I haven’t blogged in awhile, so bear with me as I play catch up! December has been a busy month with lots of traveling, class parties, speech contests, and holiday events!
Let’s start with my trip to Chenzhou. (Thursday December 17)
My friend Young (I met through Lauren) teaches at an English training school here in Hengyang. He invited me to come with him and several other teachers from his training school “The Village” to join him for a day. They were visiting middle schools in Guiyang, a small town in the country near Chenzhou, and the purpose of their trip was to inspire the students to continue studying hard and tell them why learning English well is important.
Gavin and I met at 6:40a.m outside Nan Hua Hotel and caught a taxi to the train station for our 7:45 high speed train to Chenzhou. It was a quick 30 minute train ride there, and then we were picked up by a driver who drove us 2 hours outside of the city into the small region of Guiyang.
By the time I arrived on Thursday morning with my friend Gavin, the other teachers had already been in Guiyang since Sunday. I honestly had no idea what to expect and no idea what I would be doing. Young told me to just bring myself and not worry about preparing teaching material, and he told me it would be exciting because the students in this small town had never seen a foreigner before.
When we went to the middle school, we joined Young and Veronica and the other teachers for a quick meeting. Veronica, Young’s teaching partner (also called “Gaga”) told me she was from Guiyang, and it was an awesome experience for her to visit her hometown and show the kids what they can do if they work hard. They explained the events of the day to me: Veronica was giving a 40 minute presentation to a group of middle schoolers, and then they would ask me to come out and talk to the kids.
Before the presentation they showed me around the school. The kids were all outside for their exercise time – they had to stand in rows and do stretches and jumping jack type things. But when they saw me, they stared like no other. Many of them were shy at first, but they would point at me with their friends.
I never thought about the idea that some people in China had never seen a foreigner. It’s a strange concept because we see cultural diversity all the time, everyday in America. It never crossed my mind that foreigners would be such a phenomenon in China – other parts of the world maybe, but surely not China?
When Veronica called me into the room after her speech, she taught the kids to say “Hi Rachel we love you!” I introduced myself and talked about life in America and China a little bit. The students were SO curious and had a lot of questions – “What do you do for fun?””What’s your favorite food in China?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” We also played a charades game with them.
Gaga was like a TV host – she would crack jokes and translate my words into Chinese and she helped facilitate the games I played. She was so funny and so perfect for this job!
Meeting the teachers at the school was really amazing to me. They were also very excited to meet me too, and so hospitable in showing me around. The teachers live at the school with the kids, and they do not have many resources at such a small school, so I admire their dedication and patience! Just like the school I teach at, the school in Guiyang had no heating or air conditioning, and all of the plumbing was very basic.
After many many pictures, we went to lunch with several of the school teachers and then Hebe (another teacher from Young’s school, and a very cool girl I became friends with) told me we were visiting two more middle schools in the afternoon.
The next school we visited was very different. Instead of speaking to one class, we were going to speak to ALL of the kids outside at a giant stage area. When we got out of the car, these kids swarmed. They wanted to get close and touch me and hug me and ask me questions. It was a little overwhelming, and a lot exciting. I’ve never in a million years felt like that – they made me feel like some kind of super star. I wish I could have met them all and spent time with each of them .
Veronica and Young were worried that the kids would be distracted if I stayed out while Veronica was talking here, so they had me hide in a classroom until it was time to come out. 600 kids were staring at me, and it was the most surreal feeling.
We repeated some of the same things we did at the last school – they asked me questions, and I played a game where I sang part of a song (“Baby” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and “We Will Rock You”) and they had to guess the song and singer.
It was so hard to leave this school (literally and figuratively speaking.) After I spoke the kids came up to me again wanting pictures and my QQ number and I just wanted to hug them all and tell them how wonderful and amazing they are. Several times Young had to come back and clear the way for me to leave. “I know what it feels like to be a body guard now,” he told me.
We went to Gaga’s house for tea and rest and to see her baby boy (he was the perfect baby). Then we drove 40 minute back towards Chenzhou to one more school, the number one school in the area. They live in a more developed part of the city, so I didn’t expect the reactions to be the same as the kids in the rural area. But it was just as crazy. The students followed me around and even tried to go into the bathroom with me (lol). Gaga told me we would speak to a class, and their English level was better than the other schools so I should talk more and encourage the students to study English.
Young, Gavin, Hebe, and I went straight to the train station after the school, bought tickets back to Hengyang, then ate a late dinner inside the station. By the time we made it back I was exhausted, but I felt so humbled and excited and fulfilled and passionate. Meeting so many kids (kids! I haven’t played with kids in so long! I’ve missed it!) was such an enormous blessing! I’m never going to forget some of their faces or everything that happened on this day. I hope I can see them all again some day.
The teachers from Hengyang – Hebe, Gavin, Veronica, Young!