Monday, April 30, 2012

Culture Shock For A Westerner Living in China

Culture Shock For A Westerner Living in China.

I first came to China in 2005. I flew in via Hong Kong to Shenzhen and was completely blown away by this city. I didn't know quite what to expect but it certainly exceeded any expectations I might have had. Thirty years ago Shenzhen was just a small fishing village across the river from Hong Kong but with an idea of creating a model city to rival Hong Kong, the then leader Deng Xiaoping set out his vision for this super-city. In my opinion Shenzhen is an amazing modern city with futurist tall buildings, well designed family friendly apartment blocks, wide tree lined avenues, lush vegetation, relaxing parks and a vibrant economy to compete with any western city. Wow! I thought - this is communist China!

It wasn't however until 2007 when I came to live in Zunyi, a 'small' city in Guizhou province did I come to discover the real China. The fact is you never really know a country until you live there and for me, it was a real culture shock! Make no mistake about it, life in the west is so very different from life in China.

Population: As we all know, China has a huge population - 1.3 billion people, a figure which is difficult to comprehend. Zunyi is considered to be a small city in China but has a population bigger than England's second biggest city - Birmingham. And because everyone lives in apartment blocks, the inhabitants are more crammed in than English cities. Only the mountain right in the middle of the Zunyi creates a refuge from the noise and busyness of the city but most cities here don't have mountains in the middle of them. The bigger cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Chongqing seem to places of endless habitation but fortunately the city planners have thought about this and there are always either beautiful parks or historic sites to escape too. Because of the size of the population it is difficult to get away from people in China; even the countryside where agriculture is labour intensive, it can be difficult to be totally alone. Having said that, I have been fortunate enough to be taken to some stunning countryside away from the city where all you can hear is the birdsong and only occasionally meet another person.

Cultural differences: It is quite difficult to define Chinese culture so simply because like western culture, it is changing. There is the old traditional culture which underpins society and there is the new modern culture imported from the West, Japan and Korea. Although China has one of the oldest civilisations, it is actually one of the newest countries. Sixty years ago was the Cultural Revolution lead by Mao Zedong which swept away thousands of years of dynastic rule by emperors and freed the great majority of people from impoverished living. China reinvented itself in 1949 and became a truly communist country but that was sixty years ago and there can be no comparison between now and then. Only long held traditions and values remain and some of these are under threat from modern day life. Today young people in the cities have high aspirations and want all the modern day fashion and technology they can get their hands on.

So, on the surface in the modern cities all can appear the same as in the West. The men and women wear the same stylish clothes, the girls wear skimpy clothes to reveal their figure and the boys wear fashion to imitate their pop idols; business people drive expensive saloons and 4 x 4s (often black) and high-heeled ladies shop in expensive boutiques. Look up at the skyline and you'll see amazing high rise blocks of futuristic design which equal or even better western skylines. Under the modern exterior however, most people are very traditional and it is best to be aware of these traditional values if you want to live, work and do business here.

Family: In China, the family unit is a very strong one and there is generally great respect afforded by children to parents and to grandparents. That doesn't mean that everything is perfect in family life but family is the refuge and the security here. When people need help they turn to family, if they need financial backing for a business venture they turn to family and if they need advice, they do the same. It is not only in life that respect is given but in death also. Every year in April there is ceremony called Tomb Sweeping Day and on this day families will visit the graves of their relatives to clean the graves, say prayers and burn paper money for the dead. This creates a strong connection between the living and their ancestors, and gives an underlying message to the living that they won't be forgotten, even in death.

Today in China there is still the one child policy, although this does not apply in the countryside where there is a need for labour. This means that the family is small and often the children are cosseted. Most often both parents will go out to work and therefore the grandparents are frequently called upon to assist with the child's care. Sometimes the child will live with the grandparents if the father and mother have to work away. Many people have to work in other cities and commuting is impossible and so can only visit their family once or twice a year. This makes festivals like Spring Festival so important to the family. At Spring Festival most workers get a week's holiday and this is a big time for family reunions. This can be the only real holiday a lot of people get in the year.

Marriage: In China, marriage is still considered the only way for a couple to live together and there is strong pressure for young people to get married before they are 30, especially for the girls. The idea of a woman seeking a career above marriage is almost unheard of and equally of not wanting children. If a woman doesn't want children, she will be considered to be not normal. A lot of young people have an idealised view of marriage despite the divorce rate being high here; they always believe they can make the successful marriage. What's more there is still a notion for a lot of young women that they should be virgins when they get married, although this idea doesn't really hold in the big cities. Also, a lot of men want to marry virgins, especially in the countryside where old attitudes prevail and it is sometimes expected for a girl to produce a certificate from a doctor to say she is a virgin.

Youth culture: Young people now wear the latest fashion from Japan, Korea and the West but this can give the wrong impression as to their attitudes about love and sex which are still old fashioned. They may look like any young person from a permissive western society but they don't sleep around, they don't expect to have sex by the time they are eighteen and they wouldn't dare to bring a baby into the world without being married; what's more they're not into drugs either. High school students are discouraged by their parents from forming relationships until after they have graduated at the age of eighteen. Young girls may look stunning in the tight clothes and ultra short skirts but unlike many of their western counterparts, they are not party animals and don't go out on the town to get drunk; in fact a lot of them don't even drink alcohol at all and they certainly don't expect to be chatted up by strangers. Yes, attitudes are more westernised in the big cities but there is still a strong recognition of what it is to be Chinese and young people are very proud of this. The Chinese people are conservative by nature and this should be understood by western visitors, so as not to offend.

Work: There is a very strong work ethic in China and people are not afraid of work here. The fact is that if people don't work, they get no support from the state, not that they would expect it. Most people will do any work to earn a little money and don't feel a sense of shame if they have menial jobs. It is quite quite humbling to see the types of work that people will do to earn a small amount of money. People here take a great sense of pride in having a secure job and will do nothing to threaten that security. This can mean that some employees are exploited by their bosses who know their staff will not cause trouble if there are difficulties at work. Another fact is that there are too many workers for the jobs available and so people are always grateful to have work. Chinese people will work long hours doing the most tedious jobs without complaint but of course many do aspire to better themselves but competition for jobs is great and the greatest fear for a student at school or college is not to have a job after graduation. This is why students are prepared to begin their school day at 7 a.m. and finish their last class at 9.30 p.m. and will go to school on Saturday and then attend private classes on Sunday with little complaint. They get tired and worried about the never ending round of exams but they do it because they want to work and not just want work but want to have a good job. Many students today aspire to being rich and why shouldn't they, when their country is heading towards becoming the strongest economy in the world.

National pride: Chinese people are immensely proud of their country and their country's achievements and this was strongly reinforced during the 2008 Olympic Games and the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan when the entire country rallied to help the stricken area and its people. China is made up of many ethnic groups, each with their own traditions and dialect but is united under one flag and one leadership. There has been descent in some parts but on the whole, the country is as one. The Chinese people also have very strong feelings about Tibet and also Taiwan and I suggest that until you research the history about these areas, you don't get into a debate with Chinese people about them. There has been a lot of misinformation spread around about these, especially about Tibet by people who don't fully understand the history of China. It is a good idea to read some good books about China's history before coming to live in China; it will help you understand its people.

Manners: This may be one of the most difficult things to come to terms with in China because the Chinese people don't adopt the same manners as we are used to in the UK or US. It has sometimes been my opinion that Chinese people don't have manners at all but this is an over generalisation. Chinese people don't like to queue or wait to be served; if you are in shop being served, expect someone to barge in front of you but of course you don't have to put up with it. You have to learn to be quick and in some cases assert your ground. Also if you are in conversation with another, don't expect people to wait until you have finished your conversation before another will charge right on in to say their point. This will be much more so in the smaller cities where people have not become so educated and not so 'westernised.'

The thing to remember is that this is their way and there is little point in trying to change it because you won't. I believe however that you should maintain your own manners and civility but not try to thrust your beliefs onto others. When I first came to China, I found that no one ever smiled at me and no shop keeper ever thanked me for my custom. I thought the Chinese to be a very cold race but once I got to know people, I found them to be very warm, friendly and generous, even if they have little to give. My suggestion is that you smile first and let people know that you are friendly toward them, and that way they will soon begin to respond to you. The Chinese people in general are shy people and this explains a lot of their reticence to smile.

Big city, small city: If you live in one of the major cities like Shanghai or Beijing you will pretty much be invisible as you go about your daily business but if you choose to live in a smaller city or even a town, you will be source of much interest. In Zunyi I am one of a dozen or so foreigners and so I am often starred at and always in demand by students to talk English with me. I get lots of invites out to have a meal or go on trips; it certainly compensates for the isolation I have often felt. And while on the subject of being invited out for a meal. It is customary for the person doing the inviting to do the paying, so don't be concerned about others paying for you but out of politeness, you should return the invite and pay for them.

