Katie Prescott describes her unique insight into Chinese culture
Name: Katie Prescott
Degree course: Natural Sciences
College: Murray Edwards
Why did you first decide to apply to the Shijiazhuang and Beijing summer camps – was it something you always knew you wanted to do?
I spent a year studying in China through the British Council Generation UK-China program in between the second and third years of my undergrad – this was an absolutely incredible experience, both in terms of my language learning and the opportunities to travel, explore the local culture and meet incredible people. Therefore, having spent the previous summers doing more “standard” internships in scientific research labs and a large international company, I wanted to have the opportunity to return to China (both to practice my Chinese and continue to travel) and to gain a different kind of work experience. The summer camps in Shijiazhuang and Beijing were a great way to return to China for free, as well as offering real classroom teaching experience. I had previously participated in several teaching related programs in Cambridge, including volunteering in a local school as a maths teaching assistant, which I had particularly enjoyed – the summer camp programs therefore caught my eye as something linked to this but more in-depth. To be honest, I wasn’t at that point considering teaching as a career – just something I enjoyed and could see I’d gain valuable skills from!
What skills did you develop on the summer camps which you didn’t have a chance to learn while at university?
The summer camps were a really amazing experience to develop a huge range of skills outside of my degree. In particular, the experience of standing up in front of a classroom of kids really helped me feel more confident at giving presentations to an audience. Their English level was generally very low, so I also had to work on my communication skills, explaining ideas more simply and modelling with examples to get ideas across – something that is invaluable to me now as a teacher, but also to any career where you need to explain concepts to a non-technical audience. Since I was the only international participant who could speak Chinese on the Shijiazhuang camp, I also helped liaise with the local management team over any issues which came up (everything from a lack of WiFi to burst sewage pipes… some interesting stories there!) – this really helped improve my language and negotiation skills. In general, putting yourself out of your comfort zone and trying something new will always be a challenging experience, so I certainly learnt to be more adaptable too!
What are you currently enjoying most about your teacher training?
I am absolutely loving my teacher training – it’s difficult to pick out just one aspect! The training we have received in faculty has been fantastic, our tutors are incredibly approachable and full of tips for teaching challenging science topics. But my favourite bit has probably been the actual teaching in schools – it sounds very cliche but being able to work with children and really see the impact you are having is very rewarding! Sometimes it’s challenging to keep everyone on-task and there are always some kids who are less enthusiastic about science, but once they grasp a challenging concept or get some exciting results in a practical it’s amazing to see that spark in their eyes. This placement I particularly enjoyed teaching one lower-attaining year 11 class, it’s the kind of group most teachers would dread but being able to build positive relationships with them and understand the challenges they were facing allowed me to really engage with them, we enjoyed plenty of fun revision games and I really hope they will do themselves proud in the upcoming exams.
Tell us about the social enterprise you founded, Abridge EduCamp…
Abridge EduCamp is a social enterprise offering teaching-based cultural exchange programs in China, focusing on summer camps and homestay based programs. These programs are all well-funded, covering (at a minimum) participants’ flights and in-country costs, making them more accessible for all students. Unlike other summer camp programs, the focus is very much on bilateral exchange – participants will spend a significant amount of time teaching English or Science, but also receive an unique insight into Chinese culture through cultural workshops, Chinese classes and trips to local sights. As a social enterprise, our mission is to improve cultural relations between the UK and China, inspire and develop language skills, and also to promote teaching as a career or support those already in the profession by providing experience teaching students with English as an Additional Language.
What are your career plans for the future?
I absolutely love teaching and am passionate about education, so see myself continuing as a classroom teacher for the foreseeable future. However, I would also love to develop Abridge EduCamp on the side! The two interests do have a lot of links, and potentially in the future I will consider teaching internationally or running Chinese exchange programs for UK school students. Next year, I’m planning to run a Chinese language and culture club at my school, which will be a lovely way to share another subject I am passionate about alongside my actual science teaching job!