Not only is our 10 year old daughter the only American at her new Mandarin school but also the youngest, smallest, and only Caucasian at this five star high school with 1000 students! Last week was her first day.
This is the Mandarin-speaking introduction that she prepared for her class and she volunteered that first day to be class " Monitor",( not knowing before hand what that meant) so she gets the special tie, badge and tie pin and always leads the female students when they get in lines to go to assemblies and such with a Mandarin command. Monitors get green ties, Prefects get blue ties and the rest don't have any. She was so proud to surprise us with this news that first day!
Our daughter is not the only foreign student as there are many foreign Asian students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, Japan, Laos, Indonesia mainland China and Pakistan that come to this school as boarding students along with the many locals. ( About 1/3 of the students are foreign). There are 1000 kids in the school from 7th grade to 12th grade and it's on 33 beautiful acres with 5 sceince labs, a stadium, 2 computer labs, music hall, three basketball courts, and more.
We had hoped to put her in a younger grade because of the language challenge, but instead we are skipping our ( just turned ) 10 year old into the seventh grade here as she can do the work and it's a great fit for her Mandarin Chinese language and cultural needs. This is the primary reason that we came to Malaysia and Asia, so she can become as fluent as a native in her Mandarin. She has been speaking Chinese since birth, but it is also the weakest so far of her triligual mother tongues since her parents are monolinguals so have limitations on guiding her.
We have been told it is one of the best places to learn Mandarin Chinese and their openess to foreign students is part of the advantage because unlike most Chinese schools, they have a foundation class that allows foreigners to take begining Mandarin while they are catching up. The local kids who have been taking Mandarin from first grade, go to separate Chinese classes and also have to take Malay as one of their langages besides English. The classes comprise both foreign students and local students and only separate for Mandarin, so each one can go at their pace.
It was actually quite difficult to find an all Mandarin school that would work for us because we are not residents of Malaysia, don't own a home here in their popular 2nd home plan, nor are we working here. That made it impossible to go to a government ( public school) in Penang and all of the primary Chinese schools are government schools. After several failed attempts and much help from friends, we are very happy to have found this school.
Our New Year's Eve was a little different than many, as we spent half the day at orientation for new students at her school. We really like the people that we have met there so far. The orientation presentation from 9AM to noon was almost entirely in Mandarin, but our daughter understood some of it and we could pick up some of it by the media presentation pictures and from what we had already read in their brochure.Much of it was totally over our heads.
Math, science and computer lab will all be done in English and all the teachers are bilingual, so Mozart will be able to get assistance while she strengthens her Mandarin language skills. We have been working with a tutor online ( her excellent teacher from her Johns Hopkins University CTY course), the tuition school here ( an afterschool program) and Mango online courses since we arrived in November.We've also been immersing by watching Mandarin TV, movies, listening to Mandarin conversatioin tapes and talking to locals. Most seem excited to know that we are interested in teaching her Mandarin.
All schools in Malaysia start at the beginning of January for 10 months, instead of September like at home, so everyone has been on a holiday since November when we arrived. We will get her a private tutor to help her even more, she comes to our home to assist with her Chinese homework. The tutors have all been on holiday, so we had to come up with other plans to help her prepare for school here in Mandarin, but now that school is in session again, we're doing it the same as most locals do. We actually found this tutor from our neighbor who uses her for their son who goes to a Chinese school.
Chinese has many different dialects and even the Chinese here do not speak Mandarin as a mother tongue, but just about everyone from 40 and under speakes Mandarin here , in China and much of Aisa. This is one of the advantages of learning Mandarin in Malaysia because they are better set up to teach it as a second language while still being able to immerse with the Chinese culture. All of the books stores have lots of great, cheap Mandarin books and videos for every age level and my friends who have also lived in China, say the choice and quality is so much better than in China.
There is a lot of support and resources for learning Mandarin because so many kids do it here in Penang with a majority Chinese community who want their kids fluent in Mandarin and demand rigorous schools. Mozart has always wanted to wear a uniform to school. I suppose her love of Harry Potter, those uniforms and the ever popular show in Spain, Patito Feo, had an influence there and the fact that she has never gone to a school with uniforms before. Uniforms seem to be de rigueur in Asia and Australia, so Mozart was thrilled to get hers with her embroidered Chinese name on the pocket and also to go to the mall afterwards showing it off. She had watched many other kids in the mall in uniform and now she was one of them!
She also always wanted to go to school by bus since she never did that ( we lived close enough to walk in Spain and California) and loved the perk of getting her own cell phone that came with that opportunity so that we can always be in touch with her. Cell phones are not allowed in her school, so she will have to turn it in when she arrives and pick it up when she leaves. The bus is really a new van and it picks her up and delivers her door to door. It's been very exciting for her to fulfill these dreams!
We found out the first day that they pick up 12 kids and they are all boys but her and all much older. When she told me that information in the dark ( it is dark when she leaves for school, but becomes light by the time she arrives at school about 45 minutes later at 7:30) on her first bus ride, I was a bit alarmed and worried for her. But she loves the bus ride and the playful boys that take it with her as they have already become friends in the first week. Two of them are Prefects at the high school.
