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The 2021 DukeEngage Zhuhai Team!!


What are you doing this summer? I’m teaching English to 7th graders in China, from Durham. However, this past first week, I realized it’s a lot more than that. I am here to “encourage Chinese students to understand school as the beginning of a lifelong journey—a place in which they can expand their boundaries, push limitations, and try novel pursuits.” It is disappointing that we won’t spend two precious months with our students in person, but I believe that our hearts for our students are bigger than our Zoom screens.


The other night, I watched Episode 17 of the Chinese drama A Little Reunion (I recommend—you can find it on YouTube with English subs). The show centers on three high school seniors and their parents as they prepare for the Gaokao (高考 gāokǎo), the dreaded and literally life-changing college entrance exam in China. I started watching A Little Reunion as extra credit for my third and last Chinese semester at Duke, but it became a fun way to maintain my Chinese and see the realities of how different families approach the Gaokao. I also gained an inside look at the pressures and culture of the Chinese education system. Basically, a Chinese drama has given me unparalleled insights into the lives of the students I’m working with in my DukeEngage program. This cross-culture experience is not only giving the Chinese students a chance to play English games with a native speaker but also providing Duke college students the opportunity to recognize the vast differences in how we as people are raised. I’m thankful for this drama because it has given me a deeper understanding of my students’ academic lives and a perspective of what value I might bring to them.


Basically, a Chinese drama has given me unparalleled insights into the lives of the students I’m working with in my DukeEngage program.


I wanted to be part of the Zhuhai team foremost because I wanted to immerse myself in Chinese culture. I came into college with an affinity for learning languages, and my Chinese-American friends at Duke made me want to learn the language. As a Korean-American who grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, I was able to live in a Korean-American bubble—my high school was 20% Korean-American, my most frequented grocery store was H-Mart, and my social circle came from the large immigrant church. I thought Korean and Chinese culture were pretty similar – which, to be fair, they are to an extent – but in the last couple of years, I’ve come to appreciate traditions like mooncakes on Lunar New Year and ways of gathering like a family-style hot pot. Learning about the nuances of China’s educational culture has been a new frontier, and I’m reaching it as I watch my drama and as I hop on Zoom to simply be an encouraging presence to my DukeEngage students. I’m thankful for this opportunity to immerse in Chinese culture by being with students in China as we engage on a journey of learning from each other for the long run.


At the end of each of my English classes this week, my last slide said, “See you next week :)” with my contact email for anybody who wanted to reach out with questions. It put a smile on my face to see some students look down and glance up as they copied it down. These students want to connect with us as much as our team wants to meet with them. Our team will be in Durham, St. Louis, and Washington State among others, but our presence can be felt across the screen. Technology is a blessing and COVID-19 is a limitation that we hope to transcend this summer. 


Check it out – Kyrie Irving’s in my class 😉