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Published: September 13th 2016
This post is long so feel free to skip to whichever subheadings look the most interesting to you. But I promise, it’s all interesting).
I’ve been in China for a little over a month now and I am still trying to digest everything. Our three weeks of training was very intense but that all seems like a piece of cake now. I wish I could go back to being around 30 other lost foreigners just like me. We became close quite quickly and did everything together. I miss that atmosphere so much. An atmosphere that said, we’re all scared and not quite sure what we’re doing in a foreign land but at least we’re together. It is much harder now that I am on my own. Not only is this the first time I’ve ever been away from home, it’s the first time and I’m in a foreign country. Warning:
I will be as honest as possible concerning my experience here. Sometimes things will seem really great and other times they will seem dark and gloomy. Please keep that in mind and do not worry about me. I have great friends and family keeping me afloat both back home and in China.
My Emotional State & Overloaded Class Schedule
I have never felt what it’s like to be on such an intense emotional roller coaster until now. I have had times in my life where I felt extremely happy and satisfied and times when I felt down and depressed. Never have I switched constantly between the two so quickly. I have an overload of classes. Most volunteer teachers in World Teach, teach anywhere from 10 to 16 classes a week. I am teaching 18. Not only am I teaching a heavy load, I am teaching two grades. Junior 1 (6th
grade) and Senior 1 (9th
grade). Most of my friends have to spend a couple of hours for one week’s worth of teaching since they will teach that same lesson 12, 14 or 16 times. I have to plan two lesson plans every week. This means I usually spend anywhere from 6-8hrs just lesson planning. I do realize that I have just begun teaching and eventually I will get better and spend less time on lesson planning, but right now it feels like a lot. I am extremely overwhelmed and tired even though I have a lot of free time. I have 18 classes a week but each class is only 40 minutes. If I include how long it takes to lesson plan I work anywhere from 25-30hrs a week. In the States that really isn’t much. That’s actually a part time job. Although I technically have a lot of free time, it doesn’t quite feel like it yet. Here is my daily routine. I wake up, eat breakfast, go into the teacher’s office until it’s time for me to teach, teach 3-5 classes on any given day, go home by about 5:00pm, eat dinner, and stay in my apartment for the rest of the night. Considering the fact that I’ve never been out on my own I feel very lonely here. I actually see my other world teach friends regularly; probably three days out of the week but it still doesn’t feel like enough. I miss them as soon as they leave. I am sure I am just getting used to being alone. What I am feeling is nothing new for any young person who moves out on their own, especially to a foreign country.
Getting out There, Meeting People:
While I often feel lonely I also don’t want to make it seem like I’m a hermit. I don’t stay cooked up in my apartment every night after work. I probably meet other fellow volunteers for dinner at least once or twice a week. On weekends we all get together. It’s great that I am not completely alone here. Because of my fellow World Teach volunteers, I already have such a tight knit support group living all around me spread out across Hunan province. So although I get to meet with other friends, it’s usually during the weekend; the week can feel quite lonely. I am trying to get out more. For instance, this past Friday I went to something called English corner. English corners are groups that meet (most major cities in China will have them) where Chinese people come to practice their English with foreigners. It’s a great way to make both foreign and Chinese friends. I have already met new people; people who can show me the ropes of Changsha and help me to meet more folks. There’s also a Christian church service that one of my fellow volunteers found. It’s made up of mostly people from different African countries. I can’t wait to go and fellowship with them. I also recently started going to get tutoring in Chinese. My neighbor is actually a teacher and tutors both foreigners and Chinese students from right out of her home. I recently made friends with some of my colleagues and have exchanged numbers with them as well. I am not a particularly shy person and I am determined to get out there. I know things will only get better, especially as I meet more and more people. It’s only the beginning and I need to take some time getting used to being alone and allowing more friendships to grow.
Being Black (the word):
I’m sure most of you knew this would be coming at some point. Given that I’ve been to China twice before, things that I am experiencing is nothing new, however this does not make them any less irritating. I have heard twice, male students call me a heigui
which means black devil in Chinese. This is not a slip up type word that people do not know the meaning of. It’s meant to be derogatory. This is the first time I’ve been in China and heard someone call me this. The first time, some male students were playing on the basketball courts and I could not pinpoint who said it. The second time, I caught the students and simply stopped what I was doing and glared them down. Once they realized I understood them, they ran away. I am assuming I haven’t been called this term until now because I haven’t regularly been surrounded by young people who either do not know what’s appropriate or will intentionally try to provoke you, until now.
Being Black (Everyday Life):
Other than those two incidents my everyday experience is generally fine. Most people stare at me or don’t pay me any mind. A lot of people will say, “Heiren (black person)” or “Waiguoren (foreigner)” as I am walking past them but I’ve gotten used to that. Many people ask to take pictures but most people don’t ask and take one when they think I’m not looking. Many store owners or shop keepers that I regularly visit are finally getting used to me and I’ve begun to form relationships with some of them. A lot of people comment on my hair. The most common comments I get is, “your hair is so cool,” or “is it real?” “How do you wash it?” You know, the same comments I would get in America. I also get things for free to the point that I start getting uncomfortable. I am not kidding when I say, sometimes restaurants will give you free stuff just because you’re a foreigner. This is only my third week living in this area of Changsha and I’ve gotten at least 5 things for free. Foreign privilege, especially if you’re American is real. American white privilege is of course at the top. When I sat down to eat McDonalds with my friend Jody, I got some free fries. I sat down and said to Jody, “It’s really starting to make me feel uncomfortable that people treat us well just because we’re foreigners.” She answered, “Well think of all the things you have to deal with being black here. You even had some students call you a black devil. Think of it as the universe righting its wrongs.” I have to say Jody, I like the way you think.
