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R.P. BenDedek

The Chinese are coming - to Millinocket!
By R.P. BenDedek
Oct 28, 2010 - 12:25:49 AM

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No joke folks! The Chinese are coming to Millinocket and it says so right there in the New York Times - Needing Students, Maine School Hunts in China October 26, 2010: Report by Abby Goodnough.

MILLINOCKET, Me. -- Faced with dropping enrollment and revenue, the high school in this remote Maine town has fixed on an unlikely source of salvation: Chinese teenagers.

Never mind that Millinocket is an hour's drive from the nearest mall or Movie Theater, or that it gets an average 93 inches of snow a year. Kenneth Smith, the schools superintendent, is so certain that Chinese students will eventually arrive by the dozen -- paying $27,000 a year in tuition, room and board -- that he is scouting vacant properties to convert to dormitories.

"We are going full-bore," Dr. Smith said last week in his office at the school, Stearns High

I sincerely hope that all goes well in your endeavour Mr. Smith. I have been living in and teaching English in China for over 7 years, and I can already forsee some of the problems that you are going to face, so I hope you don't mind if I make some comments about your proposed venture.

For starters Dr. Smith, as someone who admits that he doesn't know much about the Chinese is going to discover on his trip to China, American Chinese cuisine is not quite the same as regular homestyle cooking back in Mainland China. I think that it might be wise to bring a Mainland Chinese cook back with you, unless you are ready to install a MacDonald's restaurant on site.

According to the New York times report, Mr. Smith has stated that "they [the Chinese Students] want to learn English, and they want a college education. If we can get them into a college here, they will have achieved their major goal."

He is right of course, and the extra money and enrollment would certainly profit the town of Millinocket. No longer would Penobscot Avenue be lined with vacant stores, and who knows, that supermarket parking lot might fill to overflowing on the weekends as two very distinct cultures begin to mix.

Now while a spokeswoman for the National School Boards Association [Alexis Rice] had not even heard about the proposal, and some like Matthew Preble [17 yrs] wonder if the Millinocket townsfolk would make the Chinese students feel welcome, Ms. Fox of Fox Intercultural Consulting Services - an expert in this field - has persuaded Dr. Smith to start slowly. And that is a real piece of wisdom!

Millinocket which lies about 200 miles north of Portland, and which has a population of only 5000 would, in my opinion, be an ideal place for Chinese students to study. Well at least as far as their parents would be concerned.

There are two pitfalls for Chinese students studying abroard. The first is that they can become like children in a candy store, tasting everything that presents itself before them, until it corrodes their teeth and otherwise proves to be unhealthy for them.

The second pitfall is that Chinese Students end up in a 'too close' relationship with their kinsmen in China town. This is a pitfall because those students never learn to associate with the 'foreigners' and no never learn to speak English fluently.

I once met a Chinese boy who was an English Major for 3 years in a Canadian university who simply could not speak English at all, and one regularly reads about or hears of similar anecdotes of students returning from years of study without having learned to speak English.

But a major problem that I think Dr. Smith is likely to encounter, is that far too many Chinese students who have passed the International Language Tests in order to study overseas, arrive on campus without any ability at all to understand what is spoken, or to be able to speak English. Such is the state of those tests.

One very prominent case was highlighted several years ago by China Daily columnist Raymond Zhou (Zhou Liming). China's top student received a 4 year scholarship to study at Harvard, but within one week of his arrival there, the school was ready to send him home. At first they thought he had either cheated in the tests or had bribed someone for the top spot, but when he aced a special test that they set up for him, it was realised that he had simply learned how to 'pass tests', without ever gaining the skills that those test indicated that he should have.

Although the Times article was somewhat derisive of sending students to Millinocket, personally I think that all those 'negatives' would make the best sales pitch. The school's insulation from the decadent western life of the big cities, would I feel sure, appeal to the parents of these young people.

Of course if Mr. Smith is seeking to bring students from Beijing and Shanghai, it might be a bit like pushing 'it' uphill! Students are required to complete Senior highschool in the city in which they are registered residents. Therefore, most of the kids Mr. Smith is likely to find in Beijing and Shanghai, are probably going to be those from affluent backgrounds. Whilst this might have some advantages, affluent families in China, from my observations, raise somewhat indulged children, who sometimes are less than willing to commit themselves to the serious nature of study.

Even if 'those' kids were actually able to study in English, having to live in the backwoods 'so to speak', or at least in the isolation of Millinocket, may cause the students to turn inwards upon themselves and form tightly knit 'Chinese' communities to keep themselves distanced from the 'no so wealthy foreigners'.

But whatever type of student Dr. Smith attracts, I'm sure it will not take him too long to become aware of one 'cultural phenomenon' associated with Chinese students; a problem that is only exascerbated by studying abroard.

Even if a student can speak reasonable English, he/she simply won't! And if they can't understand or speak English, then they are going to cheat. Their friends will help them. They must! Chinese must stick together, and they can't bring shame on their country or family.

As Ms. Fox suggested, Mr. Smith should only take in a few students at first, until he learns to understand Chinese Culture, and adapts to Chinese thinking and behaviour in the classroom.

I have no doubt that he is going to discover a host of problems that no one warned him about, and is certainly going to receive many culture shocks.

But hey! If he really needs a hand helping these students to learn English well enough to study, why I'd be more that willing to offer my services - for a decent salary of course! I'd be happy enough to come live in Millinocket, or I could even prepare the students while they were still in China. Sounds like a good idea to me!

Anyway Dr. Smith, if you need any advice don't hesitate to drop me a line, and for heaven's sake, don't let those overrated professional P.C. types fool you with their rhetoric. They won't even begin to make you aware of the depth and breadth of the problems that you will face in the beginning.

You will however eventually get the hang of it.

Best of luck Mr. Smith! & Congratulations to Millinocket!

R.P. BenDedek

Starting this Saturday October 30th, the re-edited version of the 2004 Special Edition of Stories from China, will be republished here at Magic City.

R.P.BenDedek is the pseudonym of the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (www kingscalendar com), and is a guest columnist at Magic City Morning Star News. An Australian, he is currently teaching Conversational English in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China.

Stories from China at Magic City

"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls.

© Copyright 2002-2014 by Magic City Morning Star

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