There times when you can feel completely frustrated by living in China, with the constant noise and smells, the apparent rudeness and disregard for others; it can really get to you but you have to accept it and try not to get angry. Chinese are far more tolerant in this respect; they have to be more tolerant of each other because there are so many people living in such close proximity to each other here. They are not fazed by air-horns, motorcycles on the footpath and people pushing in or cars cutting them up. It is important to remember that you are the foreigner here and this is not your country.

If you want to come and work here, I suggest you embrace the differences and don't try to resist them. I have gained so many friends here in China and it will be a very sad day when I finally return to the U.K. At times China has driven me mad with frustration but on the other hand, China has given me so much.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

South to North Vietnam An Unforgettable Experience

South to North Vietnam An Unforgettable Experience.

Hitting the road to Vietnam, I didn't know what to expect; the journey began in Southern Vietnam in Ho Chi Min City, formerly known as Saigon. We started off exploring the city, with our pro globalization cyclo driver kept saying "Got mouth to eat, Got no mouth to speak".

We then traveled to Cao Dai Temple, in which the temple was like going through some mad Alice in Wonderland dream. The architecture was like nothing I have ever seen before, it was modern with lots of exquisite art and detail everywhere. The religion is a combination of teachings from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam and other religions with the intention to promote peace.

Another highlight was visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, which is an ingenious invention of seeing how resilience the Vietnamese during the American war. The Vietcong controlled under the grounds while Americans controlled the sky and land. The tunnels were tiny and it was amazing to realize that people lived there, cooked, slept, used the bathroom and even had children. The visit was quite emotional because our tour guide was quite the opposite of our cyclo driver, he was a Vietcong fighter during the war. As we watched movies of how Vietcong rewarded brave soldiers that fought the evil Americans, it took me back to realize how symbolic nationalism was during that time.

We were then transferred to a parallel world to have a dinner in a completely different world of westernize Vietnamese food before dancing the night away to fusion of the francophone culture.

Next destination to the midlands, in which we hoped on an internal flight to Da Nang, which was quite an adventure sort of like being on a busy public bus in a rural towns. The only thing missing from people's luggage were the chickens, they had their things huge plastic bags. The flight was noisy and for three girls who got less than three hours of sleep it was quite the nightmare.

Our next destination was taking a cab to Hoi Ann, which was a 45 minute drive. We negotiated with our cab and after five minutes of driving, the cabbie stopped opened the trunk and there was a black car behind us. Once we realize what happened, Vimal tried to open her door, and it was locked. My immediate reaction is like I am not going to have my things robbed from me. It wasn't going to happen to me so I jumped to the passenger seat of the car, rushed to the trunk and pushed the driver aside, not sure what I was yelling. We all took our bags and walked back to the airport. The driver kept saying it was cheaper to take a private car but after hearing the horror stories of backpackers in Vietnam we weren't going to find out.

An hour later, we eventually made it to Hoi Ann, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site where we spent the day cycling the city indulging in Vietnamese coffee, tea and cuisine while the city poured around us. The city was magical, it made me realize how this haven had so many settlers. It was protected and because it was hard to get, spared the horrors of the Vietnamese war, the pagados, the old houses, and the atmosphere. We had loads of fun singing at the top of our lungs while cycling the rice paddies. We also go to experience the fabulous world of tailored clothes.

A couple of days letter, we set off on what is a common mode of transport a sleeping bus, the travel agents promotional posters made it looked like it was spacious and luxurious with full length beds. It was amazing to see the three rows of beds on a regular bus customized for the Asian body. The bus driver was quite hilarious as he took a 20 min break to stop and shop for some jackets on the way. As we set off to Hue, another unbelievable UNESCO Heritage Site, we rented bikes again and ventured to the old fortress, temples, and even played football with a group of young Vietnamese girls, in which we realized how badly we were.

My final stop was to Hanoi the second biggest city in Vietnam, which was a bit overwhelming after enjoying the peaceful countryside.The highlight was the water puppet show which is definitely a must see for anyone going to Hanoi. This was a great way to see Chinese aspect of Vietnamese culture.Vietnam surprised me with its beauty, charm and friendliness of the people.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Three Myths About How We Learn

Three Myths About How We Learn.

If you were to stroll back into your old elementary school today, you’d probably find that the classrooms look pretty similar to the ones you studied in, and the kids are still learning to read and write the same way you did. Schools change a lot more slowly than other industries. So do we still think about learning the same way we did back when we were in grade school?

Absolutely not, Wired‘s Geek Dad column reported recently. In the piece, Garth Sundem spoke with Robert Bjork, a professor of psychology and the director of UCLA’s Learning and Forgetting Lab, and discovered that scientists are full of new insights into how our brains absorb and retain information. And while the Geek Dad column is more concerned with children’s education (surprise, surprise), it still offers some lessons for us grown-ups, too.

A few common misconceptions about how we learn:

You should study one thing at a time. School is traditionally arranged into single-subject blocks of study, leading many of us to conclude we should devote our learning time to one specific topic, whether than be algebra or literature or Microsoft Access. Wrong move, according to Bjork, who recommends something called “interleaving,” which he explains with an example from tennis:

Instead of spending an hour working on your tennis serve, you mix in a range of skills like backhands, volleys, overhead smashes, and footwork. “This creates a sense of difficulty,” Bjork said. “And people tend not to notice the immediate effects of learning.” Instead of making an appreciable leap forward with your serving ability after a session of focused practice, interleaving forces you to make nearly imperceptible steps forward with many skills. But over time, the sum of these small steps is much greater than the sum of the leaps you would have taken if you’d spent the same amount of time mastering each skill in its turn.

Interleaving works, according to Bjork, because it allows you to better understand how different skills interrelate with each other.

You should have a single classroom or study location. You probably learned chemistry or composition day after day in the same room. Perhaps you train people in the same place day after day. Your materials are handy. Everyone knows where to come. But that’s all wrong, Bjork tells Sundem, who writes, “Studying in only one location is great as long as you’ll only be required to recall the information in the same location. If you want information to be accessible outside your dorm room, or office, or nook on the second floor of the library, Bjork recommends varying your study location.”

You should reinforce learning with steady, consecutive teaching. It turns out it’s best to study a subject, take a long break, and then study it again. And if you think you’ll just forget everything while you’re away from it, then you don’t understand how learning really works, Bjork says. “Forget about forgetting. People tend to think that learning is building up something in your memory and that forgetting is losing the things you built,” he says. “But in some respects the opposite is true.” While you might not be able to recall everything you once committed to memory after not recalling for a while, that doesn’t mean it’s totally lost. Studies show it’s just buried somewhere in your mind, and you’ll recall something you once learned much faster than fresh material.

“You should space your study sessions so that the information you learned in the first session remains just barely retrievable. Then, the more you have to work to pull it from the soup of your mind, the more this second study session will reinforce your learning,” concludes Sundem.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Advices for Foreigners Working in China

Advices for Foreigners Working in China. 

China now attracts millions of people from all over the world. The experience of working in China will be memorable. But are you clear about the China work situation, the type of job, the workplace and the salary? The following will give a detailed information of them.

China now attracts millions of people from all over the world. The experience of working in China will be memorable. But are you clear about the China work situation, the type of job, the workplace and the salary? The following will give a detailed information of them.

Type of Job for Foreigners in China
Currently, most foreigners in demand in China are English teachers, and these offers are mostly provided by schools. Schools are classified into public schools and private schools. A few private schools promise a high salary in advertisements, however, after having worked there you may find out that a few private schools couldn't arrange a Z or F visa for you to work in China, and it would be difficult to get the entire salary they promised before, for reasons that they don't take in enough students or the quality of you classes is not good enough. And of course, it is illegal to wok in China without a Z or F visa, while in public school, there is a Foreign Affairs Office that will assist you in your work and daily life, provide better accomodation for foreign experts, and the salary is paid entirely according to the contract.

City to Work for Foreigners in China
It seems that most foreigners are only familiar with several big cities in China, like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and focus on jobs in these cities. As a result, there are more applicants and competition there, which leads to a relatively lower salary because of the much higher living cost than that in other cities.

Salary for Foreigners in China
It seems that most foreigners are only familiar with several big cities in China, like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and focus on jobs in these cities. As a result, there are more applicants and competition there, which leads to a relatively lower salary because of the much higher living cost than that in other cities.

If you don't have any special reasons to work in big cities, it would be a better choice to work in a relatively smaller city, where the salary is almost the same as that in big cities but the living cost is much lower, and what's more, the scenery is usually more beautiful and the local people are more friendly.

