WAYK Travelogue: Sky and David in China – Part 1


Since July 8th, David Edwards and Sky Hopinka have been in Beijing for a WAYK partnership with a student run NGO called BEAM (Bridging Education and Mobility.) BEAM’s mission is:

“To serve as a central platform to launch independent service projects that improves the quality of migrant education in China and the quality of life of migrant students. Our vision is to fundamentally revolutionize the philosophy of education and method of teaching in migrant schools to better fit the needs and unique circumstances of these students.”

Together WAYK and BEAM are developing a program called POW (Play On Words) where our goal is to develop an English curriculum. We plan to give this curriculum to teachers at migrant schools so that they can use the WAYK method to teach disadvantaged students English within the limitations of their budget.

Sky has been keeping a personal blog about their experiences on the trip, learning Mandarin, and playing Where Are Your Keys? We’ll be posting their story here during the weeks to come.

Here is Sky’s first entry:

I Remembered to Bring the Medicine

The flight was long enough, but that discomfort was abated by the thought that we were going to China, and agitated again by the thought that we were going to China.  David, who I met last summer working on the WAYK Numu program, was going back for his second visit, and this was my first.

During our flight, and the weeks leading up to the trip that we spent in Bend, David taught me some Mandarin.  Now I hadn’t taken full advantage of the opportunities presented to learn from him.  I kind of assumed that it would just be easier to pick it up when we were actually in Beijing, but the simple culture shock of sitting at the gate in SeaTac had me wishing I took a little more time to learn some before we left.  Ridiculously surprising to me, there were a lot of Chinese people there.  The flight itself didn’t make the regret any easier, the flight attendants barely spoke English and as David ordered his food and drinks in Mandarin I just mumbled what I wanted in simple English and tried to leave the conversations short and quick.

Now, David and I were going to China with two goals: one, to develop a WAYK based English curriculum, and two, to develop a WAYK based Mandarin curriculum and get me as fluent as possible in the language during my time there.  I’m debatably (don’t ask) between an intermediate high and advanced low level of fluency in chinuk wawa on the ACTFL scale.  With chinuk being my second language, Mandarin seems like a good choice for my third.

Eleven hours after we left Seattle, we were in Beijing going through customs and waiting for the train to take us to the city proper.  After a failed attempt to buy a train ticket, all I could think about is that “yeah, this is China.”  I’d gone out of the country a few times; Canada doesn’t count, since I grew up 10 minutes from the border, and New Zealand provided a familiar enough environment (the English thing made it easier,) and the only other time that I felt like an alien was when I went to La Paz, Mexico for friends wedding.  That place was far enough from the border to make communicating in broken English a reprieve.  And like my time in Mexico, I was in China with a friend who new the language and had an idea of the culture.

Leading up to the train ride from the airport to the city, every step of the way felt like a small arrival to a foreign place, or idea.  The days leading up to the drive to Seattle were filled with a fair amount of anxiety.  It wasn’t until a few days before we were set to leave that I started to get nervous.  At the airport, it was just about making it to get gate and getting past the security checkpoints, and being at the gate all I could think about was getting on the plane and hoping my seat wouldn’t be like riding trimet for eleven hour straight.  The plan ride was all about landing and hoping to seeing the country and city from the air (which I couldn’t) and once we landed it was about getting to the house of our host.  But all those short chapters of nerves stopped once we got on the train.  The nature of the place was a force, and I began to respect it more when anxiety used up all the distractions to hide behind.

I’d been told about the humidity, but it was worse than I imagined, as are most weather conditions explained and never experienced, and the smell reminded me of Riverside, CA during summer when the dry heat would mix with the stale, smoggy air.  On the train, leaving the terminal, I caught my first real eyeful of China, and the furthest I could see in that initial sighting was about a half a mile.  That field of view was the norm for the first four days, until we were a few days in teaching WAYK in the outskirts of Beijing in the Fangshan district.

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