2016-2017 TCLP Essay Contest Winner
Ma Jianhong won first prize for his essay contest entry


Outreach, a Win-Win Situation by Ma Jianhong

When I learned from the award letter it was mandatory for a TCLP exchange teacher to complete 8-10 hours of outreach each month, my exhilaration of exploring a new country suddenly dissipated, followed by my worry about how I could accomplish such a mission. It had been looming large on my mind ever after. A lot of questions crossed my mind. How could I balance the time between my 18-hour-per-week schedule and my outreach? How could I reach out to the nearby communities beyond my host school? What if nobody turned up at my presentation? Seven months has slipped by speedily since I started to conduct my outreach. Looking back on my work, I have come to the realization that it is a marvelous blessing, rather than a massive burden. To my great delight, local people have enjoyed my outreach, which they say gives them a new perspective of China and Chinese culture. To quote a teacher whose students attended my presentation, “One of the students said, ‘This is so baller!’ To translate, that's one of the best compliments an American teenager can give!” In the meantime I have enormously benefited from my outreach activities professionally, culturally, and personally.

Because I am a Chinese native does not mean I am expert at Chinese culture. Actually, outreach enables me to learn across the curriculum and update my knowledge concerning each presentation I will make. Many teachers in the schools have requested that my presentations focus on such topics as ancient Chinese idioms, current Chinese issues, or cultural differences, so it usually takes me a long time to prepare lessons due to research. It is really a toil, but I am rewarded with an added bonus: I have gained a new insight into our own country by reading, thinking, and sharing. To some extent, this experience has incredibly sharpened my sense of national pride, as previously I took our unique culture for granted.

Outreach is an amazing platform to expand my social network in such a sparsely populated area, interact with people from all walks of life, and establish friendships with them. It gives me a glimpse of American society and culture as well as what they think of China. It also helps me dispel many misconceptions about Americans through engaging with them face to face. Without these outreach activities, I would lock myself into my small room and miss out on many opportunities to enrich my American life. Actually, I have many fond memories from outreach work. For instance, before Christmas, a class from a nearby school where I conducted an outreach presentation gave me a package containing each child’s hand-made gift. Many times my outreach has afforded me the opportunity of being invited to a dinner in a restaurant or somebody’s house. Some of them have become my friends who often take me for a country ride or other fun activities.Now I am acutely aware of the true meaning of outreach and its relevance to a newcomer from another culture.