Cultures Collide: C of I student teaching in China

College of Idaho senior Roxanna Alma-Taya landed in Beijing at midnight. After traveling halfway across the world, she got off the plane alone and unable to speak any Chinese. Trying to find her hotel, contact her university the next day and get around were all challenges to say the least. But in the midst of feeling like a small fish in a large pond, Alma-Taya decided to just keep swimming. 

“I went out exploring that afternoon, mainly because I was starving and had no food, and randomly ran into a group of students that were speaking English,” she said. “We all had dinner together and have been friends since then.”

Alma-Taya, an education major, has been interning at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, teaching English to adults and studying intensive Chinese language. That position is usually only available to foreign grads with an M.A., but Alma-Taya was accepted into the program while still a junior.

Her sister, Diana, was already teaching abroad in China. After hearing about how great her sister’s experience was, Alma-Taya knew she couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to teach, even if the workload was heavy.

Roxanna currently teaches three speaking classes with about 40 students in each, two writing classes with 40 students each, and an American culture class with about 70 students. Having never taught her own class before, it was overwhelming at first. But with the help from friends and the C of I education department, Alma-Taya settled in.

“I think this experience has been incredibly rewarding,” she said. “I’m learning just as much or even more from my students than they are learning from me. This experience has taken me out of my comfort zone in a very good way. I was thrown into the teaching world without a floatation device or any help and I feel like I managed to swim to safety on my own. It has made me a lot more self-reliant and independent, and I’m very glad I got this opportunity. “

And even though Alma-Taya is no rookie to exploring different cultures—she was born in Peru and then lived in Costa Rica before coming to Boise at age six—China has offered another slice to the cultural pie; whether it is using chopsticks for meals, learning that spitting is socially acceptable or experiencing the Chinese fascination with curly hair.

“I happen to have very curly hair,” Alma-Taya said. “I was at a store once and all of a sudden a woman came up behind me and just ran her fingers through my hair without saying anything. It was quite strange.”

As her time in China ticks down—she returns to Idaho mid-July—Alma-Taya is soaking up every part of the country she has called home since March. And she is glad for the experience to see China up close and personal.

“I think it is very important to study abroad and view other cultures,” she said. “It’s completely different to live in another country than it is to visit a different country for a short while. When you actually live there, you really get pushed out of your comfort zone, and you also get to see how people from that country truly live.”

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