My trip to China was my second trip out of the country, my first being India, which prepared me for the rural areas very well, as we had hiked the Himalayan mountains which had similar landscapes to the rural areas of the Yunnan Province. After getting off the plane in Shanghai and driving to our hotel, it was quite obvious that there were parts of China that were much more developed and better off than others. Shanghai was a very “touristy” place, as it is the biggest city in China. I personally do not like being a tourist, and prefer to blend in with everyone else. I felt the same at the end of our trip in Beijing, which was also like Shanghai in the respect that it was a city made for tourists, between the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. After leaving Shanghai, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the Yunnan. Kunming, the capital city, wasn’t nearly as big as Shanghai or Beijing, but it was still a fairly large city, with its share of rich and poor. It was not until we piled into a Mercedes Benz van and a Buick SUV that our journey really began.
We began our teaching journey at the HongTa School, which was the poorer of the two schools we went to. The students and teachers were very happy to meet us. It was clear, from the first day of teaching, that there were good classes, which were very advanced in English, and bad classes, which the teachers had dropped. I originally preferred to teach the good classes, as it was much more fun, since the students grasped the information faster. I quickly realized, however, that it was more important to teach the lower classes. The biggest challenge as a teacher of the lower classes was giving them confidence. Their own teachers had essentially given up on these classes, and it was our job to get them interested in learning English again. Unfortunately, as we were unaware of at the time, the teachers at this school had a harder job than we realized. After our second day of teaching the students, we had a meeting in the evening with the teachers. They told us of their rigorous, and what we would call outrageous, agenda from the Kunming education board. They were required to give tests three times a week, and the test were premade by the education board. The teachers have no choice but to teach to the test, because if their students get bad grades, the teachers have to talk with the principal. The way they made it sound, a talk with the principal is not something you want to have happen. We brought up the possibility of encouraging students to follow their dreams, but that was immediately shot down. The teachers referred to this idea as stupid, since there was a very slim chance that any of these kids would become professional athletes or musicians. Also, if the students’ parents found out that the teachers were telling them to strive for “silly jobs,” the teachers would probably have to have a meeting with the principal. After this discussion with the teachers, we were all obviously saddened by this news. I, however, decided to take a different perspective. We obviously can’t change the ideas that the Kunming board of education has, but we aren’t under their control. For the short time we were at both schools, I had one goal. My goal was to encourage at least one student who was before disinterested in learning English, to strive to be in a higher class.
On our second to last night at the HongTa School, we performed for the kids, and it was the most fun concert I’ve ever played. I’ve performed for over five thousand people in the past, but none of it compared to the concert for the one thousand students at the HongTa School. We performed with guitars that were very hard to play, with microphones set up all around us. They didn’t have enough mic stands for the guitars and my voice, so Melody (the founder) was my vocal mic stand. The setting, however, was perfect. Their outside stage was the perfect size, it was a clear night, and the one thousand students cheered like there were one million of them in the audience. That was our final gift to the students, our music. With the continuation of this project, I hope that we can inspire more students, inside and outside the classroom, and build connections with students in other schools in the Yunnan Province.