For 2 weeks this summer, The New Century School will be hosting five visitors from China to participate in International Camp. From August 5th through 17th, three elementary-age girls and two of their mothers joined TNCS elementary students for an opportunity to be immersed in English. As TNCS moves more fully into its own foreign language immersion style, this pilot camp presents a unique way to reciprocate—to immerse foreign students in English. Let’s meet them!
Alice (Cui Jianing*), Grace (Kuang Juoqui*), and Michelle (Ma Rai*), each age 9 years, came all the way from Guangzhou, China’s second largest city and located in the southeast. During their stay, they will participate in camp activities such as cooking and gardening, they will visit key Baltimore sites such as the aquarium and the Walter’s Art Museum, and they will take daytrips to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Michelle, mom Kelly, and Grace are staying at the home of TNCS Executive Director Roberta Faux and her family. Alice and mom Jane are being hosted by another hospitable TNCS family.
As is China’s custom, the girls presented a gift to their American campmates upon arrival. The girls had lots of fun together wearing their beautiful handpainted masks.
Having lots of fun together is more or less the itinerary every day, in fact. They love playing with each other’s toys and games, for example, making the most of that particular cultural exchange. Here are some excerpts from a visit to the classroom:
TNCS: What is the one thing you want to do most while you are here?
Alice: (Thoughtful pause.) Maybe shopping.
TNCS: What would you like to do during your visit to Washington, D.C.?
Grace: Play on the playground!
Michelle: Go shopping for long, pink dresses!
TNCS: What has been your favorite part of being here so far?
Alice: Playing with Michelle and Grace.
Grace: Playing with Kathryn’s toys . . . her weaving set.
Michelle: Playing with kitty Ebony (Kathryn’s cat).
TNCS: What is your favorite thing to eat here in the United States?
Michelle: Blueberries and spaghetti! (Not together.)
TNCS: What flavor of ice cream do you hope to get later at Pitango (the afternoon’s scheduled activity)?
Grace: Cookie dough!
Michelle: Chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla!
As you can see, the girls are simply delightful! When asked why they decided to come to International Camp at TNCS, their mothers said, “We want the kids to experience a different culture and to improve their English.” The girls had studied English for 3 years prior to coming here, but there’s nothing like immersion to encourage fluency. The TNCS natives agree. “Our job is to help them learn English and not speak bad grammar,” explained the TNCS gals when asked whether they were taking the chance to practice their Mandarin with their new friends. Moms Kelly and Jane report that by Day 2, they could hear a big difference in their girls’ English, so the no-Mandarin-allowed policy strictly enforced by the TNCS cohort seems to be working!
The camp is being taught by a newcomer to TNCS, and we’re very fortunate to have him and his special expertise. Craig Lapreziosa is a former engineer turned English as Foreign Language instructor, who says, “If you have to communicate in a foreign language, you will.” Of the experience so far, he says that the biggest challenge has been keeping the Chinese and American students integrated during learning activities. They tend to cluster off because it’s more comfortable for them. Socially, it’s a different story, however. “I was worried about how to break the ice among them, but they did it on their own—there’s no shyness among them at all,” laughs Mr. Lapreziosa and points to where the girls were supposed to be having their morning snack. Instead, they were all dancing and singing along to the Beatles playing over the computer, not a drop of inhibition to be seen from anybody! Six 7- to 9-year-old girls will certainly tend to be an exuberant group. “I have new respect for elementary teachers,” jokes Mr. Lapreziosa.
With their daughters having such a nice time, Kelly and Jane have decided to extend their trip a week longer to visit New York City, Boston, Niagara Falls, and (of course!) Disneyworld after leaving Baltimore to take full advantage of being in the United States. Neither Kelly nor Jane has been here before, though Kelly got her M.B.A. in Canada. She now teaches business at Guangdong AIB Polytechnical College, and Jane is a data processing engineer. They describe how different education is at TNCS in contrast to home, where instruction is always lecture style. “Here, they can actually experience things to learn,” says Kelly. She describes Mr. Lapreziosa as being very patient and helpful with the girls. The ladies have some good camp ideas of their own brewing, too. We just may see them back again next year, which would be a real honor. They are most welcome!
*English spellings helpfully provided by Charlotte Chen—our former and well-loved Chen Laoshi! Thanks Charlotte!