2014-4-20 Hohhot – Jennie

Jennifer Connor 2014-4-20 Over the last month we, Journey East 2014, have had the opportunity to explore and consider the differences in US and Chinese educational systems. We visited a Mongolian kindergarten where Summer insisted that she had brought an empty backpack so that she could fill it with one of these pint sized Mongols and bring him stateside.  Aaron’s connection to his younger brothers was apparent as he ran through the playground chased by a small hoard of would be Ghengis Kahns. At middle schools, students were anxious to try out their English language skills and to exchange “selfies” and email addresses with our students who look like teenagers in Chinese ads where marketing to Chinese students means light skinned models with Caucasian features. I had the opportunity to teach an art class at the Inner Mongolia College of Art, where students choose a concentration in drawing, calligraphy, sculpture, painting and other media and for four years practice only that media in a structured environment that doesn’t encourage personal expression. The students were delighted to create newspaper wedding dresses for an alien taken from their imaginations. As part of this class I gave a short lecture on the differences between how art education is provided in our country, how personal expression is the essence of our system and, while both a professor and students expressed their concerns about their systems lack of personal choice and expression, the artwork created by these students was technically so advanced that I had to consider if our systems tendency to strive for breadth over depth could be informed by our friends in the East. Compare and contrast – the essence of Journey East, and Friday night an audience of over one thousand had the opportunity to see what a blending; a collaboration of our systems is all about. The result was simply stunning. On our first day in Hohhot, we visited a music class where the internationally acclaimed Inner Mongolia Student Choir spent time talking to our kids. When we were ready to leave, the twenty- eight students, ages thirteen through fifteen, asked if they could sing to us. Casey described her reaction as, “the hair standing up on my arms,” and many of our students had tears in their eyes. The song they sang, a traditional Mongolian folk song, was clear and haunting and was reminiscent of Native American chanting. Six of our students decided to join the 8:30-10:30 PM rehearsals so that they could perform with the chorus. Meanwhile our instrumentalists joined the Zhamqi Band, a Mongolian Rock band where the director pushed our kids to the limit….and their enthusiasm for this kind of intensity showed in their performance as they played next to horse head fiddlers , dombra and other traditional instruments……..rockin’ out in Inner Mongolia! Dressed in the shining Mongolian costumes that we have all become accustomed to, our kids joined fifty dance students in the performance that many had been daydreaming about since they saw their first Mongolian dancers as elementary students. Red silk scarves snapping, they had the audience cheering as they folded themselves into the Mongolian dance troupe. Our show with its vaudevillian roots and student driven creativity could not have been any different, and yet, it is all theater – one way or the other, the JE kids peaked at the perfect time and our audience laughed and cheered, appreciating our take on theater. As a director, it was amazing to see how the kids perfected their craft over the last month. Our show, combined with the other pieces our kids were part of, and the performance of an original song sung by College teachers about the love between Inner Mongolia and Vermont, left our kids tearful as they stood in small groups wrapped around their Mongolian friends. Most of them don’t want to leave here….right now they are changing to go play soccer with the Mongolian students……a final banquet tonight….more tears…. It has been a privilege working with the kids both ours and the Mongolians….but I for one am ready for a BLT and a cold glass of milk!  See you soon.      

4 thoughts on “2014-4-20 Hohhot – Jennie

  1. Sounds like everyone is having a terrific, memorable and educational time in China. We are so fortunate that you, Tom, Kevin, Ron and Jessica are there to help out. And especially Mrs R whom will be continuing in Tom’s footsteps in years to come. A big thank you to all of you as this opportunity could not happen without your support. Safe travels home. This website has been awesome and we all look forward to what happened each and every day. HAPPY EASTER!!

  2. Thank you, Jennie for “filling us in” on what a remarkable Journey East experience our children have had. I can’t wait to see you all at the airport on Wednesday night! We had a wonderful Easter…but missed our oldest! Safe travels to your final destination! Thank you for all that you and Tom have done to keep this program alive and well!

  3. What a beautiful and thoughtfully written piece, Jennie. I feel like I am right there taking part in all of it! When we have had contact with Evan, it is so evident how much he has changed with this experience and he will be the first to say so. He started the program with such hesitance to stand out or take risks and now I hear he had a Throat Singing performance?? I sure hope there is video footage of that! Thank you and Tom, from the bottom of my heart for giving Evan the opportunity to step out of his comfort zone and enjoy it! Looking forward to seeing all of you on Wednesday night and getting lots of hugs. Safe travels home.


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