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China to China

CMS science teacher Ron Maxwell has been teaching in China for the last 20 years.  China, Maine, of course. This was still a great source of amusement for his students when his path led him to Shanghai, China to teach an immersion program this past summer.

The trip came about when a friend who’d taught several such sessions gave Maxwell’s name to Mast Stem Academy and told him to expect their email. The academy offers a bilingual elevated program where they provide enrichment courses for their students during school breaks.

Due to a Skype malfunction that sent his audition lesson plans out the window, Maxwell had to rely on skill rather than preparation, and the conversation that ensued led to the development of a two-week course about going into space.

“The landing in Shanghai and immersion in a whole new world was much the same as the interview,” said Maxwell. “I had to leave behind preconceived plans and make new plans with what I had.”

The language barrier was a bit overwhelming at first, despite the upperclassmen that the school provided to be his translators. Maxwell remembers the disorienting sensation of hearing conversations going on all around him without understanding a word of them. He worked hard to learn a bit more of the language than the average tourist in order to show that he was making an effort to communicate. He learned to say things like “Good Evening,” instead of simply sticking to “ni hao” or hello.

Within his classroom, he found a significant upside to the language barrier. “[It] forces you to actively show,” he said. “As educators, we can find ourselves relying too much on the tell, or ‘look this up online.’ Nothing of that is possible over there, you have to rely on the essence of ‘show.’”

The classroom also provided him with a comforting sense of familiarity. “Not long after I got there, I made an important discovery,” said Maxwell. “Kids are kids, no matter where they are.  Once that realization hit, I knew I was fine.”

The experience of teaching in a foreign country provided him with many benefits that have enriched his classroom at home. “I got to practice my craft in the purest form,” he said. “And I got to see a part of the world that is remarkably different from ours.”

Thanks to a 10-year visa, Maxwell knows that this won’t be his only time with Mast Stem Academy.  In fact, he’ll be returning for a winter session next month during their holiday break. We look forward to hearing more about his adventures when he returns.

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