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UCLA Magazine Winter 2002
It's not your parents dorm anymore
Outside the Ivory Tower
A beautiful Mind
The Long March
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Winter 2002
The Long March
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It is an intense experience for all of us. Teaching one subject five hours a day for three weeks is both a physical and emotional challenge as we design our own curriculum and apply the lessons we learned in a two-day orientation and training session at UCLA. Games, we find, are an incredibly effective way to teach and to encourage the students to speak English — dodgeball and hangman are among the favorites, and I also blend lessons with Chinese children's games that I played 15 years ago. One class is crazy about the song "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and sings until they run out of known animals and have to start adding in new ones, like tigers and zebras.

One of the most gratifying things about the experience is the dedication of our young students. Xiela is one of the most impoverished villages in the region — the climate is poor for agriculture and the productivity of the land is low — and half of my students come to class in the mornings without having had any breakfast. Many must walk more than an hour from another village on the other side of the mountain to get to school. One or two slices of dry wheat bread or a handful of dry beans is lunch. There's no electricity in the schoolhouse, no running water, no glass windows. In spite of the challenges their poverty presents, our students are remarkably bright and their grasp of what we teach them exceeds our expectations — after a brief explanation of some rules of pronunciation, the quickest learners are able to figure out the pronunciation of complicated new words.

I also have an opportunity to get to know the leaders of the development project that has brought us here. The Sanchuan Development Association (SDA) consists mostly of local teachers and peasants and maintains a simple, straightforward philosophy: One project, no matter how small, is better than nothing. What amazes me, other than their selfless devotion to their cause, is their optimistic lifestyle. One day as we are returning to the village after visiting a development project, it begins to rain heavily. Two local teachers sitting in the open bed of the truck, with one small umbrella between them, loudly sing love songs all the way back as we drive through the downpour.

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