August 20, 2007

Teaching her language to the Chinese culture

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

Traveling to China never seemed at all scary or far-fetched to 24-year-old Missie Kittok.

After traveling to different cities in China for the past three trips, she excitedly prepares for her next trip this week.

Born and raised in Delano, Missie has three siblings: Bethany, 27; Matthias, 20; Margaret, 16, all who were home schooled until eighth grade, when they attended Delano High School.

Missie said she first grew interested in the Chinese culture and language while performing One-Act play “Marco Polo” in high school.

Never stopping to believe that she would reach China someday, Kittok attended the University of Minnesota. Her major was in Asian languages and literature, with an emphasis in Chinese.

“I’ve always liked studying languages,” she said. “The characters were fascinating.”

When asked if she spoke Chinese fluently, Kittok said, “I can totally get around. I can speak about every- day things pretty easily, but some of the more advanced stuff is hard for me.”

Kittok had the privilege of being able to study a semester of college in China, and she had also taken a trip to Hong Kong in 2001 for a few weeks.

However, it was not until last year that she got the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I was looking for an opportunity. I knew that I wanted to go to China and I wanted to teach, so I found an organization that locates English teachers with schools,” she said.

The program is known as International Teacher Placement Service (ITPS). The program sought out Kittok to teach the English language at a newly-developed school known as Guangzhou International Economics College.

Having only been in operation for the past three years, the school was relatively inexperienced with the education system, but the hardest aspect of teaching for Kittok was understanding their education system.

“With this being only the third year of this college, they didn’t have a lot of experience, or a list of things that foreign teachers should know,” Kittok said.

When asked what one of the greatest differences is between American and Chinese education, Kittok replied, “It’s not a big university, it’s kind of like a technical college. I would say that one of the main differences is class sizes.”

Kittok saw classes as large as 72 students. A class size of 40 students can be considered small in China.

She also mentioned the overall work ethic of a majority of her students.

“It’s not well known, and it does not require a high score on the entrance exam,” she said. “Most of the kids in the college were only there because no other college would accept them. Some of the students are kind of the slackers, but there was a lot of studying, as well.”

Also, in comparison to modern-day American students, Kittok commented, “I would say that most of the students there are much less willing to speak up in class because their educational style tends to be where the teacher just talks and the students listen and write it down.

“So, when you try to teach a speaking class, it gets very difficult to get the students to open their mouths, especially in a large group. I think if we did have smaller classes, there would be less pressure on the students to get the answers right the first time.”

As a teacher, Kittok found it difficult to adjust to the students’ work ethic.

“You end up waiting for those students to come to you for help, and there are always a few students in the back who miss some classes or show up late and, unfortunately, you just end up ignoring them because you don’t have time for all of them,” she said.

As far as an overwhelming culture shock goes, Kittok did not feel it hit straight on.

“Always, when you are living in a foreign culture, especially over an extended period of time, the culture shock is not always easy. For me, it was just a series of smaller things that really got to me, and then of course, trying to communicate is not always easy,” she said.

Above all, Missie loves China, and she loves the people. She made friends with her co-workers, as well as her students.

“There’s just a few students that I did get very close to, so we almost became like a family,” she said. “We’re all away from our families. That was very nice.”

Over the break, Missie was able to stay with a few host families, but it was still very hard for her to be away from home.

“It was hard, especially at Christmas,” said Kittok.

Kittok called her family on Christmas Eve and they opened their presents over the phone together. She has signed up for another year, and plans to leave this week, except this time, her parents, Dave and Kristie, and her youngest sister, Margaret, are coming with her for the first two weeks.

“My family had awhile to get used to it because I had always known that I was going to go to China,” she said.

This year, however, she may not be teaching.

“I might be a volunteer for the Olympics, but we’ll see what happens. That would be such an opportunity,” said Kittok. “At this point, my plan is to just stay in China for a while. I think it would be great to be a translator, but I don’t think my Chinese is good enough for that. I’ve also had thoughts of running my own business.”

Along with presenting herself to the Chinese culture, Missie also sets time aside for God, reading, knitting, watching movies, and hanging out with friends.

As a word to the wise, Missie advises those who are interested in China to keep an open mind.

“It’s not as scary as is it sounds,” she said. “It’s obvious that there are some freedoms that we have that their people do not, but they’re still people just like us. People still have the same hopes and dreams around the world. Just because they live in a communist country, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get to know them and be friends with them. I did, and I’ve never regretted it.”

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