The Final Women’s Friendship Group Meeting… for now

This is the last meeting that I will have with my women’s group, but this is not the final meeting for them. After discussing some current issues, ways to address those issues, and plans for the next year, I presented awards to the most outstanding members and leaders this year. Finally, we sat down to some snacks, brownies (I made for them), and cake (they bought for me).

I’m gonna miss them, but mostly I’m excited to see what they accomplish after I’m gone.

Amazing Gifts From Amazing Students

This semester I decided to have all of my students do a Show & Tell. The Show & Tell could basically be about anything as long as it was about themselves. Their experiences, their passions, their failures and successes, and so on. So far, it’s been pretty remarkable.

I’ve had the wonderful privilege to learn so much more about my students through these presentations (even if there are a few who don’t actually prepare well enough). Over the past couple of years, I’ve definitely become closer to some students, but when you’re teaching at least 150 a semester, you’re not going to be able to get to know everyone.

The Show & Tell presentations have been about lots of interesting things, including rare Chinese stamp collections and old Mao-era meal tickets found in a grandparents’ attic. Some students have bravely talked about the experience of losing a parent. Even through the tears, they never quit. One student’s sister was sent to play basketball for China during her childhood, only returning home once a year for several years. A freshman talked about being twelve, alone, and depressed. Amazingly, she developed a system using a glass jar and coins to bring herself out of this debilitating condition. If she was feeling happy and like herself, she put a coin in the jar. If not, she took one out. In this way, she independently turned her life around. One student talked about being “black” (which is what they call brown skin here), and embracing the color of her skin, regardless of what other people may say or think about her appearance. I was especially touched by that last one!

Another wonderful benefit, which I never could have anticipated, is all the awesome gifts I’ve been receiving! Students have given me photo albums (which I wrote about before), souvenirs from their hometowns and travels, and even a personalized rubber stamp that my student made by herself! So cool!

I’m excited for the Show & Tell presentations to come! I’m even thinking about doing one myself, just for them.

Women’s Friendship Group Dinner

I told them they could say something to the camera if they wanted, Chinese and English 都可以 (both okay).


Women’s Friendship Group Dinner

We decided that since we’d all worked so hard last week on our day camp, we’d relax and have dinner together this week. Doreen organized the meal and we had a great time. She also invited a new member!

On the way home from dinner, I got to talk to Doreen about next year’s plans. Lainie, one of our vice-presidents (yes, we have two), mentioned during dinner that she wanted to keep the group going. I was thrilled. Students here will often drop out of everything extracurricular during their third year, so if the girls stuck with this, it would mean that it really means something to them, and they would also be able to mentor and guide more young women in the coming years.

When I talked to Doreen, however, she seemed much more hesitant. She explained that she thought some of the members were not interested in accomplishing more, or exploring more difficult topics… the exact same concerns I’d had when I first started. I explained that to her, but also mentioned that learning how to balance my expectations with what was possible at the time was an important lesson that I’d had to learn. I think she’ll learn that too.

Moreover, she has time on her side. The girls have become closer, more dedicated, and more mature. The leaders have had experience planning, leading, and learning from their mistakes. She can build on the progress we’ve made, and challenge the members to do more and discuss more. We’re going to start recruiting younger members to take on leadership positions for next year. I can definitely think of some members who would jump at the chance. It will also be great for the current leaders to take on a more advisory role (like the kind I have now), so everyone wins!

I’m completely confident that Doreen, and the other leaders, are capable of making the women’s group even better. Lainie promised to keep me informed about what they’re doing once I’m gone. I’m excited to see where things go from here.

Read as much as English as you can in 4 weeks! Compete against your classmates! Win prizes!

We only have about a month left, but I’m determined to get as many students reading these books as possible. It’s unfortunate that the entire process from receiving the grant, to getting the books, to transferring the books took much longer than I’d anticipated, but that’s not gonna stop me from trying.

I’d planned to meet up with students at the library Saturday afternoon so that I could show them the books, give them recommendations, and just make an event out of it… but then I found out that the area where the PC books are held is closed on the weekends. Something I should have verified BEFORE agreeing to the new location. The library is also understaffed, so the books haven’t been organized or put into the system yet. While all of this is a little frustrating, I’ve learned to accept the setbacks as lessons learned, and simply adapt, revise, press on.

After trying to reschedule the library visit, and that also failing because of scheduling conflicts, I decided to meet students individually and/or give them recommendations based on their reading interests over QQ (chat).

I’m also going to continue with plans to have recommendations posted near the books with award-winners listed, as well as a key to easily identify books by genre. I still think having the books placed in the library will ultimately make it easier for the books to be accessed and maintained, but I also think there is still plenty of opportunities for future volunteers to improve and promote the collection if that’s something they’re interested in. I hope they are.