Time of Job Hunting in China
Compared with other positions, foreign teacher is a little bit special. The best time to find teaching work in China is in September, when the schools return, or in February, just after the winter holiday, although there are thousands of short summer school placements from June to September. And meanwhile, other positions have no special requirement.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why Foreigners Stay in China

Why Foreigners Stay in China?

"IT was Beijing's wealth of opportunity that made me want to come here to work," says Mao Yihui, a bespectacled, round-faced, close-cropped Italian, fluent in Chinese. Mao currently works as English editor on a website in Beijing. He loves music, and in his spare time gets together with five friends from Australia, Canada and Italy to play in the band they have formed, "Big Aeroplane," in which he is drummer. They mainly perform in Sanlitun bars, and are sometimes invited to play at embassies. To him, life in Beijing becomes daily more colorful. He says, "The development of bands here is closely related to the diversity of performance venues. As regards progressive music, Italy lags far behind China."

Alain, from France, became fascinated by Chinese culture on his first sight of Chinese calligraphy. He left his motherland for Shanghai, and found work as a teacher at a French language training center. He is satisfied with his decision, because living in China, he can enjoy full-scale interaction with Chinese culture.

Nowadays, foreigners living and working in China are commonplace in cosmopolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. If so desired, one may take language classes from a foreign teacher, eat dishes cooked by foreign chefs, be ministered to by a foreign beauty therapist at a beauty salon, or enjoy being entertained by foreign performance artists. Exotic stage acts and imported technologies all have, to varying degrees, an influence on Chinese life. Local people no longer have the impression that foreigners working in China are solely senior managers or specialists in foreign-funded enterprises.

Many of the foreigners in China today have come in search of opportunities for a new life. The country's economic achievements and brilliant prospects, and the vitality of everyday life, all combine to give them ample reason to stay here.

According to statistics, more than 60,000 foreigners have obtained work permits in China, and the actual number of foreign employees is much larger. Most foreign workers are hired directly by Chinese companies, and work in the fields of management, marketing, production, finance, catering and education. They come from more than 90 countries and regions, including Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea, Germany, and Singapore, and are concentrated in larger cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Since China's entry into the WTO, even more foreigners are expected to come to work in China.


Inside a Boeing 767 fuselage, air stewardesses cordially ask passengers to fasten their seatbelts. Suddenly, the plane begins to shudder violently, and the lights flicker on and off. The cabin is chaos, rent with passengers' shrieks and cries of terror. At this time, air stewardesses guide passengers out through the emergency exit. Finally, two stewardesses rapidly check the entire cabin, and after making sure that no passengers remain, slide down the emergency chute carrying first-aid boxes. This is the "emergency exit" maneuver -- a training program for 12 Japanese air stewardesses employed by Air China.

In 2001, Air China employed 12 stewardesses from Japan, which caused quite a stir. People did not understand this. Chinese stewardesses are fine, why spend more on hiring foreigners?

The far-sighted managers of Air China do not see it this way. Li Fujian, chief of Air China's Labor and Personnel Department, spoke of a questionnaire survey conducted on Sino-Japanese flights. Results showed that Air China operates 40 Sino-Japanese flights every day, and that 60 percent of passengers are Japanese, most of them senior citizens who speak English poorly and have difficulty communicating with air stewardesses. The Japanese people lay great store by the social etiquette with which Chinese stewardesses are not familiar. In the survey, 52 percent of respondents expressed their preference for Japanese stewardesses, which is why Air China took this decision. It resulted in fierce airline competition, and it is reported that since its employment of Japanese air stewardesses, Air China's flight occupancy has increased appreciably.

Air China has made known its intention to employ more foreign stewardesses, when the time is ripe, to enhance its service and bring it to an international level. This move is also expected to promote professionalism in Chinese stewardesses.

Increases in the number of foreign employees reflect China's efforts to be in line with international norms in terms of knowledge, human resources, policy-making, concepts, service, and products. When planning their future development, certain Chinese organizations and enterprises solicit international talents, so as to waste no time in getting into international gear, as only then can they hold their ground in the face of fierce competition. This is undoubtedly a current trend.

Efforts made by foreign employees to enhance exchanges between China and the outside world have also had beneficial results. This is manifest in the person of Bora Milutinovic, Croatian coach to the Chinese National Soccer Team. Probably the most famous employee from abroad, he has brought joy to the Chinese people, especially Chinese soccer fans, and made great contributions to Chinese sports in general.

Alain, chief Framatome representative in China, has worked in China for more than a decade. With his help, the Shanghai No.1 Machinery Tools Factory uses Framatome technologies to manufacture nuclear power plant equipment. These products have earned a high evaluation from the French Supervisory Committee of Science and Technology, and are listed as a WTO recommended product. Lu Huayong, an American, and former tennis professional, has been superintendent of the Heineken Shanghai Open since 1997. He took full advantage of his contacts within tennis circles and knowledge of the game to make the Open a lively, vibrant event. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) gave the Heineken Shanghai Open a top rating.

Several domestic insurance companies have invested sizable sums of money in the hiring of foreign employees and advisers. The China Ping'an Insurance Company went so far as to invite the vice-president of a famous American company to join the company, and China Pacific Insurance has no intention of being left behind in this regard. Wang Guoliang, chairman of the China Pacific board of directors, announced that recruitment of Chinese and foreign talents would be one of the main measures taken to promote the long-term development of his company, and has worked out related policies.

The above facts show that Chinese enterprises are now out to solicit talents from abroad, and that competition for the "best in the West" has begun.


Makoto Endo, a Japanese professor in his late 50s, is planning to introduce senior technical personnel from Japan to work in China. The Japan-China Technological and Intellectual Transfer Center, which he represents, has signed a letter of intent with the China Specialists Economic and Technological Advisory Center, under the Chinese Ministry of Personnel. The Sino-Japan Human Resources Development Center, a joint venture, was established in August 2001.

The center stipulates that Japanese technical personnel introduced into China must spend two to five years here. The first batch of 500 Japanese personnel has already arrived and started work in China.

Although China has an abundant labor force, technical workers at the production forefront are not fully versed in all the necessary skills, hence the call for foreign technical personnel. According to statistics, of China's 70 million technical workers, only 5 percent hold senior technical qualifications, and the structure of technical workers is that of a pyramid. This is in direct contrast with developed countries, where those holding senior technical titles make up nearly 40 percent of the technical workforce. According to experts, China's low manufacturing standard is attributable not to the level of its engineers, but to that of its workers.

In 2001, the China International Talents Market, supported by the China State Foreign Experts Bureau, and established by the China Association for the International Exchange of Talents, commenced operation. This is the first entity of its kind in China.

According to responsible market officials, service targets are at an international level, and include the introduction of talents from abroad. This is a permanent intermediary organ and a channel through which to invite foreign experts, and to send personnel abroad to undergo training. The market is currently taking full advantage of support from the State Foreign Experts Bureau, and its main business is locating and inviting foreign experts, such as scientific and technological specialists, university lecturers etc., to work in China. On receiving requests from domestic units, the market mechanism is activated. Apart from local channels of communication, the market also has a website providing information to talents abroad.

Shanghai, which has a concentration of excellent talents from all over the country, is advancing towards cosmopolitan status. Building a mechanism through which to solicit international talents appropriate to its future cosmopolitan level is high on the agenda of its human resource objectives. It has recently been reported that in 2005, Shanghai will be prominent in Asia for talent recruitment, and that in 2015, an international talent-soliciting framework will begin to take shape.

Chen Yanhua, an official with the Foreigners Employment Department of the Beijing Municipal Labor and Social Security Bureau, says that after China's entry into the WTO, the international and domestic talents markets will link up, and that the Chinese employment market will open still wider to foreigners. This means that legal restrictions on foreigners working in China will relax. Foreign employees will include not only technical personnel, but also managers, all of whom will be welcome with open arms. Measures to attract foreign talents are also to be adopted. For instance, China recently began to issue "green cards," which permit entry to China without a visa, to foreign technical personnel, investors and entrepreneurs. The Chinese government is also to provide more services, and to designate specific departments that will provide information and intermediary services to foreigners. All this will promote China's economic development and enhance its competitive power within the international market.

What Have Foreign Employees Brought to China?

Many foreigners regard China as a good place to work. The monthly income of certain high-ranking managerial personnel in some transnational companies is as high as US$ 100,000, and the income tax they pay is therefore considerable.

But the influence of foreign employees is not limited merely to their tax contributions. Dong Keyong, a professor at the Labor and Personnel School of the People's University of China, says that it is fine for domestic companies to employ foreigners in certain key positions, but that they should not go too far in this regard. Various countries take measures to protect their own labor force, and exert strict control over the employment of foreigners. In the current Chinese labor market, supply greatly exceeds demand, so efforts must be made to train Chinese employees.

