Wow I have so much to catch up on!
Let’s start with April 25 (my birthday, wink wink). I turned 23 year this year and had an awesome birthday weekend celebration with many friends! I went to KTV (Karaoke) twice, had 4 special Chinese dinners in traditional Hunan restaurants, and was given the most thoughtful gifts (even though I told them I didn’t need any!!)
Mervin made me a video with all of my posts on Chinese social media (called QQ) and added comments to it. Sisy got me a tshirt and drew a picture of me on it. Ruby got me nice chopsticks and had my English and Chinese name engraved on them and the case they came in. Brittany, Drew and Lauren got me frames to hang pics in, magnets, cat socks, and Britt made a ridiculously good chocolate cake. It was a great birthday weekend, and made so special by old friends at home in America and new friends here in China 🙂
I’m going to jump forward a few weeks to last weekend, May 7-9. Young and Gaga invited me and Lauren to go visit schools in Chenzhou with them again. Young and Gaga run a few English schools in Hengyang, Nanjing, and Chengde and volunteer their time at schools in rural areas to motivate students to study hard and learn English. I was so excited to go again and spend more time with them in the country side.
We arrived on Saturday – we took a 40 minute bus, a 40 minute train, and a 2 hour car ride to arrive at Gaga’s family home in the countryside. It is always amazing to me just how rural it is, and how different it is than the Chinese city area. “Countryside” in China has a totally different meaning than countryside in America. It’s beautiful and peaceful and quiet, but totally disconnected. Many people grow up here and never venture out of their village, let alone travel to the city of Chenzhou or outside of the Hunan province.
We had a relaxing afternoon with Young and Gaga, eating dinner with her family and watching CCTV. (I hardly ever watch TV in China so that’s exciting.) Gaga’s one year old son Adam was not accustomed to seeing us and would cry whenever he saw Lauren and me. (lol).
On Sunday they wanted to take us to a special mountain 2 hours away (seriously, Chinese people love to tell you about their “special mountains” and “beautiful scenery”.) We drove into some mountains that reminded me of driving Trail Ridge road in Colorado – you’re basically driving on the side of a cliff. We couldn’t actually get to the mountain because the road was blocked due to construction, but the landscapes we saw on the way were breathtaking, and it was fun road-tripping with Young, Lauren, and our new friends Judy, Yvonne, and Sara.
Bright and early Monday morning we went to the first middle school where Gaga’s uncle worked as an English teacher. They told us many teachers have been teaching English for 20 or more years but can barely understand our conversations because they don’t use oral English much. They don’t have many resources in the countryside, which makes it hard to teach students in the best way. I deeply admire the teachers we got to meet – many of them live at the school with the kids and teach several subjects. They work so hard for such little pay and deserve more appreciation.
The students saw us pull up and just stared at us. It always blows my mind that most have never seen foreign, non-Chinese people before. Their exposure to the outside world is so limited. They were friendly though and waved a lot! They brave ones would shout hi and giggle with their friends. I liked to blow kisses and watch the boys blush hahaha.
Lauren and I went to several classrooms each, Gaga with me and Young going with Lauren. They had us give an introduction and speak for 10-15 minutes. The first class I visited didn’t understand anything but “hello” and “good morning” – Sarah helped translate for me. It was a little rough haha, but as I spoke to more classes it got easier, and the other classes’ English skills were much better. I love having the chance to interact with them, teach them songs, and have them ask me questions.
At the same time, it was amazing to watch Sarah and Yvonne and Judy speak after Lauren and me. They have such a passion and a way with the students that was so inspiring!! I learned so much about teaching just by watching them. Their enthusiasm and method of introducing new words or English phrases impacted the kids as well. It has me thinking a lot about my role as a foreign teacher in China. Schools here place such an importance on having a foreign teacher, even if the teacher has limited experience actually teaching. It makes the school look better to have foreign teachers, and allows the students to hear native speakers talking. But Chinese teachers are so critical!! They understand the Chinese language and know what students will struggle with when learning a new language. They can speak to these students and help them understand in a way I never can.
I’m grateful for my job at Nan Hua, and that I teach college students who know English well enough to talk and listen to me. I’m thankful for all the teachers who have helped my students reach this level. And even though I lack teaching experience, I hope I can do my best to build confidence in their English skills and encourage them to learn more about other world cultures and English countries.
We ate lunch with the school and then drove an hour to the number 1 middle school in Guiyang, Chenzhou. I spoke at this school the last time I came with Young and Gaga in November. Instead of speaking to one class though, I spoke to 300 students with Gaga. Man, these students rocked!! After Gaga’s lecture, she invited me to the front and I introduced myself. They clapped after every sentence I said. I sang a Chinese song I knew and let them teach me some Chenzhou dialect.
From there we caught a train back to Hengyang. I’m immeasurably thankful I could visit these schools in Chenzhou and see these beautiful kids in the countryside again.
In between birthday festivities and traveling to Chenzhou, I’ve been busy teaching classes, going to Chinese corner,hanging out with students and friends, and this week a special visitor came to Hengyang! Tune in to the next blog post to hear about that 😉
Please keep our friends in your thoughts. We had a very sad thing happen to one of our friends in Hengyang while I was in Chenzhou, and the need for Hope is very real here. Many Chinese people have no one to talk to, or feel like they don’t have anywhere to turn when they are sad or upset or stressed.
Also we have 6 weeks left here! WHAT???
Lots of love from China,