by Jeannie Chen
On January 9, 2012, a group of 27 Chinese elementary school students from Wuhan Experimental Foreign Language School visited Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima to exchange cultures and experience American schooling. This visit was facilitated by the China Institute at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Upon their arrival to Vaughn, Dr. Yvonne Chan herself welcomed the Chinese students to her school. The Chinese students then donned colorful costumes and staged a performance that featured a variety of exciting shows, including dancing, singing, and reciting poetry. They were warmly welcomed by their American peers, and, after the performance, they all put on matching red sweatshirts and headed out to the classrooms to observe American teaching. There, they were given an opportunity to sit in an American classroom and experience what it would be like to study in America.
I traveled with the Chinese student group to San Francisco and Honolulu, Hawaii as a chaperone and English tutor. I had the opportunity to interview 6 student representatives of the Wuhan Foreign Language School delegation, ranging from the 3rd-5th grades. The students expressed their thoughts and feelings after observing the American classrooms at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center. The majority said that they enjoyed the art work—drawing and coloring-book exercises. One student liked solving various Math and English practice problems the American teacher gave them. Another said that the most important thing she learned from her observation of American schools was to work hard at improving her English language skills, thus enhancing her comprehension of lessons taught in English.
The Chinese students were all amazed at how colorful American classrooms were compared to the classrooms in China. Several admired the rich variety of student work proudly displayed over every inch of the classrooms with very few visible white spaces in between. The layout in American classrooms is also very different from that in Chinese classrooms. American students sit in groups of 4 per table, and each table is placed with a clear view of the teacher at the front of the room. Students in China sit in pairs at each table, and sometimes students cannot always see the front of the classroom. The student seating in American classrooms is also very flexible, and may change depending on each student’s individual needs.
The Chinese students unanimously agreed that the American teachers at Vaughn seemed to possess a never-ending supply of kindness and warmth, and an immense reserve of patience for students with different learning abilities and special needs. This allows students who learn more slowly than others to catch up with the rest of the class. No student feels neglected. Whereas Chinese teachers may punish their students for answering questions incorrectly, American teachers gently encourage the students who need more help. The Chinese students believed the American method of teaching makes students feel appreciated and valued. Punishing students for their mistakes only makes them feel ashamed and confused.
Vaughn Next Century Learning Center has a very well-defined code of moral conduct. This code is printed and posted throughout the school’s several campuses to remind its students to uphold common courtesy and behavioral rules. The Chinese students all marveled at how polite the American students were towards them; they showed the Chinese students where different facilities were located, such as the restroom and the lunch area. Usually in Chinese schools, students do not always know how to respond to a new student in their classroom, and are not as socially outgoing as American students. In class, American students are not afraid to speak out loud in front of their peers, even if their answer is completely wrong. The Chinese students were very surprised at American students’ confident and easygoing attitude, and remarked that the students at Vaughn all seemed to have such happy dispositions. On the contrary, Chinese students are required to stand up and answer the teacher’s questions in a very strict, formal manner.
Asked if they would like to study in America in the future, 5 out of the 6 Chinese students answered “Yes!” Vaughn Next Century Learning Center gave them a glimpse of a clean and friendly learning environment. Another reason is that America has many high-achieving students and is home to the world’s most famous 20 universities. However, one brave 3rd grade student pointed out that if all the famous Nobel Prize winners come from America, China will have none! She says she plans to stay in China and study hard so that China can also have a Nobel Prize winner. I admired her fortitude for having such a unique and different point of view.
What was the most important impact of the Wuhan students’ visit on the curriculum and instruction at Vaughn? For one thing, the American students had the opportunity to interact with the Chinese students in their own classrooms. More importantly, after seeing the colorful variety of performances the Chinese students staged for Vaughn students, Dr. Yvonne Chan, principal at Vaughn, saw an opportunity to improve arts education at Vaughn. She proposed to extend the school day from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. and add an arts program to the elementary school curriculum. This will be a new and exciting challenge for Vaughn faculty and students.
The Wuhan student delegation visited several cities during their stay in the U.S., including New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu.
Vaughn School Principal Dr. Yvonne Chan welcomes Principal Yan of Wuhan Foreign Language School as Teacher Ding looks on.
Dr. Yvonne Chan welcomes the 27 Wuhan Experimental Foreign Language School elementary school students.
Chinese students perform a traditional kung fu dance.
The Chinese students reward Vaughn students for answering questions in an interactive game.
Wuhan School students eat lunch together with Vaughn students.
A Vaughn student picks up a chicken nugget, chopstick-style. During lunchtime, a Chinese student teaches American students how to eat with chopsticks using plastic straws.
A Chinese and American student sit side-by-side in 2nd Grade Social Studies class.
Wuhan students visit Pier 39 in San Francisco.
The Chinese students meet an American woman and her dog while touring the island of Hawaii.
The students gather to sing English nursery rhymes at Waikiki Beach.