There are, however, also scholars who think that foreign employees are a testimony to China's increased overall strength. Following developments in the Chinese economy, this phenomenon is likely to continue. The scope of the Chinese employment market is huge, and accepting a calculated number of foreign workers should present no problem. If Chinese employees do not take full advantage of their employment opportunities, or work to full capacity in their positions, then they can blame none but themselves if they lose their jobs.

This is the view of Meng Xiancang, director of the Employment Department of the Beijing Municipal Labor and Social Security Bureau. He says that 16,000 foreigners and 5,000 compatriots from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao have obtained work permits in Beijing, and that 85 percent of them are intermediate or senior managers and specialists. Taking into consideration Beijing's population of 10 million, they should pose no threat to the employment prospects of Beijing inhabitants.

Opinions vary, but one thing is certain -- that China's employment system is undergoing transformation in multiple directions. The increase in the number of foreign employees in catering, hotel management, culture and entertainment, and IT constitutes both a boost and a challenge to China's economic development. Foreign employees also help in communications with the rest of the world, and can tell of the changes that have taken place in China. Following China's entry into the WTO, effectively regulating the entry of foreign employees, and rapidly enhancing the competitive potential of domestic talents is a number one priority.


An Adult Child With Autism

Next Steps For An Adult Child With Autism.

This week began with World Autism Awareness Day, created five years ago by the group Autism Speaks as a locus for fund-raising and spreading the word. It comes at the start to National Autism Awareness Month, which was created by Congress back in the 1970s. In commemoration of both, Huffpost Parents is looking at autism through the eyes of parents all this week. Each day we will run an essay about a next stage of parenting a child with autism, starting with the moment of diagnosis, and going through school years, and teens, and entry into the adult world.

I don't know how to do this.

There's no book for taking the next step. No Fiske Guide to Colleges. No Barron's. When our son Jonathan was preparing to leave home for college, we had a whole shelf of books to guide our family.

There's no book for our autistic son Mickey, who is turning twenty. No U.S. News and World Report ranking best vocational opportunities; no handbook rating residential programs for developmentally disabled young adults. We're making it up as we go.

Graduation fever is spreading through Mickey's class. Parents and students are itching to leave the security - and the restriction -- of our public high school's self-contained life skills class. Most are opting to send their children to residential programs far away. I'm feeling coerced into making decisions I'm not ready to make; I roil with fear and uncertainty.

Petitioning the state for legal guardianship of our own child before he turned 18 was heartbreaking. Getting him Supplemental Security Income and entering the labyrinth of federal bureaucracy was nightmarish. But this step - preparing to leave high school, and the world of what the government promises every disabled child, a "free and appropriate public education," isn't just unnerving. It's terrifying.

Mickey too has caught the fever. He has been a twelfth grader for three years, and he is asking to leave. Loud and clear. "I'm not going back to high school next year. I don't want another yearbook. I'm graduating."

He has always loved his yearbooks, memorizing the name and face of every person in the building so that when he walks down the hall he can greet everyone by name. I have secretly ordered a yearbook for him. Just in case he changes his mind.

"Everyone is ready to go to college at a different time," my husband Marc and I tell him.

"I'm going to college!" he insists.

Does he even know what college means? He knows his brother and cousins have gone; he sees classmates leaving. He understands college is the step that comes after high school. "What do you think you do at college?" I ask him.

"I don't know."

"Do you go to class?" I persist.

"I. Don't. Know."

Does he think it consists of eating out, hanging with friends and watching televised sports in the student union, as we did when we visited Jonathan? Or perhaps he views it as extended sleep-away camp?

"Can we look at colleges this week, Dad?" he persists.

"Sure, Mick," Marc says. Later he tells me, "What do you think he's expecting to see?"

"I don't know that it's anything specific," I say. "I think this is his way of telling us he wants more freedom."

We say, "College." But it won't be. He's too cognitively challenged for that. "College" will be what we call whatever he does next.

Mickey is legally entitled to one more year. Parents of older children with disabilities advise us to keep him in school as long as we can. "Take whatever the public school system can still give you and hold them accountable," one advises us. Another warns us that once a child turns 21 and exits school, services for disabled adults are abysmal. "In school you're used to having people with master's degrees working with your kid," cautions another parent. "Once you leave school, you're getting people making $10 an hour."

"But they have high school degrees, right?" I ask.

She laughs ruefully. "If you're lucky."

Marc and I aren't ready to take off the training wheels yet. "Residential placement seems so permanent," Marc says. "Camp is one thing. Kids get really grubby there, but we always know we're going to pick him up and clean him up again. His voice cracks as he asks, "Would you pack a six year old off to boarding school?"

But Day Hab sounds like a dismal option. The programs are funded by Medicaid. I've heard parents describe it as "glorified babysitting." I think about the first special needs preschool class we ever visited. Seventeen years ago, and I can still see that impassive teacher who never left her chair or looked at us. How bored she'd looked. Is that what day hab offers? I picture a warehouse. Indifferent, untrained staff. Keep-busy activities. Coloring. Stringing beads. A room full of disabled adults, parked in front of a TV for hours.

Adolescence and the onset of epilepsy have made him emotionally labile. He can be belligerent when thwarted. Are these normal adolescent mood swings, or the harbinger of a seizure? We're never sure. Anger and irritability can occur hours or even days before one strikes, like the hissing whistle of a sky rocket before it explodes. We've learned how to manage him, knowing how quickly he can flare up and spin out to that angry place, and how difficult it is to reel him back. But the world isn't going to tiptoe around Mickey. It is he who must learn to control his temper.

To this end, we enlist the aid of the school psychologist. "Mickey is intelligent," he says. "He really has some insight into his behavior." It makes me teary. No one else at our public high school has ever said my child is intelligent.

Intelligent despite the terrible standardized test scores; despite profound language deficits that even now cause him to mix up his verb tenses or use scripted speech; despite three sedating anti-epileptic drugs that dull him down. We no longer question whether he is innately intelligent. We know he is. We hear it in the observations he makes, in the questions he asks, in the way he cuts to the emotional core of things. After the death of a great-aunt, he tells us, "I feel so sad. All our people are disappearing." When his class throws a party for him, he tells the teacher, "I feel loved."

And he is. Even when he isn't easy to be with, he is still lovable.

We have felt cushioned and cocooned by school the past sixteen years. We haven't always been happy - in fact we've been profoundly angry at times. But being in school has meant that we've known where he is every day, and that he is safe.

And that's the crux of our fears. We can't keep him safe anymore. We know our son needs to be stretched and challenged. But the world isn't safe. How will we protect him, when we are no longer there to absorb the blows?

Does Mickey realize that he will never be able to go out into the world unattended? Never ride a bus or train alone? He will never drive a car; epilepsy has seen to that. Living with seizures is like living with the threat of terrorism. You have to stay vigilant, because you could be struck anywhere, any time. A seizure leaves him so profoundly disoriented that he will walk into oncoming traffic. More than once I've cradled him in my arms after one of those episodes, only to have him ask me, "When are my parents coming to pick me up?"

Other parents look forward to their empty nests, to reconnecting as a couple. We have micromanaged every hour of Mickey's life for nearly 20 years. How do we ever shut off our dependency on his dependency?

Will we feel free? Or unmoored?

Then we get lucky. A space suddenly opens at an autism school half an hour from home that has a transition program. They will take him for his last year of formal schooling. They want him immediately. They will work on cooking. Laundry. Emailing. Office skills. Money management. Travel training. Our school district will bus him there. We describe it to Jonathan.

"Is this a marriage of convenience?" Jonathan asks.

"This is a good place," Marc assures him. "And it buys us breathing room."

We cross our collective fingers. Mickey glows when we tell him he has done so well at high school that he is graduating into a program that helps kids get ready for college. We make the switch.
After his first week in the new program, Mickey writes Marc an email.


Dear dad

Yesterday I went to gym and do volleyball. Then I went for a walk.
Then I worked on the computer. I feel great about my new class



When a baby is born, someone cuts the umbilical cord for you. How can we possibly loosen the thousands of threads that bind him to us? It's an endless unraveling, this process of letting go.

But we must. And we will figure out what comes next. We will do this just as we have done everything else these past twenty years. Pulling together as a family.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

China Is Still The Best Place To Find A Job

China Is Still The Best Place To Find A Job.

I said way back in December that expats are better off looking for a job in China than they would be back in their home lands. That obviously still holds true as the Huffington Post has just written an article titled Young Americans Going To China For Jobs.

Finding Jobs In China

The article cites the case of Mikala Reasbeck, who could only find a part time job after graduating from college in Boston (counting pills in a chemist at $7 an hour). What did she do? She went to Beijing, knowing that she’d have a better chance of finding a good job in China than she would in the US.

