Spirit en­riches Brunei ex­changes

Vol­un­teers face re­wards, chal­lenges in year­long teach­ing pro­gram

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By ZHAO SHENGNAN in Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan, Brunei zhaosheng­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The first batch of Chi­nese vol­un­teers to go to Brunei had to make some tough de­ci­sions con­cern­ing fam­i­lies, ed­u­ca­tion and work. Some of the 23 vol­un­teers, rang­ing in age from 21 to 53, left ba­bies be­hind. Some de­layed fin­ish­ing their col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. Oth­ers quit their jobs.

But as Edith Piaf once sang, they had no re­grets and were grate­ful to have par­tic­i­pated in the year­long pro­gram, which ends this month.

“We are lucky to be mak­ing his­tory. As a vol­un­teer, I learned and got back more than I gave,” said Yao Rui, the team leader, who is in his 30s.

Pro­posed by then pre­mier Wen Ji­abao in 2011, the ex­change pro­gram sent the vol­un­teers — mainly from Bei­jing, Liaon­ing and Guang­dong prov­inces — to ease Brunei’s per­son­nel short­age in health, sports and Chi­nese lan­guage teach­ing.

De­spite hav­ing the kind of im­pres­sive ex­per­tise and rich vol­un­teer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at home that made them stand out from hun­dreds of ap­pli­cants, they found the ex­pe­ri­ence both chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing.

Pro­fes­sional dif­fi­cul­ties

When Ye Chaoran, a teacher and doc­tor of pathol­ogy for nearly three decades in China, first vol­un­teered as a tu­tor at the In­sti­tute of Health Sciences at the Univer­sity of Brunei Darus­salam, stu­dents sel­dom talked to him and did not call him doc­tor in class.

“I think they did ques­tion my pro­fes­sion­al­ism at that time. I can un­der­stand that be­cause I hadn’t got­ten used to the dif­fer­ent teach­ing style and my English re­ally was not good then,” the 53-year-old said.

Un­like the “cram­ming” style of teach­ing pop­u­lar in China, the in­sti­tute’s prob­lembased learn­ing is stu­dent- cen­tered ped­a­gogy in which stu­dents learn about a sub­ject through the ex­pe­ri­ence of prob­lem­solv­ing, mostly in group stud­ies.

“At first, I felt lost when I didn’t have the dom­i­nat­ing role in the class, but I was try­ing to ad­just by watch­ing how other pro­fes­sors taught,” said Ye, who taught at the Guangxi Med­i­cal Univer­sity for 13 years.

Though teach­ing styles dif­fered, Ye’s ex­pe­ri­ence proved to be an ad­van­tage. Hav­ing per­formed more than 1,000 au­top­sies on real hu­man bod­ies, in­stead of the mod­els widely used in Brunei, Ye soon im­pressed the stu­dents in class and in free tu­tor­ing ses­sions af­ter­ward.

“They call me ‘pro­fes­sor’ or ‘doc­tor’ now,” he said.

“But ev­ery coun­try has its own con­di­tions. The point of ex­change is not to com­pete, but to im­prove to­gether. ... We can learn from one another. Prob­lem- based learn­ing is bet­ter but is used on a small scale and is not ap­pro­pri­ate for Chi­nese schools. Au­top­sies us­ing mod­els are much cleaner op­er­a­tions but, ob­vi­ously, are dif­fer­ent from the real ones,” he added.

Yao, another tu­tor in the in­sti­tute, said he also strug­gled dur­ing his first two months be­cause it was the first time he had taught med­i­cal sci­ence in English.

“Peo­ple in Brunei speak and write English bet­ter than Chi­nese peo­ple do,” he said. “Since there were no com­pul­sory text­books, I had to pre­pare English ma­te­ri­als my­self. As a mem­ber of the in­sti­tute’s obe­sity re­search team, I had to stay up late to read the med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture in English,” said Yao, who was a chief doc­tor in the Zhuhai Center for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion in Guang­dong.

“There were sev­eral Chi­nese tu­tors in the in­sti­tute and we joked that this year in Brunei was like our time on cam­pus as stu­dents. We stud­ied English and medicine to­gether ev­ery night, try­ing our best to con­trib­ute some­thing to the re­search here,” said Yao.

Fa­tima Arni, a lec­turer in nurs­ing at the in­sti­tute, said that de­spite oc­ca­sional lan­guage ob­sta­cles, she found com­mon ground.

“I used a Chi­nese dic­tionary, and they were learn­ing English and Malay. I shared teach­ing du­ties with them and in­vited them to my class,” she said.

“Chi­nese peo­ple are al­ways very mo­ti­vated, and I like that,” Fa­tima said. She learned a great deal about Chi­nese cul­ture when she was a stu­dent in Canada and Bri­tain.

Cul­tural ex­changes

Fa­tima is one of an in­creas­ing num­ber of Bruneians in­ter­ested in China and she en­cour­aged the vol­un­teers to be a bridge be­tween the two coun­tries.

Ye, the pathol­o­gist, said he had “dis­ap­pointed” many peo­ple who had asked him whether he prac­ticed tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine. He hadn’t.

“When my sis­ter, a doc­tor of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, em­i­grated to the United States about three decades ago, she had no choice ex­cept to give up her ma­jor to make a liv­ing there. Now the world is in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine and China as a ris­ing coun­try,” he said.

Yin Guanghui, a vol­un­teer Chi­nese lan­guage teacher at Mak­tab Sains sec­ondary school, said he had ne­glected his tai chi ex­er­cise and tu­ishou, a non-com­pet­i­tive train­ing of tai chi, at home un­til he saw the lo­cal chil­dren’s de­sire to learn them.

“I’ve picked up all th­ese hob­bies again be­cause I’ve been a Chi­nese teacher for more than two decades and I want to do some­thing to pro­mote Chi­nese cul­ture abroad,” said the 45-year-old.

Yin taught Chi­nese lan­guage and tai chi at the sec­ondary school, and pro­vided free tu­tor­ing in th­ese two sub­jects to about 20 stu­dents on week­ends. Yin’s wife mailed him about 60 pieces of spe­cial pa­per on which his stu­dents could prac­tice Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy.

Sung Hui Yee, one of Yin’s stu­dents, said she had longed to learn tai chi for a long time, but in Brunei, Korea’s Taek­wondo was more com­mon.

“Ja­panese and Korean cul­ture are quite pop­u­lar among Brunei’s young gen­er­a­tion,” Sung said. “I’ve seen Ja­panese and Korean cul­ture fes­ti­vals at the univer­sity but not Chi­nese ones,” said the 23-year-old grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Brunei Darus­salam.

Af­ter months of prepa­ra­tion, Yao and his team­mates made his­tory on Oct 30 by hold­ing the first Chi­nese Cul­ture Day ever held at the univer­sity or in the coun­try. Chi­nese vol­un­teers demon­strated tai chi, Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy, tra­di­tional Chi­nese mas­sage and weiqi, a Chi­nese board game, at the event.

“Be­fore leav­ing for Brunei, some­one asked me how I could be away from my two-year-old daugh­ter for a year. But pains and gains are just twins, and we have been happy to win peo­ple’s friend­ship in Brunei through our ef­forts,” he said.

“Also, it has been per­son­ally worth­while to have such a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.”


Vol­un­teers are greeted at the air­port of Shenyang, Liaon­ing prov­ince, on Dec 9, af­ter their one-year ser­vice in Brunei.

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