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Student adapts to China culture shock

Taking the plunge and going outside her comfort zone paid off for 23-year-old Shuntelle Paynter, a forensic science student who decided to try something different and teach English in China this summer.

“It was a big culture shock — however, you learn to adapt quickly,” she told The Royal Gazette of the intense two-week course offered by the Teach English in China programme. “You don't have a choice.”

Aside from the tangible rewards of teaching youngsters the basics of speaking English, the job offered her a chance to meet and overcome her nerves when it came to public speaking.

“It was perfect for me; you are literally thrown into a classroom,” she said.

Learning of the programme at Teesside University, Shuntelle longed to see more of the world and make a difference at the same time. She applied, and a few days later got her letter of acceptance.

The programme put the novice teachers through a training camp — and then she found herself heading halfway around the world to the Zhejiang Hongda School English Camp in Haining, China.

Plunged into a completely new culture, Shuntelle had plenty of company: a group of teachers, none of whom knew each other, and far from home.

Surprises abounded — among them, the fact that they did not have the weekend off.

Shuntelle's classes entailed spoken English with six and seven-year-old children, and a tremendous amount of repetition.

“Their English was very basic. Most of them knew ‘hello' and how to say their name.

“My job was to move them on to the next step — for example, describing the things in their pencil cases, saying what colours they were.”

A teaching assistant was there to help, and since the majority of them were also studying English, Shuntelle proved a valuable resource for them as well.

Once last month's teaching stint was finished, Shuntelle and a group of fellow teachers travelled to places such as Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

Shuntelle spent a total of seven weeks in China, where all manner of new experiences awaited.

Actual Chinese food is completely unlike the cuisine westerners are accustomed to, she said, while the eating of meat includes parts of the animal that most Bermudians probably would not contemplate eating.

“Things you didn't even know existed would be on the menu. Frog is very popular, for example. Beijing duck became my favourite.”

Like many in that part of the world, the people of China are enthusiastic spitters: “Spitting in the street is normal,” Shuntelle said. “I just had to adjust to that.”

Western-style toilets were tough to come by, as were benches; food stalls abounded in the streets, where the locals preferred to squat on their heels. The Chinese penchant for hot drinks meant there was hot water dispensed at every corner.

Perhaps strangest, Shuntelle said, was the experience of always standing out in the crowd, and drawing the curiosity of everybody around her.

“You will get some people that are really excited to see you, because you're international. Then you would get others that just stared. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't get photographed.

“People would ask me for my autograph or give me a hug. It didn't matter where or when; people would stop and ask for a picture. They treat foreigners like celebrities. Everyone's excited to see you, to hear you talk.”

Like local people, her companions from Britain had many questions about Bermuda, including the inevitable Bermuda Triangle question.

“It was a good way to put Bermuda on the map for people, and it made me see Bermuda differently when I got home,” Shuntelle, of Pembroke, said. “I really recommend it for that.

“It's good to see what other parts of the world are like. It can be uncomfortable but it's amazing to see how different things are.

“It's a good way for students to meet new people and network. You learn about different backgrounds, and you learn about yourself. It was the experience of a lifetime.”

• To learn more about the programme, e-mail shuntellepaynter@hotmail.com.

Young Achiever Shuntelle Paynter has returned to Bermuda after a great experience teaching English in China. (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published August 31, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 31, 2015 at 9:00 am)

Student adapts to China culture shock

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