my husband, teaching.
My students, using old copies of China Daily to make English collages. They actually did pretty okay, although it did deteriorate a bit into people making bizarre images of dogs with human heads and stuff…
Couldn’t pretend I didn’t love that weirdness!
Today, an American university’s chorus group came to give a performance at the school. We were invited to attend, and everyone was kind of watching our reactions…waiting to see how excited and thrilled we would be with the American entertainment!
About five seconds into the first song, we realized that the school was actually a religious college. Most of the songs they sang were those awkward ‘could be about a significant other…or God!’ kind of songs. The kicker was a Beach Boys medley that they performed, where they changed the lyrics for “In My Room” to reflect the idea that they never feel alone because God is with them.
The teachers and students lapped it up, oblivious to the subtext.
The American group was very sweet and certainly had great talent, but it was odd to witness this in a country where religious proselytizing isn’t exactly welcome.
As a volunteer in this country, I often reflect upon the idea of what it is I’m “selling” to my community and my students.
It’s an awful way to put it, but we are all “selling” something…even if its just our point of view about mundane things.
I want to sell the idea that being nice is reward unto itself, that a smile is important, and that people from every country can connect and find similarities. This isn’t flashy or exotic, but I hope my ideas are as popular as the Christian school’s rendition of “Hakuna Matata” was…
To My Students:
My favorite English saying is “Only Connect”. It means that the most important thing in life is to connect with other people: love them, learn from them, help them.
This year, I have learned so much from you…about the lives of Chinese students, about your dreams and hopes and frustrations. I feel very connected to you all, as though you are my younger sisters and brothers! I see that many of you are unhappy, and many of you have complicated dreams. Here is some advice from your American 姐姐, with love.
1. Don’t give up. Life is hard, in every country. We face pressure from our families and our society. Don’t be afraid of your dreams, and don’t let the world push you down.
2. Don’t compromise your beliefs. You are young, and while it is important to think of family and friends, you deserve to find true happiness for yourself. Don’t be afraid to make hard decisions, you will be happier in the end!
3. To all of you SC2’ers, DOTA, LoL and WoW’ers…the fantasy world of computer games is addictive and alluring: to have the power you can’t possess in reality, to go on quests that make your everyday life feel dull and boring…but I urge you not to forget the world around you. Don’t forget that you are someone else’s hero in reality. Maybe you don’t know who yet, but your future is waiting for you. Live in both worlds, and don’t forget that there is magic in this world if you work to find it.
4. The world is bigger than this school, bigger than your hometown. I hope you can explore it. Learning English may not feel important, but it is a way to make friends and learn about new people. I know many of you don’t like English, but I hope you’ll remember that I’m not just a teacher. You have a friend in me, and if you ever have a chance to come to America, I will gladly welcome you to my home.
Thank you for being my first students, and I hope you have learned as much from me as I have learned from you!
We’re proud to announce that we will begin accepting applications from same-sex domestic partners who want to serve together as Volunteers overseas!
Same-sex couples may begin the application process starting Monday, June 3.
Peace Corps, making me proud to serve! This is a good step forward!
I just finished the last of the maple syrup. There was about a shot left, and I drank it.
It was amazing.
Maple syrup, I miss you already.
I’ve noticed these little creatures residing on the tables at many local restaurants and teahouses. I always wondered what the heck they were. Elaborate egg timer? Some kind of cute machine to dole out time-limited wifi?
Last night we found one with English instructions on it. It’s a fortune teller! I “ploughed” a one-yuan coin in the little guy’s nose (per the instructions), and a tiny grey bead popped out of its mouth.
Inside the bead was a folded fortune. I haven’t taken the time to translate it yet, but it’s ok. I love the concept, regardless.
Most of my pals here in China are pretty tired of superstition and folksy fortune telling. Don’t tell them that I actually love it.
I can’t believe my first year of teaching is almost over. I just looked over the archives of my blog, re-reading every post about my students. So, how am I?
I’m left with a lot of heavy emotions. I want to say ‘mixed emotions’, but it isn’t mixed at all. It’s all similar. Frustration, anxiety, disappointment, exhaustion. Yes, there have been a few blossoms among my thorns, but for the most part I feel so confused about my place here and my influence on this large group of students.
I never imagined that my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer would involve teaching the kinds of people I ended up with: first year architectural and engineering students, mostly male, with an average age of twenty. A great majority of my students come from really wealthy homes. All of my students fared poorly on the national exams. Most of them dislike school, and have absolutely no desire to learn English.
I have tried my damnedest to whip up amusing lesson plans. I’ve tried to spark interest, to boost creativity and connect with my students on a level beyond textbooks and recitation. I’ve tried to form clubs and groups, tried to engage and befriend. What is the end result? I can’t say.
After my pre-service training, I envisioned myself teaching students who would become my friends. I imagined starting a cooking club, organizing an English corner, being invited to visit a student’s home in the countryside. This is often the reality for many volunteers serving in China, but it isn’t mine.
I try not to take it personally. They’re guys. They’re twenty-year-old men who have boy brains. They make fart noises when their friends have to speak in class. They pummel each other during the breaks, beating and punching. They hide their cellphones inside the desks and play ‘Bejeweled’ even after I’ve begged them to try to work together on whatever project we’re supposed to be doing. They talk and talk and talk and talk. In Chinese. To each other. And when I try to casually talk to them, they turn into quivering, red-faced children who can barely manage to answer “how are you?”.
I don’t want to drown in negativity, I know that’s hardly productive…but I also don’t want to hide the truth about my life here. I love China, I love Sichuan, and I truly do love my school and community. I even love my students. Still, every day I find myself wishing I were teaching students who cared a bit more and tried a bit harder.
Every day, I remind myself that my purpose here in China is not solely to teach. I’m here to be a face for my country—and honestly, I think I’m doing a stellar job! As a naturally shy person, it’s not easy to look strangers straight in the eye and smile at them…especially not when those strangers are cranky oldsters who look like they’re experiencing a bigfoot sighting. I’m doing my best to befriend my colleagues, and to show others that Americans can be good stewards and good friends.
There are some seriously major differences between me and the boys I teach. I can’t expect to magically transcend these things sheerly by cheerily expressing my desire to befriend them. I’ve had to do things I never imagined I’d do (like standing up to a boy much taller than myself and having to sternly say “Sit down. I’m not happy with you.” after he put another kid in a headlock.) I can’t relate to their world, because there are only small shreds that correlate with my own. I absolutely relish those moments when something silly happens in class that we can all laugh about together. I wish I didn’t have to teach these guys English at all. I wish there weren’t 50 of them per class, so I could pay more attention to each person and try to crack a little harder at the heavy shells they wear.
I want them to know how hard I’ve tried. I want them to know how badly I wish it could have been a different sort of school year. I want them to know that I don’t give a shit about their English grade. I care more about their ability to interact with people different from themselves (like me.) I care about their creativity and their desire to think.
My only hope is that I’ve planted some sort of dormant seed, and maybe ten years from now it can germinate and blossom into the idea that once they had a foreign teacher who cared deeply about them, who memorized all 350 Chinese names and faces, who tried to talk to them and always wanted to know “how are you?”.