After one week looking for work, she had a full time job teaching English.

That won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s lived in China – there are TEFL jobs (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) everywhere in China. What may come as a slight surprise is the salary she managed to get: 14,000 to 16,000 yuan per month. That’s pretty good for a TEFL position. There are definitely such jobs around, but it’s at the higher end of the market.

Mikala has a degree in writing, literature and publishing, but is not a qualified teacher so I’d say she’s been lucky. I’ve had a similar salary and I’m not qualified teacher either, but then I was teaching ICT. I’d been in the computer industry for 13 years when I got the job, including time spent as a trainer.

Mikala’s not alone – the article reports that many young foreigners, faced with bleak prospects in their own countries, are going to China to look for work. Although many are finding jobs such as teaching English, there’s a growing number who are finding professional positions in their favoured industry.

Getting A Visa

One interesting thing that the article pointed out was that China was preferred as a destination over some other countries, such as Russia and the EU, because it was easier to get a visa to work in China:

    Employers need government permission to hire foreigners, but authorities promise an answer within 15 working days, compared with a wait of months or longer that might be required in some other countries.

The article does mention that visa restrictions were tightened ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympics and while it doesn’t say whether they’ve subsequently been relaxed, it does say that there were more people holding a visa at the end of 2008 than there was at the end of 2007:

    Some 217,000 foreigners held work permits at the end of 2008, up from 210,000 a year earlier, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Thousands more use temporary business visas and go abroad regularly to renew them

That would indicate that visa restrictions have been relaxed.

As it also says, there are many more people who do not have an official work permit (ie Z visa). It’s been that way for years. I don’t know of a foreigner in China who hasn’t worked on business visa (F visa) or even a tourist visa (L visa) at one point or another.

There are always issues related to visas when you have a job in China.

Many companies will give you an F visa to start with, then try to switch you over to a Z visa when you’re there. Sometimes it can be done, sometimes you have leave the country and re-enter (hands up all those who’ve had an unexpected holiday in Hong Kong!).

Last time I checked (2007), the rules were that you had to leave the country to change from an F visa to a Z visa. Of course rules change and local authorities sometime seem to be able to bend them (if the company is asking them in the right way).

Do You Need To Speak Chinese?

I don’t speak Chinese (well only a little), but I’ve never had any problems getting a job in China!

In my experience, Chinese language ability is not required for TEFL positions. I’m sure it would be seen as an added bonus, but 99% of people teaching in China either have very limited Chinese language abilities, or none at all. What they do know is usually only what they’ve picked up while they’ve been living in China – they couldn’t speak Chinese when they first arrived.

Of course, getting a professional job in China may be different, but there are possibilities for people who don’t speak Chinese. The article says:

    While many jobs require at least a smattering of Chinese, some employers that need other skills are hiring people who do not speak the language.

It cites CEO, Grant Yu, who has said he may employ people who cannot speak Chinese if they have other skills:

    I don’t believe language is the biggest obstacle in communication, as long as he or she has a strong learning ability.

It also mentions Feng Li, a partner in a private fund that invests in the mining industry, who is planning to recruit foreign employees to read legal documents and communicate with clients abroad.

Of course, the vast majority of professional job vacancies that I’ve seen do state that Mandarin is required, so I’m unsure how many professional vacancies there are that really don’t require Chinese language skills. It wouldn’t hurt to learn Chinese!

Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group, said that there is more competition for foreigners seeking employment in China, from the well educated, English-speaking Chinese youth of today:

    You have a lot of Chinese from top universities who are making $500-$600 a month. Making a case that you are much better than they are is very hard.

In response to the issues of not speaking Chinese and the competition from Chinese graduates, I’ll come back to what I said in my December post:

    If you have specialist expertise, you’ll be in demand.

China is still a great place to find a job.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Do Students Know Enough Smart Learning Strategies?

Do Students Know Enough Smart Learning Strategies?

What’s the key to effective learning? One intriguing body of research suggests a rather gnomic answer: It’s not just what you know. It’s what you know about what you know.

To put it in more straightforward terms, anytime a student learns, he or she has to bring in two kinds of prior knowledge: knowledge about the subject at hand (say, mathematics or history) and knowledge about how learning works. Parents and educators are pretty good at imparting the first kind of knowledge. We’re comfortable talking about concrete information: names, dates, numbers, facts. But the guidance we offer on the act of learning itself—the “metacognitive” aspects of learning—is more hit-or-miss, and it shows.

Research has found that students vary widely in what they know about how to learn, according to a team of educational researchers from Australia writing in this month’s issue of the journal Instructional Science. Most striking, low-achieving students show “substantial deficits” in their awareness of the cognitive and metacognitive strategies that lead to effective learning—suggesting that these students’ struggles may be due in part to a gap in their knowledge about how learning works.

Teaching students good learning strategies would ensure that they know how to acquire new knowledge, which leads to improved learning outcomes, writes lead author Helen Askell-Williams of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. And studies bear this out. Askell-Williams cites as one example a recent finding by PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, which administers academic proficiency tests to students around the globe, and place American students in the mediocre middle. “Students who use appropriate strategies to understand and remember what they read, such as underlining important parts of the texts or discussing what they read with other people, perform at least 73 points higher in the PISA assessment—that is, one full proficiency level or nearly two full school years—than students who use these strategies the least,” the PISA report reads.

In their own study, Askell-Williams and her coauthors took as their subjects 1,388 Australian high school students. They first administered an assessment to find out how much the students knew about cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies—and found that their familiarity with these tactics was “less than optimal.”

Students can assess their own awareness by asking themselves which of the following learning strategies they regularly use (the response to each item is ideally “yes”):

* I draw pictures or diagrams to help me understand this subject.
* I make up questions that I try to answer about this subject.
* When I am learning something new in this subject, I think back to what I already know about it.
* I discuss what I am doing in this subject with others.
* I practice things over and over until I know them well in this subject,
* I think about my thinking, to check if I understand the ideas in this subject.
* When I don’t understand something in this subject I go back over it again.
* I make a note of things that I don’t understand very well in this subject, so that I can follow them up.
* When I have finished an activity in this subject I look back to see how well I did.
* I organize my time to manage my learning in this subject.
* I make plans for how to do the activities in this subject.

Askell-Williams and her colleagues found that those students who used fewer of these strategies reported more difficulty coping with their schoolwork. For the second part of their study, they designed a series of proactive questions for teachers to drop into the lesson on a “just-in-time” basis—at the moments when students could use the prompting most.

These questions, too, can be adopted by any parent or educator to make sure that children know not just what is to be learned, but how.

* What is the topic for today’s lesson?
* What will be important ideas in today’s lesson?
* What do you already know about this topic?
* What can you relate this to?
* What will you do to remember the key ideas?
* Is there anything about this topic you don’t understand, or are not clear about?


An English Teacher’s Day in Phnom Penh Cambodia

An English teacher’s day in Phnom Penh Cambodia.

My aunt and uncle have a rule about complaining: you only get one whinge per day.