They also have a cafeteria which was also on her wish list as Spain's system is quite different and they only have food for the after school kids ( called "Comodore") since school was out at 2 and that is the time of the main meal. Here ( because it is a boarding school) she can eat both breakfast on the first break around 9:15 ( school starts at 7:40) and lunch around noon, so she is excited about that too and the idea of always using chop sticks and having lots of noodles. We'll also provide nuts and apples for favorite portable snacks.Her hair must be in a bun, or one or two braids, so we picked up matching scrunchies when we went to the mall for a movie after the orientation. Both the school and the school van/bus are air conditioned, so we also got a sweater so she can keep warm as they tend to like strong air conditioning here. ( We bring sweaters for the movie theaters). Alas, she did not eat ANYTHING at all the first day as she was a bit intimidated by the thousand kids and how to do it in Mandarin, but now, after just 1 week, has found some good friends and delicious favorite foods that she loves, so we solved that problem quickly.
The school is 6 days a week 7:40 to 2:30, to 3:30 on Wednesday, and until noon on Saturday. They say they are very interested in a well rounded global eduaction and have students who have been to Universities around the world. 90% of students continue their tertiary education. It's my understanding that the main reason for the longer day on Wednesday and Saturday classes are for the MANY extracurricular activities like sports, societies and clubs. Mozart is very excited about participating in some like drama, choir, karate and dance. They may limit the young kids to just one, we'll see.
She is in a special foundation class that is comprised of both Chinese locals and foreign students. Her Mandarin starts at a first grade level in Chinese and her Mandarin books are the same as our neighbor' son who is in first grade at a Mandarin school here. So just like Spain, we luck out with her getting the same foundatational school language training as a local would in reading, writing and speaking the language from grade one on up, while being immersed in all her classes in Mandarin. This advantage is because this high school take many foreign students as most regular Mandarin schools would mean she would have to jump into Mandarin at her grade level amongst students who have been taking it daily since preschool or speak it as a mother tongue.
Mozart was very happy to discover their very large library filled with both English and Mandarin books. She was thrilled to learn that the first period every day was for book reading and book reports from books they would get from the library. By looking over her many new school books, it looks like the only real challenge will be the Mandarin, so we are happy with that as that is our focus. The first day she found out they have a contest for who reads the most books and does the most book reports, so she read twenty in the first five days and has already filled her first book report book, when the rest of the kids are on one book, so looks like she has a shot to win that one since it is so up her alley.
She had an amazing first week and really likes the kids. As always in school, her favorite subjects are recess and lunch, plus she loves her bus ride home because the boys make her laugh. There seems to be a real innocence and exceptional sweetness to the children. The girls in her class are from Indonesia ( a set of several cousins of Chinese origin) and Thailand and both sets absolutely adore her. The boys are Chinese Malaysians, Korean, Thai and most are 12 or 13, but three of the Thai girls are 16. They tell her they love her and kiss her on the cheek, which was quite surprising to Mozart, but she loves it. She is not so fond of some of the boys in the class that always tease the girls, are rough and swear.
She thinks she is the weakest in the school in Mandarin, but the other foreign students are also weak in Mandarin, so the teachers mostly talk in Mandarin, but do give some English instruction so everyone understands. They have daily assembly where they sit on the hard floor crossed legged for an hour or two and that is all in Mandarin. It appears most of the work, besides Mandarin, is extremely easy for Mozart. In math class she finishes her work well before anyone else and she has asked if she could go ahead to do more pages, but the teacher says she must just sit and wait for the others. Some of the kids are in green shirts now which is their gym uniform, as they are waiting for their white shirts with embroidery to be done.
One sometimes hears horror stories about Mandarin schools ( most from China) but our experience with all the people we have met from the Principal, to the Discipline Master to the Teachers has been nothing but wonderful thus far. Confusious was on display in the auditorium at orientation and they mentioned him as the good character of the students is part of the school intention. They also said in English that they are honored to have us in their school. We're happy she has this chance to immese deeply in Chinese culture as well as the language. I was pleased to read Mozart's school book that is called "Guide to a Happy Life" which is based on Chinese sages from the past, primarily Confusious. Like this quote from Chapter Five:
"Human beings, regardless of nationality, race, or religion- everyone- should be loved equally. We are sheltered by the same sky and we all live on the same Planet Earth. A person of high ideals and morals is highly respected. What people value is not based on outside appearance."
I'll keep you posted about our experience and my thoughts about language learning for kids. We have also been discussing it on our Soultravelers3 Facebook Page, so feel free to join us! On our way home we took a taxi because we had spent several hours at the mall for a movie and shopping for groceries and things. The driver was Indian but had been born here and traveled to and lived in many places. He spoke many languages including bits of 6 Chinese dialects. When we told him what we are doing, he spoke to Mozart in Chinese and they carried on a little conversation. He said to us that her accent was wonderful ( that principal at the school said that too) and that "you are doing a very good thing for your child". Obviously we hope he is right!
What do you think about kids learning Mandarin, Spanish or any second language or culture?