Beijing Bootcamp

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.)

So while things have been a mixed bag of sorts, the positives have definitely outweighed the negatives. I’ve been meeting a lot of great people, and definitely have a more immediate group to fall back upon for support in the absence of all you lovely, attractive, kind people back at home reading this blog. (Send money!!!!) I haven’t taken any pictures yet and haven’t had many fun adventures outside of a random ex-pat bar experience (Imagine: a combination of a pizzeria and beer pong tournament being run by a woman who resembles and sounds like a Swedish milkmaid “Ja! No pahtnahs tonight, tonight’s ahbaht yew showing that yew can rely on yoosahlf, not yoo pahtnah!”) but rest assured that I’ll provide all necessary details once they come into my possession. Until next time.
一路平安

I am my favorite subject.

As of an hour ago, today is July 29th, meaning I have only three days in which to assemble my life before flying across the globe to live and work for a year. My name is Connor. I’m currently writing from my basement bedroom in the small Pennsylvanian suburb of Carlisle. Three days from now, I’ll be writing from China. I’m spending the next year abroad in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Shenzhen teaching gaggles of Chinese children the wondrous complexities of the English language. Basically, I’m fleeing the country in order to consider myself employed.

I spent the last year of my undergrad life having quarter-life crisis upon quarter-life crisis, all stemming from fear of the “real world.” The “real world” is the scariest thing my friends and I have encountered. We lived in the beautiful college bubble, a wondrous place where our only fear was making sure we had time to get coffee from Dunkin before class started. After graduating, caffeine is the least of our worries. Now comes the time where we figure out what comes next and make plans accordingly. Amongst my friends, three distinct categories of the post-graduate twentysomethings have emerged: those who have jobs lined up, those planning to return to school, and those still trying to find a job or figure out what they want to do.

This is why August 1st is such a weird, bittersweet time for me. I currently view myself as an amalgamation of my friends’ future plans. I have a job lined up. I will be employed through the Center for Teaching and Learning in China, not only as an English teacher, but also as my future school’s “foreign expert.” I’ll have a paycheck, finances to balance, and an apartment to keep orderly. Basically, an adult (“adult”). I also plan to return to school. I know that after this program at some point in the future I do want to pursue my Master’s Degree, and really try to position myself in a strong field. I’m planning on doing this upon my return to America, but nothing is set in stone quite yet. Finally, I’m struggling to find my place as an independent person and figure out what I want to do after my time in China is up. This last bit is a semi-lie. I do know for certain that no matter where I end up, I would love to work with people from all around the world, whether it be in America or if I were to live abroad. Right now I’m planning on trying to work on teaching English in a university setting via a Master’s in TESOL or Applied Linguisitcs, but this next year is a trial to see if that’s really my passion in life. I’m scared that after spending these past few months researching the field, committing to teaching for a year, and compiling all of my resources together to apply to programs, I’m going to get into the classroom and not love it. It’s something I try not to think about, but I know that I can’t ignore it outright completely. It’s a weird state of mind to be in right now. I know that this impermanent position could lead down so many different paths for my future that it’s a little overwhelming to think about where I could end up when this is all over.

I’m so sorry, I sound like such a Negative Nancy right now. I know that once I’m actually in China, I’m going to have a blast and a half, despite currently being consumed by the pre-departure jitters. It will be an experience that I know I’m going to hold onto for the rest of my life.

That’s where this blog comes in. I know it is such a cliche for someone going abroad to start a blog but I like cliches. The cowboy rides off into the sunset, the prince and princess lives happily ever after, the ex-pat blogs, etc. I’m documenting this journey for three reasons:

  1. To let my anxious mother know that I am, in fact, alive and doing well despite not being under her nurturing care.
  2. To have a permanent log of my travels and experiences.
  3. To document my growth over the next year and see where I end up and if I ended up learning something about myself after all.

I really do want this to be a legitimate publication of sorts (SECRET TIME: I might be using this as a supplemental material when applying to grad programs). In order for me to really commit to this, I’m laying down some ground rules.

  • At least one post per week.
    I need to make sure that I don’t fall behind on posting or else I’ll have spent this past hour figuring out how to get WordPress working on my Macbook for nothing. Plus, the people demand entertainment, and entertainment I shall provide.
  • Don’t only write about food.
    I’m such a food junkie, I really am. I promise I’ll try to diversify it as much as possible, but just be forewarned that there will be food pictures…so many food pictures.
  • Don’t treat this as a journal.
    I’ll obviously be documenting what I see and experience, that’s a given. But if every post reads along the lines of “And then I went here, and then I saw this, and then I ate everything, and then I went to bed the end,” no one’s going to want to read this. Listing the same kinds of things over and over is boring. I am not boring, therefore, this blog will not be boring.
  • Don’t write specifically about China.
    This might be tricky to explain. I’m obviously going to write about China, how can I not? But similarly to the previous rule, I’m not just going to jot down everything what I see and leave it as is. I’m going to try to convey the emotions going on in the moment, the differences between Western culture, and the impression things have impacted onto me. I’m going to try to make everything I experience as tangible as possible for everyone to understand. Along with this, there are going to be things happening in America that I want to keep up with, be it pop culture, current events, or my friends and family. I really do want to try and talk about a multitude of things. I really want to try and sharpen my voice as writer and try to make this site as multifaceted as possible so every now and then an America post might show up. Sorry ’bout it.

So let’s get going. Maybe I’ll write again before I go, maybe not.  I’m excited to see where this will all end up and how everything will turn out. Spending the past hour writing this post has already made me feel much more relieved about everything than I was earlier this evening so I imagine that’s a pretty good sign I’ll keep up with this.

See you on the other side!