We’ll see how the contest goes. I wish I had more time, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned to welcome all of the successes, big and small.

Women’s Friendship Group’s Mentorship Camp II

The camp was also a great opportunity for our women’s group leaders and members. They volunteered their time to mentor local high school students. They planned and delivered a fun and informative day camp. They lead. They taught. They were amazing. I’m so proud of them.

On their evaluation forms, one question read, “What did you learn or gain from facilitating and participating in the camp?”

"This camp give me a chance to teach others and help others." - Atom

"I made some new friends and talked with them about my experience." - Kylie

"Talking with others can benefit us all." - Sonia

"Planning is very important, and we also dealt with problems flexibly." - Aeginy

"Organization and cooperation." - Doreen

And my favorite…

"Practice before the meeting is very important." - Lainie (They were a little surprised when I told them we should do a run through a few days before, but afterwards they understood why.)

From the evaluation: “Were we successful in meeting our project goals?”

"Yes." - Everyone

And this: “Yes. Girls said they learned a lot and relaxed themselves during such busy time.” - Amanda

(More photos!)


Women’s Friendship Group’s Mentorship Camp

We did it! Every bit of time and energy we put into this event was well worth it. We couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t be prouder.

This camp was a great opportunity for the high school girls to learn more about university life and to relax. They have a major test coming up next month. Actually, even “major” is an understatement. They are taking their college-entrance exams which, in China, can dictate the direction of the rest of your life. Needless to say, they’re feeling the pressure. And no one knows that pressure better than these university freshmen and sophomores who were in their shoes not too long ago. They talked to them about good study habits, university life, and shared with them lessons they learned along the way. They also talked to them about the importance of healthy relationships and confidence.

On the evaluation sheets, one of the questions reads, “What did you learn today? What will you remember?” The most common answer was: 自信. Confidence.

(More photos!)


Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

One of the best parts about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is being a HISPANIC Peace Corps Volunteer. I love that my existence alone challenges their idea of what it means to be “American”, which is of course being tall, blonde and blue eyed (More on my Stereotypes lesson later). Being Hispanic also helps me blend in much easier than my White colleagues!

I decided that Cinco de Mayo was the best opportunity to share my culture with my students, so I did a lesson on Hispanic culture in the U.S. as part of my American Culture course this term. They loved it!

We talked about food, family, lowriders, quinceañeras, Selena, la llorona, all of it! I had about four students in several of my classes say they wanted a lowrider, admittedly not many, but pretty much every single girl said they wanted a quinceañera! Chinese people aren’t big believers in ghosts, so they didn’t buy my “true story” about la llorona. Instead they suggested that maybe it was an illusion, or a dream. In the runoff between Mariachis, Selena, and Shakira, Selena won every time. Selena wins. All the times. Period. I also taught them a few Spanish phrases and had mini conversations with them. They were really into speaking Spanish!

I ended the class by showing them my tiny sombrero I brought from back home, and teaching them how to make tiny paper sombreros. We finished off the look with finger mustaches. Then I took group photos of them. All in all, a great time and a great chance to share more of me with them.

Planning our Women’s Friendship Group Mentorship Camp

Instead of our regularly scheduled WFG meeting this week, we used the time to finalize our plans for our camp this weekend. We’ve invited 21 high school girls to come to our school for an afternoon of fun and real talk about school, friends, and ourselves.

A friend and colleague of mine, Kateri, had done this activity with her women’s group before, and I really liked the idea. However, last term I didn’t have group leaders to take on this kind of responsibility. Now I do! It’s the perfect opportunity to build their leadership skills. I brought the idea up at the beginning of the term, but with the TEM4 (the most important English exam of the year) on the horizon, they had little time for anything else. To be honest, I was starting to worry that it was too close to the end of my service to accomplish this. Fortunately, I could count on my group leaders to rally and recruit members to volunteer! Now, we’re all ready!

I organized the event with an acquaintance of mine who teaches at the local high school, and she invited the girls who will join us this Sunday. Now, my girls are almost done planning the event activities and schedule. The leaders split up into groups, and each pair took over a main topic. They then were responsible for planning the activities for that topic and managing a small team of group members. They stayed later than usual. They worked through every detail, even doing a run through of their schedule. They gave each other feedback, took on last minute responsibilities, and supported each other through the whole meeting. I’m so proud of them. Tomorrow I’ll make some name tags and distribute the final schedule to everyone, and then Sunday is the big day! I’m so excited for all of the good things to come!