Written by Eleanor, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for International Career Pathways: Beijing, China, Summer 2018
We had been preparing all week for our performance at the Foreign Language Association of Tuanjiehu, a group of retired Chinese men and women who choose to spend their time learning English. At the beginning of the week, we were told what was happening, and we had prepared a couple of English songs and dances to show them. Being the teenagers we are, we decided to perform the “Macarena,” “Cotton Eyed Joe,” the “Cha Cha Slide,” and to sing along to “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Some of us also got to show our individual talents, like Annlin and Kelsey who danced and played the flute along to Shape of You by Ed Sheeran. In our free time during the week, we discussed and practiced. Some of us had never done these dances before, so it gave us the opportunity to teach and learn from each other, as well as display talents that we did not even know everyone had. What could be considered “forced family fun” actually brought us together and made our relationships even stronger.
We had a regular day of Chinese class and our core classes, then in the afternoon we traveled on the subway across the city to Tuanjiehu. We couldn’t have gotten a warmer welcome. As soon as we walked in, everyone started clapping for us, and we dispersed and starting chatting in a mix of English and Chinese. The program started in 2000 when the retired people were training to become volunteers for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Some of them had been there since the beginning and some only a couple months.
Nevertheless, we were all blown away by their English skills! Learning English is hard no matter what, but even harder as an adult. As their teacher would talk to them in English and teach words along the way, the women next to me were repeating what he was saying, to process and learn any chance they got. After the performances from us and them, we got to spend time talking to everyone individually, learning about their careers and what made them want to learn English. Everyone had a different story, which made it even more incredible.
Throughout our time in Beijing, we have not only realized how amazing this city is but also how important learning a second language is, especially Chinese. Seeing these people spending their free time learning English made me want to improve my Chinese even more.