Studying abroad deludes people. I say this not to dissuade individuals from studying abroad (one of the best experiences I ever encountered and the reason I’m currently living abroad), but in the hopes that I can educate people not to act upon their “honeymoon” instincts. When you’re taking classes abroad, life is at it’s peak. Two, maybe three hours of class, followed by an entire day to explore your newfound home. Having an entire culture as your own personal playground is intoxicating, and it’s easy to overlook some of the negative aspects of a foreign country. There is no one Mecca of that ideal neighborhood/city/country where you always wake up on the right side of the bed, where life is grand and responsibilities can be tossed by the wayside.
This is why my Beijing experience so far, neither wholly positive nor wholly negative, has not been unexpected. I knew that I came here to work, and that not everything would be as carefree as studying abroad. We arrived at our hotel at 10:45 pm on Friday night, finally concluding a 20 hour journey originating in DC’s Dulles airport. Sleep was instantaneous, but short-lived. The following morning at 7:00 am, 120 jet-lagged “teachers” were marched in small groups throughout Peking University (北京大学), a sprawling campus of lush trees, streams and ponds, and traditional Chinese architecture whose size dwarfed any American college I had ever seen. Afterwards, we were led into our welcome meeting to give us some details about our stay. It was here that the nature of our time in Beijing descended upon us in one unholy sentence:
You will all be teaching tomorrow.
In a large auditorium such as the one we were sitting in, silence is the most deafening sound imaginable. Teaching. Our second day. Teaching. As the shock began to settle in, we were divided into groups that we would work with throughout the next few weeks, responsible for the same children throughout various points in the day.
This has been my life the past four days, but I feel like I’ve been abroad for nearly a month. From 8:00 to 6:00, I’m liable to attend various classes on Linguistic and English Teaching theory as well as Chinese language classes. Along with this, I’m responsible for not only creating a 50 minute lesson plan for each day, but making sure my topic coordinates with a general theme that my group agrees upon to ensure that our students have an easy transition throughout the day. We have one day off on Friday to go see the Great Wall, but every other day is filled with teaching and classes, weekends included.
Similarly to coordinating themes throughout our lesson plans, I feel like this blog also has an overlying theme: posts tend to start off as negatives but they should not be read that way. I really am so grateful that I’m here right now. While it was a big shock to adjust to, adjusted I have done. Being thrown into the hodgepodge of China life in such an intensive manner is only going to make my life easier when I get to Shenzhen, and my class and lecture planning will be significantly reduced. I have also come to several realizations in these past four days.
- I love being back in China
Nothing compares to walking past a group on the streets and hearing exclamations of “A foreigner!” Celebrity is instantaneous for Westerners in China. You stand out just by existing, and it can be fun to be gawked at. Some find it intrusive, but I thrive off of the spotlight so it’s nice to be noticed again! Plus, still can’t beat feeding yourself for $3 a day. Helloooooooo, retirement fund. (It’s too soon to be thinking about this, Connor. Cherish your youth!!!
- I like teaching
Standing up in the front of the room about to dive into a lesson plan, my stomach takes a plunge similarly to a bungee jumper standing on the edge of the cliff. But once you’re in the air, hurtling at breakneck speeds towards the ground, adrenaline and subsequently euphoria kick in. I find it enthralling to be working with people and to be making something of an impact on their lives. After that first lesson, every person I talked to had the same opinion: “That went so much better than I expected. I think I had fun!” It gets easier the more we go along, and with that our creativity flourishes.
- I like working with kids
Here’s where things get a little new for me. I’ve never really had an experience working with the youths. Working in grocery stores and restaurants tends to sway people away from looking at children with any positive feelings.
Working with my class is slowly chiseling away at my icy heart, and I’m kind of falling for them. They have their moments where they start to get rambunctious and try to take control away from me, but they’re kids, I can’t fault them for that (I can, however, glare at them to snap them back into order. It’s that same look your teacher had on her face, the one that said “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.” to get you right back into submission. I LOVE being on the other side of that look). No matter how hard I have it, these kids have it worse. Being forced to attend “English Camp” for six hours a day every day is not how they want to spend their summers, they’re in my class because their parents demand it. This, in a way, inspires me to try to make creative plans, ones that teach them what they need to know, but can entertain them as well. I learn as much from my failures as successes, and each new lesson teaches me new things. Doing the hokey pokey to teach kids body parts: good. “Marrying” ten year-olds off at the front of the room to teach them about family members: bad. (Very bad. The “wife,” upon learning that she was now married shaped her fingers into a gun with her pointer finger and thumb and held it to my forehead at the front of the room. Very, very, very bad.)