So, if you stub your toe before you even get out of bed in the morning, you can have yourself a little cry, but that’s it. You’re done for the day. Even if you then leave your house, fall down the stairs, cross the street and get hit by a child riding a bicycle,  miss the bus to work because you were too busy yelling at the child, get fired because you’ve been late too many times, drink heavily for the rest of the day and fall up the stairs going home, and stub your toe getting back into bed.
You have to pick just one.
My whinge today is teaching.
I know, I know, all teachers complain about teaching. The kids are brats, there are so many papers to grade, the administration is always all up in yo’ grill, blah blah blah. You know what I have to say to that? They speak English!
To make matters worse, it is a cultural habit here to always respond with a nod when asked a question. Do you know where this address is? Nods yes. Do you have change for a five? Nods yes. Can I steal your tuk tuk? Nods yes.
I never get a response with the I-don’t-understand expression when I ask them to point to mom in the picture. It’s just a nod—I hear the words coming out of your mouth—which makes me count to ten and do breathing exercises frequently so I don’t shake the children violently and cry myself to sleep at night.
Now you can add in the teacher complaints of dealing with crying six-year-olds, that one kid who won’t ever shut up, and their unbelievable ability to cheat on everything.
If it weren’t for my schedule, I think I’d lose my mind.
6:30 am: Wake up. Or at least move my body from the sleeping position to standing. Actually waking up happens around 8 am.
7:00 am: After yawning, showering, yawning, and getting dressed I make an egg sandwich and have a little rest. (Yes mom, I take my vitamin every day).
7:20 am: Go to the street where my moto driver is waving and saying good morning. He’s great. Every morning he takes me to Modern International School and every afternoon he takes me home. I pay him $8 a week. You can bet he’ll be getting a good Christmas present.
8:00 am: Finally awake in time for my first class. 24 kindergarteners. We’re studying from a book called Number Magic. They all already know how to count to 1,000 and magic is frowned upon here, so I’d say it’s an effective learning device.
9:00 am: Same grade, different class. Except I’m pretty sure every one of these kids could be diagnosed with ADHD. At no point is everyone sitting in a seat—they are like whack-a-mole, one sits down and another one gets up to wander—and by Thursday I lose my voice from telling them to sit down and do their work.
10:00 am: 31 preschoolers. One teacher’s assistant. And a kid who I can only politely describe as an ass hole. He’s smarter than the other kids and about four years older, so he flies through his work and begins his next task of terrorizing the teacher.
He started this new routine of putting on his backpack midway through class and pretending to leave, saying, “Bye Teachaa.” He throws me his shittiest smile and waltzes toward the door. The TA yells something in Khmer about breaking his knee caps and then he runs back to his desk to sulk.
11:00 am: Hop on the moto and close my eyes for the fifteen minute ride home. I close them partly because of exhaustion and partly because this is peak traffic time and I’d have an anxiety attack if I watched all of the accidents we narrowly avoided.
11:15 am – 5:00 pm is my saving grace period. I usually eat lunch, go for a run around the Royal Palace or do yoga at home, write a little, catch up on reading, eat dinner, and walk to ELT—the university where I teach night classes.
5:25 pm: I have my oldest class of 6B students, which is the equivalent to seniors in high school. I love teaching this class because they’re almost fluent and really funny.
This past Friday our topic was gossiping and rumors so we played telephone to show how rumors spread and change. It got them practicing listening and speaking, and they cracked up when the rumors I started were about someone in the class liking someone else.
6:30 pm: Last class of the night and it’s high school freshman. They think they’re all that and a bag of chips. But they’re smart. And they love pop culture, so I get to hear about how amazing Justin Bieber is every day. I’ll admit it, though, they’re pretty good kids.
7:30 pm: Walk home and make dinner.
8:30 pm: Do a little lesson planning for the next day.
9:30 pm: Check emails and Facebook 
10:00 pm: Get ready for bed and read (I’m as nerdy as they come).
10:30 pm: Lights out.

Alright, so I guess this vent session made me realize how easy I have it. I only work five hours a day—that’s 25 hours a week for all you mathmagicians out there—and I still make enough to pay rent, save a little, eat well, have a couple adult beverages with friends, and get a weekly $4 pedicure/massage.
As we say here daily, “Only in Cambodia.”


Monday, April 23, 2012

How We Learn a Skill - The Journey from Novice to Master

How We Learn a Skill: The Journey from Novice to Master.

Whether you’re an educator or a student, manager or new employee, knowledge of the four stages of skill mastery can help you know where you are in your craft, and how far you’ve got to go

It’s decided, this year’s the year. You’re going to learn to play an instrument. After all, haven’t you always wanted to be the one with the guitar around the campfire–jamming out Stairway to Heaven in front of a crowd of wide-eyed campers? Or maybe you’ve always liked the idea of playing the piano, and occasionally visualize yourself as that rambunctious cowboy banging away at the keys in a smoky saloon.

Whatever skill you hope to develop, learning something new takes practice, practice. And yes, more practice. And whether it’s learning to play the guitar, the piano or how to manage people, there are four stages one must journey through in skill development–The final being “The Master”–someone who’s unconsciously competent. That is, their craft comes naturally to them. They don’t have to think about. Snap. It just happens.

The Novice

But, as we all know (and wish were not true sometimes), mastering a craft doesn’t happen overnight. Look at “overnight successes” for example. Upon closer examination there are typically year’s and year’s worth of hard work, mistakes, and failures lurking behind the scenes of their so-called success. Indeed, before learning any skill, we must begin na├»ve. This is called The Novice stage. As can be seen on the graph, a learner in this stage is both low on consciousness and low on competency. Having never been exposed to something before, he or she is “unconsciously incompetent.” Essentially, they don’t know what they don’t know. It is a stage of ignorance. With little or no knowledge of the skill as well as the awareness of the requirements for mastery, if you’re here, you’re not aware of what you’re required to do and you don’t know how to do it. As a teacher or a trainer, these students can be spotted immediately. They are enthusiastic and eager to learn.

The Apprentice

As you’re exposed to new concepts and skills, you start to realize your personal limitations. Sure you’ve picked a few things up, but you’re still all thumbs. You’re committed though, and you stick with it, and in doing so progress into The Apprentice stage. At this point you’re starting to admit your own incompetence and are becoming “consciously incompetent.” You’ve got a little more respect now for Axl Rose’s guitar solo in November Rain. On the graph, you can see that while your competence is still low, your consciousness is increasing. And while you still don’t quite know what you’re doing, you at least know what you don’t know. An experienced mentor may see the student frustrated at this stage though. The student may wonder if they will ever ‘get it.’ Directed learning is paramount here. And flexible training plans are a must. Tips, tricks and success stories should be shared as well, and one-on-ones, encouragement and emotional support should be in abundance.

The Journeyman

It is in the stage of The Journeyman where the real work begins. In this stage: ‘Practice (most definitely) makes perfect.’ This stage is all about perspiration–the physical and mental struggle on the road to mastery. The profound concentration and focus will cause mental and physical exhaustion. So while it a time of great practice, it is requires great patience. Also known as “good days and bad days,” a cyclical pattern of ‘failure’ and ‘success’ may emerge. But progress is being made. And you are beginning to see the fruits of your labor. On the graph, one can see that both consciousness and competency is rising. From a teacher’s perspective, it’s best if learning sessions are fun in this stage. And practice schedules should have variety built in.

The Master

With any skill, technique or craft, the ultimate goal is to achieve a point where you are “unconsciously competent.” A natural. One could say a “genius.” In essence: it is the stage of The Master. You can spot ‘Masters’ right away. They pick up the guitar and it’s automatic. And not only is it effortless, often there’s no thought to it at all. Seen on the graph, this person is both high in consciousness and high on competence. They get it. Ask this person to play blindfolded, they can. Dare them to play on one foot, they will. When you’ve reached this stage in skill development, you’re a bona fide virtuoso. But it takes time. And while some skills in academic or business contexts can takes a few months, or weeks even, pure mastery of a complex skill can take much longer.

10,000 Hours

How long does it actually take to become a master or genius at something? Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” cites work from expertise researchers on this matter and shows that there’s a consistent number every time. Whether its non-fiction writing, or wakeboarding, according to these researchers, you need to have practiced for 10,000 hours, or roughly ten years, to become a genius at something. Gladwell writes that every great composer practiced for at least 10 years before they wrote their master work. And he shows that while Mozart was composing at 11, his work wasn’t all that good at that age. He actually didn’t produce anything truly ‘masterful’ until he was about 23-years-old–approximately 10 years after beginning.

In many ways, this law of 10,000 hours is appealing. It means ‘success’ isn’t necessarily genetic, socioeconomic or generational. In addition, it’s not necessarily where you came from or who know. But quite simply how many hours you’ve logged in your craft. It’s reminiscent of the story of a woman who approached a famous violinist after he had performed one of his many magnificent concerts. Upon making her way to the violinist, the woman said, “Sir, I would give my life to play like you play.” The violinist replied, “Ma’am. I did.”

Van Gogh’s and Emerson’s

As we’re all aware, there’s a difference between theory and direct experience. Reading a book on engines and working underneath the hood of a car in your uncle’s garage for a week are different experiences. That’s why apprenticeships exist today. In fact, Vincent Van Gogh apprenticed with an art dealer before he became an artist. Plato was Socrates’ student. And Ralph Waldo Emerson took Thoreau under his wing early on. It’s highly likely that if you’ve mastered something, you’ve spent time with someone who had already done so. Vocational schools are coming back into vogue now for this very reason. We’ve been so academically driven for so long. But the reality is: do we really need to be able to understand calculus in order to repair an auto engine?

The Road to Mastery

So if you’re a Master, are you one for life? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Once you’ve reached mastery, you’ve got to keep practicing to stay sharp. Without regular practice, the slip from Master to Journeyman is all too easy. Teachers would be wise to prevent slippage by providing refreshers. Fundamentally, it’s important to remember that we all learn by doing. A famous quote by Confucius, says, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Research agrees, and shows that we retain in memory “10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we hear and see, 70% of what we say, 90% of what we say and do.” So, go ahead and dust off that guitar. Sign up for a piano lesson. Mastery awaits.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Learning a Second Language When and Why

Learning a Second Language When and Why.

