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Macau and Illinois Education students bond, learn from each other in HRE 199

by The College of Education / May 3, 2012

Photo of Becca Siambekos and Venus IpBecca is talkative and spirited. Venus is a bit more shy and reserved.  But they make a good pair. Yin and yang, if you will. Peanut butter and jelly.

They are both Education majors, and if you saw them together on campus, you might think they were roommates. They make small talk about what their day holds, what assignments they have, and where they're going next.

They aren't roommates, but they are classmates, the truest sense of the word. They were paired together for a class in the spring of 2012, HRE 199, Leadership in Global Engagement. Venus is studying here abroad from the University of Macau and Becca is a U of I student from Naperville.

In fact there are 11 Macau students studying here this semester thorough the College's Office of International Programs. They are enrolled in HRE 199 with 20 regularly enrolled U of I students of various majors who had to make the cut from a waiting list of 80. Some Illinois students take it for credit; others take it as an internship.

The purpose of the course, according to its creator Lucinda Morgan, is to serve as a breeding ground for an interactive exchange—an exchange in which Macau and Illinois students engage in discussions and projects that emphasize leadership, communication, and inter-cultural explorations.

The class features guest speakers from campus and the local community who discuss various aspects of global engagement, according to Morgan, a Ph.D. student in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership who works in the College of Education's Office of International Programs.

In addition, HRE 199 student-partners meet outside of class for an average of two hours a week to create and investigate a research topic of their choosing. They then present their research findings at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in the spring.

For their research topic, Becca Siambekos and Venus Ip compared required coursework for education majors at the University of Macau versus the requirements at the U of I.

The biggest difference in teacher preparation that they noticed was the heftier language requirements at the University of Macau, according to Siambekos. She also said that the requirements for Education majors in Macau is very specific, while the U of I requirements offer a little more flexibility.

Those differences aside, "The courses basically are very similar—first the general courses and then there are the teaching techniques and the courses related education and child development," Ip observed.

As far as on-the-job training, "In Macau, we have many other chances to visit the school and be a helper in the school in order to have more experiences to communicate with children," Ip added. "In the U.S., students have this opportunity too, but in different ways." She also noted that U of I Education majors student teach for a more limited time period of half a semester while Macau Education students spend time in the classroom student teaching for one year.

Siambekos said she was amazed at some of the things she learned about the school systems in China after partnering with Ip. "One (difference) would be the variety of languages taught in the schools and Venus' ability to speak in different languages. Another would be organization in the classroom and the differences in classroom structure. Even before kindergarten, children in Macau are in very structured classrooms. Venus was surprised to come to Illinois and find students in kindergarten with free time. She described it to me as 'chaotic.'"

Ip agreed, saying that "the most surprising thing is that children go to school at age 5 in the U.S. and they only have one year of kindergarten. Pre-k is optional here. In Macau, children must go to kindergarten when they are 3 years old and there are three years of kindergarten (K1, K2, K3)."

Ip also noticed differences in how university students interact here compared to her fellow students in Macau.

"Students in the U.S. leave the classroom very quickly after class is finished. In Macau, we usually stay in the classroom after class to talk with each other. The efficiency of U.S. students is very high. They do things very quickly and usually they do not like to meet outside the classroom to work on projects. And they always use Google" to research topics.

Speaking of doing things quickly, Ip's biggest worry about coming to the U of I for a semester was her concern about understanding her domestic classmates. "My biggest worry was communication since we do not speak English in Macau and also people in the U.S. speak very fast."

Siambekos also had reservations before taking the class and knew it would require her stepping outside of her comfort zone. "I was actually very uneasy. I knew that there would be students from Macau in the class, and I had never come into contact with people from Macau. I was nervous that communication would be difficult because I don't have a background in Cantonese. I didn't know anyone else doing the internship, and I knew I would have to be very responsible and productive to make it work."

Photo of Becca Siambekos and Venus IpSiambekos said she also found some of Ip's inquiries to be unexpectedly quirky. "Some of the questions she asked me were very funny, because I assumed that the U of I was like the rest of the world, which was very simple-minded of me. Some of the questions she asked me were 'why are the doors so heavy here?' (in reference to the Undergraduate Library) and 'why do they lock the toilet paper dispensers here?' (inquiring if toilet paper was expensive).

"I knew that we would have many cultural differences, but I overlooked some of the very simple things that she would think are unusual," Siambekos explained.

However on a sunny April day, as Ip and Siambekos discuss their day, communication flows easily and effortlessly.

Any initial communication barriers between them were well worth breaking down.

"I do believe my interactions with Venus have shaped me as a future teacher," Siambekos said. "I already knew that I wanted to teach bilingual or ESL, and this experience affirmed that decision. I would love to reach many students and have an impact, like I know Venus will. I also have realized the importance of a structured classroom, and the organization inside of it.

"I have really enjoyed working with Venus," Siambekos continued. "We have similarities, such as the desire to teach, our patience with children, and that we are hard-working, but our differences are what were interesting. Venus is definitely calmer than me," adding that she (Siambekos) sometimes needs to take a step back, listen, and assess the situation before proceeding, something she learned from working with Venus.

That enthusiastic spirit didn't go unnoticed by Ip. "Becca has a clear goal and she always has planned what she wants to do next. She always prepares herself well and is ready for the next opportunity," Ip observed. "I learned the importance of having a clear goal, plan, and schedule."

The pair plans to stay in touch so that they can continue to compare notes—in teaching, and in life.

Photos: Spring 2012 HRE 199 partners Becca Siambekos and Venus Ip.

Editor’s Note: Seven of the 11 University of Macau Honours College students studying here this semester, including Venus Ip, were recognized for the projects they entered in the Ethnography of the University Student Conference. Visiting Assistant Professor Nicole Lamers mentored the students in the class EPS 199, Ethnography in Community Context. The Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) began in 2002 as a group of faculty, staff, and students at the University of Illinois interested in research on universities as institutions. The Macau students won the following awards in the conference: Overall EUI Poster Award: Sean Ao, Bob Leong, and Raymond Tong; University Library's EUI Poster Award: Janir Da Cruz; Honorable Mention from the University Library EUI Poster Competition: Venus Ip, Errol Kuan, and Kim Wong.