For the past three nights, I have sat in my apartment and stared at my laptop into the faces of some Chinese Middle schoolers on the other side of the world and the other side of the clock. It has been terribly disconnecting to look into their cameras showing the starting day and fresh faces and then to look around me- tired and ready to go to sleep with the late spring night in the background.
However, this disconnect is not that jarring-I have grown up in the age where being able to connect to the other side of the world is the norm; if I needed to reach out to my grandparents in China, I would just facetime them on WeChat. If I needed to talk to my friend in Italy, I would just message him on groupme. The jarring notion is that I have grown used to the ability to connect with the apps at my disposal and that in this time of zoom meetings, there are many thing I had not anticipated. For example, Zoom is banned in China. This means that one can’t download zoom in China; however, if we make our link so that they do not need to download the app to join, this lets us connect with them. But this is just the first barrier- the internet connection has been a consistent issue in all of my classes. Zoom runs so smoothly when I connect to my Duke classes that I had forgotten that it could experience many technical difficulties when connecting to the other side of the world. On top of this, it is the middle schoolers first time using zoom, which means that they need time to familiarize themselves with the software. This takes even more time out of our always short lessons.
Thus, as I sit here now writing this post, I am thinking of ways that the connection with these kids have been meaningful. We do not have the usual experience where we get to see them in person, and play games with them afterwards- instead, we see them for only 40 mins a week; 5-10 mins of that time are made null by getting set up and connection issues, so how do we create a connection with the community?
It turns out, there is no defined answer; it is whatever works for your group given the dynamic. My goal in DukeEngage Zhuhai is to teach English; of course the traditional classroom is gone, and with it, any semblance of traditional lesson plans. For the past week, my out-of-the-box method has been to make a jeopardy and have the kids run it-it might not replace what I could have done in person, but it is a fun way to learn English and build a connection with these people-one of educational competitiveness.