One of the best teaching and learning opportunities I have been a part of during the time at my university, is the Staff English Book Club. For the second consecutive semester, my students and I have successfully read an advanced-level novel, addressing both linguistic skill-sets as well as cultural dynamics through our bi-weekly meetings where open discussion and inspired dialogue foster unconventional education.
Last semester we read Peter Hessler’s “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze” which highlighted an American male’s perspective of living and teaching in rural China during the 1990s. This semester, in an aim to see a different viewpoint, we read Anchee Min’s “The Cooked Seed: A Memoir” which describes a Chinese woman’s migration to the United States in the 1980s. Both books have painted the countries of China and the US through the lens of their respective authors, giving insight into the hardships encountered and enjoyments revealed, showcasing language as both a barrier and a bridge.
The Cooked Seed begins with Anchee Min descending into Chicago’s airport to begin her journey, in possession of neither money nor an education to assist her as she looked for a new start, convinced she had “no chance to sprout” back in Shanghai due to her age and occupation. Throughout the story, sadness and hardship are underlying themes, extending from dubious financial transactions, ignorant racists remarks, and a complicated love life. Yet what rises from within the beautifully-written 340 pages is the notion that hope helps to overcome, having paved Anchee’s path with lessons learned and dreams deferred.
For the staff who are in my class, the Book Club offers a unique perspective on language acquisition. Liu Yuling, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, says, “The Book Club is important to me because it is a gateway to English culture and literature. The Book Club shows us global culture – something which Shenzhen needs – while also cultivating good learning habits: to read, think and learn more!”
This semester too, both my parents and sister read along, with my parents joining us in person during their trip to China, and my sister using Skype to relay her thoughts on the book during a recent webcast from the United States. Touching upon issues which stretch beyond individualized cultures, and instead expand to include the global world, it was interesting to hear the comparison of different viewpoints within our international classroom, with both China and the United States represented by different readers.
The Staff English Book Club offers a unique way to not only practice English, but to likewise understand the contexts in which language gains it’s sociocultural importance. Learning opportunities such as these are an important mechanism to extend beyond the walls of a traditional classroom situation and learn about the global settings which define who we are, regardless of where we come from…