Regular followers of this blog will know that I have been working a couple of internships in Washington, DC for most of this spring. After several months of feverishly writing cover letters, I’ve finally landed a real job, doing development and communications work for the Beijing-based NGO Teach for China. W00t!
Started in 2008, Teach for China, as its name would suggest, is using an approach similar to the Teach for America model to combat education inequality in China. The organization recruits talented recent graduates from both Chinese and American universities to serve as teachers in underserved schools, predominantly middle schools, in southern China. Teachers are stationed in 4-person teams of 2 Chinese and 2 Americans each; the American teachers teach English, while Chinese teachers teach Chinese and math. English, Chinese and Math are the three subjects which are weighed the most heavily in Chinese standardized testing; performance on standardized tests in these three areas play the biggest role in determining whether middle school students in these schools can get into a good high school. A shortage of qualified teachers is one of the biggest challenges facing the school systems in rural Yunnan where the majority of TFC’s teachers serve.
I interned for Teach for China (under its original name the China Education Initiative) when I was in Beijing last spring, and I’m particularly excited about the organization because at the same time that the organization works to improve equality of opportunity it is also working to strengthen US-China relations. 4-person teams of 2 Chinese and 2 American teachers each work side by side at each school to develop curriculum together, to reach out to the community, and deal with local school administration. Placed in a challenging environment and faced with a difficult task, they must work together to surmount common obstacles. My experience has shown that it is this type of sustained engagement, and cooperation toward a common goal, that really builds mutual cultural understanding and a sense of common commitment between people from both countries.
Of course, “people-to-people” ties have already become a mainstay of the language that the US State Department and their Chinese counterparts use to build confidence in the relationship. Rhetoric aside, though, I can speak about the value of these types of exchanges from personal experience. A few of my earliest posts in this blog mentioned Project IMUSE, an exchange program between Chinese and American students that I helped to start as an undergrad at Harvard. A group of us at Harvard worked in tandem with a group of undergraduates at Peking and Tsinghua Universities to run a recruitment program for student delegates, and then design a conference for them to attend in Beijing. Only through an open exchange of opinions and ideas were we able to pull off a conference that both sides were happy with, and I believe that I left the organization with a much better sense of what the real cultural, social, and political differences are between Chinese and Americans. At the same time, it was the close friends that I made through IMUSE that really solidified my interest in China and really inspired my own personal interest in the Chinese-American relationship.
I’m really excited to be joining an organization that works to both improve the lives of individuals and to promote international cooperation on a broader scale. I’ll stop the sales pitch here; I plan to keep blogging from the Middle Kingdom once I return this summer, though, so stay posted. And if anyone has any tips about finding apartments in Beijing, let me know!