generation”. But basically, all that I did there was collaborating with the big kids from better-than-HKU unis to play with the younger kids from mainland China and Hong Kong. 12 big kids (“fellows”) including myself were sent to Shanghai for two weeks (although only 11 came back …) and we’ve had the greatest privilege to teach some of China’s best students.

Yes, you read it right, some of China’s best students. I know the story of teaching children (often English) in developing countries is easier to tell but honestly I don’t see myself doing that kind of volunteering. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate people who do that, just that I believe in different things when it comes to altruism. Anyways, the reason I participated in CSE as a fellow (who taught and mentored) was because it is a programme where students pay or be nominated by the principal to join in order to gain knowledge out of their curriculum and to experience an all-English learning environment, and CSE is almost the only of its kind that offers these. The emphasis is on students’ active willingness, and not what we think they want.

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Shanghai session 1 students (Photo from Nick)
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Shanghai session 2 students and a clumsy me (Photo from Nick)

The students we’ve interacted with in China were impressive. Not only did they have full respect for the teachers and other students, they were also active in class activities. We felt that this learning attitude is mostly consistent regardless of the student’s academic performance. Needless to say, many were able to grasp the complex ideas and concepts taught by fellows from top unis in the world. As a Hong Kong student myself, I was quite ashamed compared to their intellectual maturity. So much so that every morning before I enter the classroom and every night before I sleep, I asked myself “what do I have to teach them? they already know so much.” My co-fellow Nick from Cambridge taught about wild weather and food security, but HKU fellows co-taught stuff like “culture and globalisation”. I am sure I didn’t give the students anything tangible, but I hope they had fun.

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Classic big group photo where everyone looks a bit awkward (Pic from CSE Programme)

Speaking of my co-fellow, Nick is a wonderful young man (lol…). It was already hard to stick with someone (travel to SH, hang out many of the nights, stay in the same dorm, etc) you’ve just met for 5 weeks straight, letting alone to work and give lessons together. Throughout the programme we didn’t fight or try to kill each other, and we met again in Oxford (he kindly showed me around). So I guessed we worked out fine and will probably remain (Facebook) friends for a fairly long time (I hope).

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Nick’s a good teacher
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This subtle space between Nick and me shows how much we wanted to be away from each other at the end of the programme (British body language)

Working with the fellows from better-than-HKU unis was very rewarding as the fellows are often very talented and passionate about their subject. They are also very decent people to live and hang out with. For instance, my roommate in Shanghai (and neighbour in Hong Kong), Ruth, was one of the most devoted student/ teacher/ person I have ever met. She works on her lesson plans a lot and designed fun props to make an English History lesson as interesting and relatable as possible for the mainland students. Helen, who loves tea and always kindly offers to make a cuppa for others, taught fairy tales and inspired many students to perform a twisted fairy tale drama (which was often entertaining) at the final performance of each session. Albert, from the US, taught about building a sense of appreciation for music (which is probably the most fun topic) and engaged everyone even the fellows in the training week. Priya, also from the US, has absolutely the professional potential in teaching – nice and friendly outside the classroom, but very confident and knowledgeable when teaching. And these are only the Shanghai fellows, I can’t even describe the vastness of ideas contributed by other fellows who went to other sites in Mainland.

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The Shanghai People (from left: Saria, Gabriel, Albert, Priya, Nick, me, Clarice, Helen, Ruth, Ashlyn, Hester and George) in Shanghai (Photo from Ashlyn)

It would be unfair not to mention the HKU fellows, especially my group and those I went to Shanghai with. I have never liked group projects in HKU because I think I work better alone, but in organising activities, this is definitely not true! I have to thank my group (Gundam, Joyce, Wendy, Chloe, Simon and Gabriel) for the silly but funny ideas during meetings and continuous support over the programme even I free ride them all the time. I will also have to thank Ashlyn, Clarice (for accepting my midnight room-invasion in particular), Hester, George and Saria for their company and eagerness to find nice food in Shanghai. You all have changed my view that travelling with others is daunting (instead, it could be pretty fun).

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George, Ashlyn and Clarice, Thank you for leading me to the food (Photo from Ashlyn)

One last thing I have learnt from the programme, in particular the two weeks in Shanghai, is about myself – I definitely see myself being happier in a job that requires a lot of travelling than one that only involves local work. Not that any one of them is better but different people have different “habitats”. I remember in one of the activities we did with the students, when we asked them to rank how important is working abroad to their lives, some said they strongly prefer to work in their home city or in one place for the stability and opportunity to become very familiarised with their work environment/ culture. I agree with their reasoning but as a person who works better when excited by a new environment, a job that requires a lot of moving seems to be the only solution!

I realise that this post looks more like a programme review (which may not make sense to others who are not in the programme) than a Shanghai trip sharing. And in fact I have done something touristy in Shanghai too! Therefore here are some photos and I will let them tell the rest:

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Shanghai Expo Museum Field Trip (Photo from Ashlyn)

Although what we mostly did was making sure the kids get there and hop on the coach back to the dorm after the visit, we had fun looking at some of the exhibits and mostly sitting inside Starbucks chatting. And to be honest, as a person who spent a few summers in Beijing looking at the real traditional Chinese architecture, the appearance of this structure really doesn’t appeal to me. It looks like the really cool and complex old building a 6-year old kid was trying to recreate with the limited Lego blocks he had left from his older brothers. He tried to spice things up but he wasn’t very creative, so he just flipped the top upside down. He tried.

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Sexual liberalism in China ! (The two character read “Vibrator”)
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Ok this was what the Bund looked like after a few drinks
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Our campus (Photo from Ashlyn)
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A shrine of Mao busts at the Propaganda Art Museum
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Here is me, unimpressed as usual. End of post, thanks for reading, bye ! (Photo from Nick, also.)
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