Shiaoshiao in Colombia | EP Stories

Contributed by Shiaoshiao Chen 


Name: Shiaoshiao Chen
University/Local Chapter: University of Toronto
Location of Exchange: Pasto, Narino, Colombia
Hosting Chapter: AIESEC Pasto
Duration: 3 months
Type of Exchange: Global Talent, Teaching

Where did you work? Instituto Champagnat

When I was at the school, I was there to assist the English Teachers with their classroom exercises and help mainly with pronunciation of words in English – along with conducting exercises in class and encouraging the students to speak english with me at the school during recess hours.

Some activities that I did in collaboration with the teachers included one where we would play a game with similar sounding words like “taught”, “thought” and “zip”. Splitting the classroom into groups, I would say the word and they would have to write it down and show it to me. The one who came and got it right first gets a point. One really interesting note was that the students were more fascinated with my asian background – and so I used that as a motivation by writing the scores in Chinese. The numbers 1, 2, 3 in Chinese are literally lines like 一,二,三 but when I wrote four (四) this greatly peaked the students’ interest and curiosity. I remember vividly that one classroom was so excited that they almost injured themselves by racing to the front. It’s really great to see that kind of motivation from the students — it shows that they really do want to learn.

Some parts of my job felt like a barrier. I was unable to speak with many students because of my lack of Spanish and so it was challenging for me to connect with many of them but for the ones that I did manage to connect with was really great because I got to understand a bit more about them and some of the especially active ones — we still keep in touch online. My colleagues said that me not knowing Spanish was a good challenge for the students but I felt like if I did speak Spanish, maybe it would have encouraged them more to speak English.

Overall though, I realized that I do love teaching and being involved in and with students — leading to my more amplified interest into Education and what it means to learn now. It’s given me a sort of perspective that is useful to someone like me, who is at the crossroads of finishing my education and seeing if I meet the standards of the industries I want to get into.



How do you feel like your worldview has changed after going on exchange?

What I gained wasn’t a worldview — but it was a heightened perspective altogether. In recent news, there had been a huge strike that went on for months in British Columbia before I went on exchange. I knew how much teachers put into their work and I understood where they came from and why they were having a strike. But I never truly understood until I went on exchange. Even though my job was only 3 months and I didn’t have to mark homework or do much classroom management but for the times I did opened my mind to a lot.

Preparing Curriculum is comparatively much easier to classroom management. I think the best way to describe it is to think about your sibling or friend, and you care for them a lot and invest into learning about their inspirations and frustrations and you want to help them. Now, imagine doing that for 30 people in the classroom, in addition to preparing classes and marking work. To give every one of those 30 people the care and the attention that you think you deserve if you were in their place is like trying to juggle 30 eggs with no experience in juggling.

When you’re teaching, you are making that impact. Whatever you do in that year with the students — that impression and what they learn is going to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

My exchange left me thoughtful about the teachers and what they are trying to do as their job. It left me being wholeheartedly thankful and appreciative for what teachers do. My exchange also left me extremely bewildered as to why teachers have to fight more livable wages based on my own experience of teaching (which really wasn’t even close to what my colleagues were doing full time) in so many parts of the world and ironically, in some of the most literate countries in the world. My exchange has ignited a curiosity and a palette to want to learn more about the education and most importantly the educators — the ones who have the moral, emotional and sometimes even physical tenacity to carry through it all in spite of the compensation because they want to make a difference. It makes me indignant but excited because its something more to learn outside the classroom, explore different views at home, and possibly see what I can do to change the current state of affairs. My exchange has left me to be more aware and be more responsible than just for my own life.

How did you feel as a Canadian going abroad? What sort of things stood out or changed?

It literally took about a month into my exchange for my students to comprehend that I was Chinese, but I was also Canadian. I think that was a great way to introduce my ‘mixed’ identity into the multiculturalism that I have grown up with my entire life. Having to explain multiculturalism was possibly the best part about being Canadian abroad — it was also what made me so much more grateful for the life I’ve been living simply because my parents had the opportunity to come to Canada.

I suppose there was quite a bit of pressure because I was the first Canadian to ever set foot in the city but just being myself was assuring for the people that I interacted with. How you interpret and bring your identity with you is, to some degree, representative of where you come from, but I think when travelling, we all have that sense in us to bring the best out of ourselves.

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