Can studying a second language in elementary school boost student achievement in other academic areas? Numerous studies suggest that this may be the case. Yet even though NCLB identifies foreign language as a core subject, only about a fourth of U.S. public elementary schools report teaching foreign languages, and most of these schools provide only introductory courses. Fewer than half of all U.S. high school students are studying a foreign language. Meanwhile, administration of a National Assessment for Educational Progress test for foreign language has been put on hold.

In short, "much of the decision-making regarding foreign language study is made at the local level," reports the National Association of State Boards of Education. As districts review their foreign language policies, they may wish to consider research indicating the multiple benefits of learning a second language-and starting in the early grades.

Benefits of an early start. In the U.S., most students who study a foreign language begin at age 14 or later. But linguistic studies show that children who begin learning a second language before adolescence exhibit more native-like pronunciation and are more likely to become fluent speakers.

On examining the research in 2005, education research analyst Janice Stewart found that foreign language study, "especially when introduced in the early elementary school years," is associated with three additional benefits of "increased cognitive skills, higher achievement in other academic areas, and higher standardized test scores." For example:

Cognitive gains. Wilburn Robinson (1992) reviewed 144 research studies conducted over three decades on the relationship between early second language learning and cognitive ability. He concluded that early experience with two language systems seems to leave children with "a mental flexibility, a superiority in concept formation, and a more diversified set of mental abilities."
Stay Informed American Council on the Teaching of Foreign National Security Language Teacher-to-Teacher

Achievement in other academic areas. A study by Armstrong and Rogers (1997) examined the relationship between foreign language education and the basic skills of elementary school students. A group of third-grade students given three 30-minute Spanish language lessons per week performed as well as or better than a control group (given no second-language instruction) on academic achievement tests and "showed statistically significant gains in their Metropolitan Achievement Test scores in the areas of math and language after only one semester of study."

Higher standardized test scores. When Thomas Cooper examined data from 23 high schools in the Southeast in 1987, he found that students who took a foreign language in high school scored significantly higher on the verbal scale of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who studied a foreign language performed "basically just as well as their more fortunate peers."

Closing arguments. Additional reasons for foreign language study include global economic competition and national security. "While only 44 percent of our high school students are studying any foreign language, learning a second or even a third foreign language is compulsory for students in the European Union, China, Thailand, and many other countries," Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings remarked in January 2006.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that most U.S. high school students enrolled in a foreign language are studying Spanish (69 percent) or French (18 percent). Less than 1 percent is studying Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean-languages the U.S. government classifies as critical to national security.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

China Wealth Exodus Underestimated

China 'wealth exodus' underestimated.

The scale of the exodus of wealth from China caused by investor immigration is much larger than previous estimated, according to China Daily's interviews with emigration agents and experts.

Last month, Legal Evening News, a Beijing metropolis daily, said 10 billion yuan ($1.57 billion) has found its way abroad annually since 2009.

The figure was based on the investor emigration requirement and the number of investor emigrants publicized by the governments of the United States, Canada and Australia. Investor emigrants to those three countries are believed to account for 80 percent of the total number of Chinese emigres.

However, emigration agents said the figure underestimates the real scale. That's because many people will transfer more money to their new 'home' countries once they've obtained permanent residency.

"Usually they will at least buy a house after they get residency," said Cai Hong, a manager with emigration consulting company HHL Overseas Immigration & Education.

"And they usually make a one-off payment,"Ma said, referring to the fact the emigrants have no need to resort to a mortgage.

Considering the average price of a house in the major cities of the United States, Canada and Australia - the countries where Chinese investor emigrants are most likely to settle - and the fact that around 80 percent of them will buy a house, an estimated 10.3 billion yuan finds its way into the property markets of the three countries per annum.

Adding in the money invested to secure permanent residency, which China Daily estimates to be 21.49 billion yuan, and the estimation that the three countries account for 80 percent of the emigrant population, the total wealth exodus could reach at least 39.75 billion yuan a year.

The Canada case

For its safety, relatively short waiting time to obtain permanent residency and good returns on investment, Canada has always been the premier choice for wealthy Chinese looking to obtain permanent residency through investment, emigration agents said.

Prior to 2010, a foreigner simply had to invest C$400,000 ($405,600) and prove net assets of C$800,000 to apply for permanent residency. However, in 2010, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the country's immigration authority, doubled the threshold to limit the explosion in applications. Demand has been so strong that Canada imposed a cap of 700 applications per annum, starting on July 1, 2011. That quota was quickly filled, with 697 of the 700 applications coming from China.

The cap put a brake on the fever. The number of successful applicants from the Chinese mainland dropped from around 2,000 in 2010 to 697 in 2011, according to figures from the Canadian immigration authority.

However, potential immigrant investors quickly found another point of entry through Quebec's investor immigrant program. Since last July when the federal government's door closed, the Quebec program has seen the initiation of 200 applications from Chinese people every month.

"We expect the federal government's program to reopen this year and another 2,000 Chinese investors will get permanent residency," said Ma Yuan, an emigration expert with J & P Star Consulting Co Ltd, a Beijing-based emigration consultancy.

She said the Canadian program is particular favored by Chinese investors for its safety. Unlike the US program, which requires investment before permanent residency is granted, applicants to Canada invest their funds only after permanent residency is approved. The C$800,000 seed capital is returned to the applicants five years after residency is granted.

Applicants can even invest just C$220,000 and obtain a loan of C$580,000 from Canadian banks to bridge the gap. The C$220,000 will be transferred to the bank that issued the loan as interest five years later.

By comparison, the United States' investor immigrant program, the EB-5 program, despite its lower initial threshold (the minimum investment requirement is $500,000), does not guarantee against a loss of investment, which means that applicants might lose their seed capital and still not obtain permanent residency.

Another reason that people favor Canada is the country's welfare system.

"Most of the investor immigrants go to Canada for their kids' education," Cai said. The country offers free pre-college education for permanent residents, and their children can enjoy a college education at less than one-third of the tuition fee paid by international students pay.

Relatively cheaper house prices are another attraction. A detached house usually costs from C$500,000 to CS$600,000 in Vancouver, and C$400,000 to CS$500,000 in Toronto, much cheaper than in Beijing or Shanghai.

Based on the assumption that 80 percent of the 2,000 investor immigrants would buy a house at an average price of C$500,000, Canada's investor immigrant program alone could draw C$2.4 billion from China.

US a top destination

Despite its risks, the US investor immigration program remains a popular choice for wealthy Chinese.

A total of 2,969 Chinese people applied for the EB-5 visa in the fiscal year 2011, accounting for three-fourths of total applicants, according to figures released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Although many are still awaiting a decision, 934 permanent residencies have been granted.

The US is the top emigration destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to a joint survey by Bank of China Ltd and the Hurun Report last year. The report found that 60 percent of about 960,000 Chinese with assets of more than 10 million yuan were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so.

Australia, another popular destination, requires foreigners to apply for a provisional visa before applying for permanent residency four years later. There are various visa types under the "Business Skills visas" system, which allows overseas investors, senior executives and entrepreneurial talents to settle in Australia by developing businesses in the country.

For example, the 890/892 visa allows provisional visa holders to obtain residency if they have had an ownership interest in a business in Australia for at least two years, with significant personal and business asset turnover.

Applicants for the "Business Skills visas" from China totaled more than 9,000 last year, nine times the number from South Korea, the second-largest group, according to the Australian immigration authority.

Kevin Stanley, executive director of global real estate consultancy CBRE Group Inc, said it has seen very strong interest from Chinese individuals looking to buy apartments, predominantly for family use and particularly in connection with children studying in Australia.

Chris Bevan, a real estate agent in Melbourne, said that his recent sales to buyers from Shanghai ranged from two bedroom apartments priced at A$300,000 ($314,000) to a luxury beachfront home for A$18 million.

Strong demand from Chinese buyers has already pushed up real estate price worldwide. Investors from the Chinese mainland account for between 20 and 40 percent of foreign property investors in Vancouver, Toronto, London and Singapore, according to a report from the real-estate consultancy Colliers International on Feb 28. In Vancouver, the property price has been pushed 9 percent higher in the last year, because of Chinese investors.


People in industries related to the boom, such as the property market and emigration advisory services, have welcomed the trend. Bevan said that Chinese and other foreign investors have helped Australia continue to grow in a market that has seen an international downturn in the last 12 months.

Local residents interviewed by China Daily approved of the development.

John Harper, a town planner in Melbourne, said the total number of Chinese immigrants contributing to population growth in the city was somewhere between 3 to 4 percent.

"I doubt that figure would create a significant impact on house prices," he said.

"You never hear about New Zealand or British immigrants pushing up housing prices. These two groups make up about 30 percent of people moving to Australia, or three times the number of Chinese, I guess," he said.

