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Less than a week before I leave for China for my trip with the International STEM Fellows. We will be visiting (and teaching in) Chinese schools in the Hangzhou area. This is a wonderful opportunity and I’m excited to be going to an area of China that I have not visited. In addition to the 90-minute lab that I will teach 2 or 3 times to Chinese middle school students I’m one of the four teachers (out of the 12 going) who has been asked to prepare a 30-minute presentation on STEM education for a regional education conference.
Preparing for this experience has been a bit difficult. We are not sure what supplies and materials will be available to us so we need to pack nearly all of what we need for the labs. That made me change my topic as I wasn’t going to pack glass test tubes and beakers! My lab is an engineering design challenge – the students will build their own water filters. So most of my materials are small and don’t weigh much – water test meters, coffee filters, cotton balls, cheesecloth and the like, and I’m anticipating being able to find plastic bottles, clean sand and gravel and dirty water in China!
We won’t have translators although the students and Chinese teachers know some English (more than the amount of Chinese I know, I’m sure) so I had my oldest daughter make me a video with the help of one of her Chinese friends and fellow students at the University explaining the lab. I also have dual language hand-outs and lab worksheets. It was funny to see the response of all the teachers when we were told that there would not be a translator in the classroom with us – the middle and high school teachers looked somewhat dumbfounded and anxious and the elementary teachers just smiled, shrugged and said in a cheerful voice ‘That’s okay – we’ll just diagram it and act it out!’ Well, of course – they’re used to talking to people who don’t speak that much English!
My oldest daughter will come home from college to look after things while I’m gone and our relatives are just up the street and across the street so she will have help if she needs it. The kids are pretty self-sufficient and used to taking care of the animals so I’m not expecting problems. I am expecting to miss them like crazy as I have not been away for more than a day or two before. I’m also worried about expenses. I was able to get the trip cost paid for through Donors Choose but that did not include buying lab supplies, gifts for Chinese teachers and officials, rental car to get to Chicago to catch the plane (and get home from Chicago) and leaving money at home for gas and food. With my daughter’s appendectomy bills coming in we are stretched even tighter than usual (and usual is to the breaking point).
Thankfully I don’t need much for the trip – I’m borrowing my daughter’s suitcase and packing light. I’m not buying anything extra for the trip aside from a travel umbrella (weather forecast is rainy) and one of those neck pillows for the long plane flight. I do plan to buy travel insurance – too many planes have gone down in the past decade and the Chinese drive like crazy so I figure my chances of being in an accident are slightly higher while traveling! And if anything does happen it would be good to leave the kids a little better off than they are now.
Hmm, rereading what I’ve written I see I’m slightly more anxious about this trip than I was letting on to myself! So to end on an up note – I really am looking forward to the experience. I plan to bring back all sorts of video, resources, connections and ideas to my schools to help our teachers. I’m excited about the networking possibilities – I’ve already been asked to get involved in some other education committees and events because of the trip (yes, even before going!) and I foresee that this will be helpful in my late life career. I enjoy traveling and am grateful for the opportunity to make more meaningful connections than those usually afforded on a tourist trip. So wish me (and the kids) good luck!