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Curious as to how young ESL students celebrate Halloween in China? Although Halloween isn't widely celebrated in China, it is a popular Western holiday observed by most international schools and English training centers across the country. Here's a breakdown of what you can expect on Halloween as an ESL Teacher in China:
Celebrating Halloween is a great cultural exchange activity for ESL students in China. They have the chance to learn famous phrases, sing classic songs, and experience all the popular traditions of one of America's most revered holidays. What's more, Halloween serves as a fun family friendly, community-centered holiday experience, and in a place like China where communal sharing and participation in social bonding activities are values deeply rooted into the culture, it's all the more reason to party!
Halloween events put on by schools and English training centers in China are usually held on the day of or on weekends closest to the actual holiday. If Halloween lied on a Mon/Tues/Wednesday in October, for instance, most English training centers would hold their party on the previous Saturday or Sunday, whereas if on a Thurs/Fri, it's possible to push it back until the weekend coming up. Furthermore, times usually depend on the number of students at the school or host preferences, but most Halloween events by English training centers lie in-between the 9-6pm range. Schools, on the other hand, usually celebrate Halloween on the day of, but they may also throw big events on the weekends.
As for international schools, most activities are held on campus or at an open field nearby. English training centers may host their Halloween event at their school location; however, most centers are all about marketing and recruitment. Entertaining their own students and parents is one thing, but having the chance to hold activities in a nearby residential community or shopping center maximizes their brand awareness in the neighborhood and increases the possibility of picking up new students in the area. If you’re a teacher, you’ll need to get ready for being put on constant display.
Everybody from the principal to the “Ayis” (janitors) are expected to participate, and students AND parents are encouraged to show up in their best costumes. A lot of kids stumbling upon the event will be invited to join in on the festivities as well, as long as they can practice some simple English sentences.
Here's a breakdown of what you can expect on Halloween:
In China, Halloween is more cute, cuddly and mildly scary than eerie, hair-raising, and grotesque. American style horror and gruesome content is DEFINITELY not a popular or common feature in Chinese culture and media. With that, most Halloween costumes for young ESL learners in China are of princes, princesses, vampires, wizards, pirates, witches, pumpkins, skeletons, and superheroes.
You'll find that the ghost mask popularized by 1996's smash U.S. horror flick Scream is widely worn as well. You won't necessarily find any blood riddled, super frightening costumes like in the States, but there are usually a few kids donning really terrifying makeup and scary monster masks scattered somewhere in the mix.
Additionally, because Halloween is not popular amongst local Chinese people, there are very few shops that sell QUALITY Halloween outfits in China—most just sell masks, hats, capes and simple props—so parents tend to purchase more elaborate costumes from Taobao, China's leading e-commerce website.
The coolest part about prepping for Halloween is gathering with your colleagues, throwing on your costumes for the 1st time, putting on each other's makeup, and snapping a whole bunch of pictures together. It's a great time for laughs and team bonding before the chaos.
It's Halloween, which means that campus facilities are decorated to the T, especially if the event is held there. Spider webs, plastic pumpkins, bats, skeletons, ghouls, monsters, scarecrows, tombstones; everything is fair game. On event day, blinds are shut, lights are covered with tinted paper, and the happy-go-luckily children's songs are cut off to make way for spooky Halloween music. You may even get a smoke machine if you're lucky.
Again, it all depends on the school and budget, but there are some schools and training centers that may go all out on a haunted house. As a teacher you'll probably have the most fun being stationed there and scaring the hell out of the kids, even it's as tiny as a small classroom.
There are contest for best costumes, scariest costume, cutest costume, best family costumes, and...well, you get the picture. A lot of parents will come dressed in the same outfit as their child(ren), and many will make a serious effort to apply the best/scariest makeup as possible.
Game Stations & Activities
During the Halloween festivities at schools and English training centers in China, various activities and game stations—usually about 5—will be setup at the location. These may include face painting and typical interactive party games like ring toss, beanbag toss, miniature golf, bowling, and balloon racing, fitted to match the Halloween theme.
Once a station is completed, students will receive a small amount of candy and are given a stamp on a card. At a small training center, going classroom to classroom for different game stations is enough. In residential communities, though, they're typically spread out across the area.
There are two ways trick-or-treating usually goes down: One, after the students finish a game station they'll need to say "Happy Halloween" or "Trick-or-Treat" to receive candy. Done.
Two, after the students finish all of the game stations, they'll need to meet with assigned groups and team leaders, then head to nearby businesses in the area to pick up their candy. If you're training center sits in a bustling commercial plaza, for instance, you may lead students to places like McDonald's, daycare centers, local restaurants, and even Hooters. What a great partnership!
The last leg of the Halloween event usually consists of a lot of picture taking. And I mean A LOT! There are individual pictures with students and their parents, then group pictures with all of the people that turned out for the event, AND THEN staff photos. It'll definitely get exhausting just taking so many pictures, but it's also the most fun part of spending Halloween with your students!
I hope you can spend Halloween in China as an ESL Teacher someday!
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About the Author: Don is from Los Angeles, CA, USA and has served as an ESL Teacher & Foreign Department Manager for over 5 yrs. in both China & South Korea!
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