"I don't really mind the 'influx' of Chinese going for permanent residency. I think there are guidelines and controls overseen by the Australian government," said Jeremy Lam, a financial analyst in Australia. "And these rules and regulations are gradually becoming more and more stringent over time."

But back in China, the news of the wealth exodus has sparked mixed sentiment.

"Nobody in the world can ever stop China's property speculators," according to a sarcastic post from one netizen on the micro blog Sina Weibo.

Some netizens have blamed the domestic cap on property sales imposed by the Chinese government for the overseas purchasing spree.

Chinese experts warn that talent is flowing out with wealth, which is a more worrying trend.

"If this trend continues it will not only hurt the Chinese economy in the long run, but also prevent it from building an 'olive-shaped' society with a large middle class, because a great proportion of the emigrants are middle-class professionals," said Zhang Monan, an economic researcher with the State Information Center.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Where Teachers Are Replaceable Widgets, Education Suffers

Where Teachers Are Replaceable Widgets, Education Suffers.

We have become convinced that in our nation's struggling urban schools, teachers and would-be education reformers are battling through a hurricane that shows no signs of abating. We call this hurricane "churn."

Churn is a remarkable instability among school personnel that makes it nearly impossible to build a professional community or develop long-term relationships with students. It happens when teachers are treated like interchangeable parts who can be moved around cavalierly to plug a hole in a school schedule. It happens when administrators repeatedly order teachers to switch to a different grade, teach a different subject, or move to a different school.

We recently tried to test an idea for improving the middle school science curriculum through a multiyear randomized controlled trial in a big-city public school system. But the constant stream of teachers leaving the classes we were studying made it nearly impossible to get reliable results. After just one year, 42 percent of the teachers in 92 schools who began participating in our study had left it to take other positions within and outside the schools. The instability was about the same in both the intervention group...


Dance Training Helps Rural Chinese Children's Development

Dance training helps rural Chinese children's development.

Rural students rarely get access to dance training, due to lack of teachers and facilities. But in a rural school in Tongling County of Anhui Province, children are chasing their dancing dream thanks to a "Rural Dance Classroom" recently set up there. It is hoped that dance training can give the rural children a chance for greater overall development.

The Shun'an Town Central Elementary School of Tongling County is one of several rural schools in Anhui province that have created a "dance training classroom". Students here are rehearsing their newly learned routine, a dance piece with the theme of the Chinese classic "Three Character Primer". Yin Zi, whose parents are working away from home, hopes she can give them a surprise when they come back.

Yin Zi, student, said, "I will study hard, and when my parents come back home I can present my beautiful dance to them."

Like Yin, all the students here are experiencing the enjoyment of dance.

Cui Kelin, student, said, "I like to dance. And I will learn dance here as long as I can."

This school is among the first batch of Chinese rural schools to set up the "dance training classroom", a project aimed at improving art education among rural students. The China Dancers' Association and the Literature and Arts Association of Anhui province along with the local government have joined forces to put the initiative into practice.

Jiang Jianxin, principal of Shun'an Town Elementary School, said, "We will use this opportunity to improve our facilities and train our teachers, to give our students a better environment to develop comprehensively."

The Dance Training Classroom has also been set up in two mountainous villages in Tongling County.

Wu Xiaohe, director of Dancers Assoc. of Tongling, said, "We will train more rural teachers to let more rural students receive dance training."

Initiated by the China Dancers' Association, the rural dance training project also includes 15 dance pieces that are suitable to children's physical and psychological traits.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

ADDitions to Teaching, Parenting, Learning and Caring

ADDitions to Teaching, Parenting, Learning and Caring.

What if we took some of Albert Einstein's words to heart and as more than a cool quote or a greeting card: Specifically I am referring to his having allegedly said that it was not so much that he was he was so brilliant per se, but more importantly he possessed a fierce combination of curiosity and a passion. In fact, those who invent, who thrive intellectually and often, in work and play, have a persistent curiosity; they are inspired and they are motivated.

I learned of my own ADD only in 2006, which made more sense of my quest to understand, keen capacity for intuition and empathy, as well as a fair dose of oppositionalism and sensitivity to rejection as well. It was also a turning point as I found respect for my own non-linear and at times dancing mind, my own styles of discovering.

Our being tuned on to discover and to collaborate and to learn and to invent, is seriously compromised by both the uber distracting cultural influences and by quickly changing standards and an often cruelly competitive bent. The standards come and go so quickly, one can hardly keep up and many of us don't -- we numb ourselves to the likes of our ADD friends or selves, we rush into the one focus or cause only, losing track of the connection that may be a buzzword but often stays in that status.

We are inundated by the voices telling us to just do it, by positive psychology saying that puff! if we change our attitudes we can change our conditions, and with our politicians telling many of us that if we are poor and suffering, there must be something wrong with us. We have a host of mental health practitioners claiming to "know" as they get clients hooked on mantras that deny their insides and outer realities.

People with ADD are known for being oppositional but frequently (and I suggest is the case with the rest of us too) there is perfectionism lurking around the corner -- from parents and teachers -- and from within. Procrastination can be a side effect of distraction and dizziness but it can also defend against a perfectionism that can be brutal, depleting and discouraging even of the motivation to try. Without a sense of possible exit or better outcome, hope goes away.

An approach especially effective in teaching and parenting ADD kids, is to help them accept and even embrace mistakes as inevitable to real learning. We have to be wrong, and the likelihood of being right is only temporary, as odds are we will get new information or new perceptions that will help us see our mistakes. Now, that is if we allow ourselves to see mistakes, to grow from them and to sometimes apologize for them.

If we instead learn that to blame others is the national sport of our time, under the banner of shouting that we should never as a nation apologize for our country's flaws, or seek to shift our way of considering problems, we will be in a bind typical to those who have ADD and are stuck in a defensive grandiosity.

One of the things I have found most helpful in my own practice with children and families, is to help harness the very oppositionalism we usually see as a hindrance. Recently in talking with a sixteen year old boy and his mom, I hypothetically suggested he help me on a piece about what was wrong with the curriculum at his own school. He jumped up from his position of reclining -- nothing to do with Passover, my last piece -- and said, "Here it is, it's not that I can't write or even don't like it. I just hate to be forced and I hate when the topic makes no sense."

Apropos of religion, only because my own ADD mind shifting to the late mythologist Joseph Campbell who said that religions needed to be relevant if they were to serve real people's needs, it appears the same is true for education and in parenting. We aren't educating about parenting in a vacuum but in a context of real and diverse (temperamentally and otherwise) particular needs. When allowed and welcomed, our children can challenge not our rationale and our approach. Yes they can con us -- sometimes. However, do we dare give them credit for their ADDitions (pun intended), and seek out their opinions and collaboration?

Recently I met with a family, parents and a 9 year old girl talking about the pointlessness of homework. Her mother suggested they google studies on the subject later, and the dad loved it ... The girl looked shocked: were they really going to listen, and look up her complaint? We agreed to try ways of working with the teacher to make it more interesting.

We have millions of children languishing, some with ADD, some because they are in overcrowded chaotic, understaffed, underfunded schools, and some closeted in their perfectionism, procrastination, and behaviors of self-defeat. We find over and again that when kids are pulled into creative ways of learning where they can be heard and seen, the motivation becomes amazingly higher.

Of course, if we dare involve our kids, ADD and not, poor and not, we are in for a great many surprises. We will have critical thinkers who are only sometimes irrational and grandiose. Some of the time they will hit the bulls eye with their questions, and their suggestions, and we will need guidance and patience to adjust to a deeper sense of mutuality. If we teach our kids that questions are as important as answers, we will need help adapting, waking up from our own distraction. However, with a little bit of shifting and practice, we might "get" it, hopefully feeling more motivated and better able to give support in turn, to neighbors (figuratively and literally) in need.


Songkran Water Festival in Thailand

 Songkran Water Festival in Thailand - April 13, 14, 15.

April 13th-15th marked the annual Songkran Festival in Thailand.  How did you celebrate!?

Commonly referred to as the water festival, Songkran marks the Thai New Year, and is one of the biggest celebrations of the year throughout the country.  Many people take to the streets with water guns, balloons, or just plain old buckets, in order to drench passerbys with water.  Traditionally thought to cleanse the mind, body and spirit, and wash away bad luck, you might consider yourself fortunate if you find yourself getting drenched with water during the Songkran festival!  Fortunately, this is typically the hottest time of year in Thailand, so a light soaking might come as a nice relief!

Have Fun Teaching English in Thailand!


 Songkran Water Festival in Pattaya
 Songkran Water Festival in Pattaya

Songkran Water Festival in Chiang Mai
 Songkran Water Festival in Chiang Mai
Songkran Water Festival in Bangkok
 Songkran Water Festival in Bangkok