By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
For the past two years Sam Kunnemann has been faced with classrooms of students—and faces unfamilar to the Imperial native.
From August 2008 to June 2010 he taught oral English and communication to sophomore students at Sias (See-ahs) International University in Xinzheng, China.
Although he doesn’t have a teaching degree, Kunnemann has worked with church youth groups, Sunday School groups and has substitute taught in the Gillette, Wyo. school system.
The 1999 Chase County High School graduate has a degree in Biblical Studies from Frontier School of the Bible in LaGrange, Wyo.
He had been working for his father, Dennis Kunnemann, and the family farming business, when he began surfing the Internet, looking for another direction for his life.
He found Purpose, a California Christian organization, which was looking for Americans to teach American English to Chinese students.
Following two telephone interviews, he was hired. He was asked to downplay his Christianity, he said, as most Chinese don’t practice any religion.
That’s because the Communist Cultural Revolution swept away most religions. Purpose asked him to be a role model for students, not an “in your face Christian.”
While Kunnemann was in China, he said there were about 130 foreigners teaching at the University. Most were not teachers, he said, but were chosen because they could teach American English.
He taught his students how to “pronounce sentences and words using everyday spoken English.” During the first part of the class he’d concentrate on pronouncing vowels and consonants. During the second half of class he’d concentrate on practical language, such as how to order food, write an advertisement or produce a skit.
He enjoyed the freedom to be creative in the classroom, using different teaching methods such as songs, games and computer clips.
Kunnemann, 30, said China is a “face driven” society, meaning they don’t want to lose face in public.
Therefore, he had a hard time persuading students to speak up in class, as they would “lose face” if they gave a wrong answer.
Students were quiet, respected him, stood up to give an answer, and were like “junior high kids trapped in college bodies. They were innocent, don’t have a sarcastic humor,” he explained.
In China, students learn by lecture, not by hands-on experience, Kunnemann noted. It was a challenge to “get them to be creative and think outside the box.”
He said students believe that anything written in a book is fact, and he was sometimes challenged by them when he contradicted a book.
Kunnemann enjoyed spending time with the students, picking up “a little bit” of Mandarin Chinese from them. They would present him with drawings and apples.
They also envied his dorm room, exclaiming over the fact that just one person slept in a room. They slept with numerous family members in the same room.
Kunnemann enjoyed the relaxed pace in China.
“Students are not so bent out of shape when things go wrong,” he explained. “They’re not so goal driven, and want to spend time with teachers and friends.”
During his last week in China he was pleased to be asked out to dinner by many of his students.
Kunnemann isn’t sure what his future holds. At present he’s working with his family again.
But, he’d like to find a creative youth teaching role, maybe in the United States, or maybe abroad.