Being Black (At School):
When I first arrived on my school’s campus the children were all excited. The senior students all went “Wooooooah,” the first day of class. The junior students literally got up out of their desk and surrounded me asking me a million questions. They often cheered and clapped as well. (It makes you feel great but it last for all of 2 minutes before they remember you’re an authority figure that they must test). Although I’ve taught all of my classes at least twice by now, many of my classes are still amazed when they see me, as if we’re meeting for the first time. It’s kind of funny. I feel like a celebrity sometimes. This may sound like fun but it’s a double edged sword. Sometimes I just want to be invisible. I don’t always want attention, especially when I’ve just come from a misbehaved junior class.
Teaching thus far; The Juniors (6th grade) are Testing me:
These past two weeks have been very rough for me. This is only my third week teaching and I am already wondering how I am going to survive the year. I genuinely enjoy teaching my senior students. Their English is pretty advanced. I can have more in depth conversations with them. They also have very minor behavior issues. I find them much easier to manage. The junior students on the other hand are really testing me, not just as a teacher but as a human being. Some junior classes are eager to learn and are generally well behaved while other classes, and for no particular reason, are so hard to control. Some classes are so misbehaved their head teachers have to interrupt my class and tell them to be quiet. A head teacher in China is the equivalent of a home room teacher. Students do not change classrooms in China, the teachers do. The students are in the same room all year with the same 50-60 people. Head teachers basically manage the behavior, and wellbeing of a classroom throughout the year, meaning they can step in the classroom any time they want. Head teachers are usually very charismatic and the students are scared of them. Every teacher throughout the day has to sign a book giving the class a score (0-10). The head teacher sees these scores every day and will punish or reward them accordingly. I have had head teachers come into about half of my junior classes.
I do not necessarily feel like a bad teacher. I am doing pretty well with the seniors so I try to keep things in perspective. I am a new teacher, a foreign teacher at that, and the students know I will only be here for one year. I know they are trying to test me. After my first week of teaching juniors I called my parents, other fellow volunteer teachers, our field director, other English teachers in China, and consulted some of the other junior teachers at my school. I have made some drastic changes. For example I used to grade the class on a scale of 0-5. I changed it to 0-10 since that’s a scale they are already used to working with. I began class with the rules and I added rewards. For example, I will give out stickers for participation and good behavior and the top three students get a prize at the end of the month. Each junior class is also in completion with one another and the class with the best score also gets a prize at the end of the month. Most of my students responded very well to this. For punishment I told them first warning is name on the board. A check next to a name means see me after class, and a second check means, that student gets to sit down with me, the head teacher, and we give their parents a phone call. Implementing these new things have definitely improved most of my classes, however some classes still do not care and are going to need some extra incentive to behave.
Teaching this Past Week:
Thus far I have taught three junior classes this week. One class was just okay. The second class was extremely bad to the point that at the end of class I sat there and stared at them while they had to sit in silence. Their head teacher got a note from me. My third junior class gave me some hope and I actually had a lot of fun with them. I know that I am completely new at teaching and shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I have so much to learn and tons of room to grow. I am consulting other professionals to try and make my classes for the juniors better. At the end of the day, kids will be kids and I have to remember that. I need to implement more games and fun things that will get them to pay attention. I need to relate to them more and get on their level. Although things are very hard right now maybe this is a blessing in disguise. If I were just teaching the seniors, maybe I would be too comfortable. The juniors are pushing me to be a more patient person, learn how to deal with children, and constantly re-evaluate myself. I am both terrified and excited to see what improvements the juniors and I can make together throughout the year.
In conclusion, I miss my parents so much. I hate that there’s such an immense time difference and that I can’t call them at a moment’s notice. It’s only been a couple of months since I graduated college. Sometimes being out of my own like this is very exciting, but other times I just want to go back to a more controlled college environment where everything is within walking distance and you see your friends and roommates every day. I want to call my parents at a moment’s notice and know they will be available to answer my call. A part of me still wants to be a little kid. I often cry and want to go home. I keep asking myself if coming to China was the right thing for me to do. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed in my life. Teaching is as expected, exciting but very hard. Living alone is also as expected, exciting but hard. I have a lot to learn and a lot of time to figure out what I want in life, and what kind of teacher and person I will be. I will finish this blog saying that I am in a very emotional space. One moment I am sitting in my apartment watching Korean dramas or happily eating dinner with friends and the next moment I am crying to my mom about a bad class I had, or crying because simply miss home. Things aren’t great but things aren’t bad either and I know this feeling is just a moment in time. This year will continue to be hard but rewarding and I can’t wait to share all of my experiences with you. I hope you enjoyed and you’ll hear from me again soon.
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