China Immersion Leads to Strengthened Relationships

Katy Swift, Staff Writer

This past summer, Millikin offered a summer immersion to China. While many participants had an idea of possible outcomes from this experience, they didn’t expect the impact this trip would have on the relationships between Dennis Lab School, Millikin and Northeast Normal University.

In the past, the summer immersion would take place at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, China once every two years. Then during the off school year, two Chinese teachers would spend a few months in Decatur, splitting their time between Millikin and Dennis.

Part of the goal for the teachers working with Dennis was to help the middle school students learn about the Chinese culture. In one case, a teacher had the students at Dennis make their own documentaries about China in order expand their knowledge about the country.

This one project has helped lead to a stronger bond between the schools in the past, and it has influenced some ideas for the future as well. However, this past summer’s immersion helped strengthen the partnership even further.

The immersion group left at the beginning of June and spent two weeks in China. Even though they were only at the school for six days out of the two weeks, they had an amazing, and life changing, experience.

Although this program has been going on for almost a decade, this was the first year two middle school teachers, Amanda Popovich and Brittany Childress, from Dennis came with. The teachers from Dennis and Jacque Wrigley came along for the adult enrichment part of the trip – allowing them the opportunity to travel, gain experience, immerse themselves in another culture and teach students in China.

As with most trips to foreign countries, the transition had a rough start. Even the food seemed strange in the beginning, but the experience was worth it.

They ate all of their meals with Northeast Normal University’s faculty and stayed in the faculty dorms throughout the trip. The faculty there treated everyone with utmost respect and made them feel celebrated for being there. The appreciation they have for Millikin students in China is high.

Over the days they were at the school, they observed four teachers from varying grade levels. Two of the places they observed were the kindergarten house and the elementary school. Also, the classes they observed were not always taught in English.

Some of the classes were in science and involved experiments. Even though they were taught in Chinese, they were still able to understand the content. Before returning to Decatur, they met with the four teachers they observed and gave feedback from the lessons that the teachers highly valued.

Amanda Skopek, a junior elementary education major who went on this trip, said the teachers “loved getting the feedback to know what they do well and what they can fix to help their own students.”

Since those two weeks in June, a lot has changed in the relationship between the three schools. As mentioned before, usually only two of the Chinese teachers from Northeast Normal come to Millikin, but this year there are three. This already shows how the relationship has grown in such a short period of time.

These teachers arrived at the beginning of the school year, and they will stay until the end of the month. Throughout this time, they have been sitting in on Millikin’s education classes and at Dennis to help with teaching English to their own students.

Since the Millikin students were immersed in the Chinese culture over the summer, Millikin is trying to give the teachers their own experience to make them feel celebrated and valued as well.

This year, the Chinese teachers are planning to share their culture with Dennis through the Moon Festival on Thursday, October 23.

This is just the beginning of how these relationships will grow. While it may not happen right away, Dennis is trying to grow and have student exchanges between Decatur and Changchun in the future.

Jacque Wrigley and Amanda Skopek commented on how it’s nice to know the partnership is something they witnessed and helped out with first hand, and it will be great to be able to see how much has come from it in the future. These relationships have and will continue to grow stronger for many years to come.