James Lim learns about China on teaching trip

August 26, 2010

By Christopher Huber

NEW: 11:10 a.m. Aug. 26

James Lim, of Sammamish, got to realize a life-long dream this summer. The 19-year-old, originally from Indonesia and of Chinese descent, returned to China for the first time since moving to the United States 11 years ago, he said.

“Throughout my life, I wanted to go back to China and Indonesia,” said Lim, a 2009 Eastlake High School graduate. “I’ve always wanted go to China to serve the people there.”

Lim was among approximately 50 Seattle Pacific University students who traveled to nine different countries this summer to teach English to youth. While he spent five weeks in Hong Kong, other students went to Guatemala, Cambodia, Russia and Laos, among others.

Lim and a small team of SPU students worked with English Language Institute China and the university’s Seattle Pacific Reachout International (SPRINT) program to lean how to teach English to Chinese youth in culturally sensitive ways, he said.

“None of us really knew how to speak Mandarin or Chinese,” Lim said. “Our job was to improve their speaking ability.”

James Lim stands in front of his class at the Hong Kong school.

Ultimately the trip was meant to help students learn English at a summer camp while developing stronger bonds than they are used to in a classroom setting, Lim said.

“It was a lot of trading of culture,” he said.

As a teacher for three of the weeks, Lim took his students on outings to give context to his lessons.

“We wanted to kind of show our kids that we could be more than just a teacher, we could also be their friend,” he said.

Although the weeks of tireless planning and teaching were draining and often stressful, Lim said the experience was quite rewarding.

“It was cool to see how much impact we were having on the kids,” Lim said. “Nobody wants to be in English camp during summer break.”

But when his team left, Lim said some of the youth cried because they wanted to be learning and hanging out with the teachers.

Since being back, though, Lim said he has stayed in touch with some of his students on Facebook.

Lim applied to the SPRINT program last December, as a freshman, and spent a few months in the spring preparing with his team.

Founded in 1981, the English Language Institute China has sent about 10,000 teachers to Asia, helping approximately 1 million students, according to its website. Teachers range in age from college to 65 years and they serve for a few weeks to up to two years.

“We look for students approaching the trip for the right reasons — they are intentional about making this a learning experience,” said SPRINT coordinator Owen Sallee. “Our hope really is that everybody that applies is able to participate.”

One of the key areas Lim and his team trained in was, “how do we interact when things become stressful,” Sallee said.

They also focused on cross-cultural training, Sallee said. The idea was to provide awareness to those going on the trip to not treat it as them giving something to less-fortunate people, but rather developing relationships and creating opportunities.

“Too often, mission trips are ‘we with resources come to give to you people without resources…” Sallee said. And they are trying to get away from that mentality, he said. “As much as you go to give, we are also learning from these people.”

Teambuilding helped Lim and his fellow English teachers maintain morale in their group and effectively impart knowledge, but the pre-trip training and exercises helped them gain skills to apply in life and work in the future, Lim said.

When the college students get back from the trips, Sallee said he notices they tend to want to invest more time in the people around them and have a greater appreciation for what they have.

“Quite often, students come back and are more intentional about their relationships,” Sallee said.

The realities that he experienced in China were much different than his previous expectations of the culture, Lim said.

“One expectation was that they all would know English. Then I got there and even though Hong Kong is very western I had the lowest students of the bunch. They didn’t know pretty much any English,” Lim said. “That expectation was shattered.”

He got a first-hand take on daily life, closer than any tourist would get.

“Seeing other cultures and being able to experience it in this level… helped me realize how much I have and how much I’ve taken especially my education for granted, and my ability to speak English,” Lim said. “It’s something I was never thankful for.”

When Lim got to China he said he noticed the students were mostly like their American counterparts: some driven and studious and some lazy and apathetic.

“I thought China was a place where the education system is very set — students do nothing but studying. A lot of that is true, but Hong Kong is a lot like American students,” he said. “It was interesting to see that. It was like a total 180 from what I was expecting.”

Going into his sophomore year, Lim said he still wants to study international business. He said he thinks this experience gave him insights to apply to his future in that arena.

“It’s something that will help me prepare for that,” he said.

But he is leaving his options open for another teaching-abroad experience.

“I’m seriously thinking of doing something like this for a year or two years after I get out of school.”

Reporter Christopher Huber can be reached at 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com.

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