So, what does that title say?: “Learned a lot of Chinese, Taught English to Students, Performed a Salsa Dance, and Watched Conan the Detective and Tom and Jerry Kids on Chinese Television!
It is early Saturday morning and I have a chance to reflect on my Friday – that I enjoyed thoroughly…now that I have been able to begin Operation: Make Up for Two Weeks of No Sleep, of course! Friday must be broken down into four parts.
Part 1: Four hours of class – as usual! Part 2: Teaching English at a rural school! Part 3: Salsa/Zumba dancing for the Welcome Ceremony! Part Four: Watching Conan the Detective and Tom and Jerry Kids
Friday, as usual, was four hours of Spoken Application, Spoken Development, Reading, and Composition. These four hours are always unbelievably tiring! I was using my last bit of strength to get through the day. My Composition course was interesting today… 老师had a lot to say about the Chinese government. She expressed embarrassment that she had gone on a tangent. I, specifically, was surprised that she told a bunch of Americans all of that. 很有意思。。。”very interesting…”. I think we were all wide eyed over that one.
Right after that, the CLS (Critical Language Scholarship) Program students went to teach English in a rural Chinese school. Goodness! The children were around…10 -12 years old. EVERYONE was staring at the pack of Americans just walking through the plaza. I love children! It’s those combined looks of confusion, intense curiosity, and nervousness that make children prime for learning …particularly since, more often than not, the intense curiosity overcomes the nervousness/fear. Something as simple as asking 你叫什么名字？”What is your name?”and introducing yourself in their language just diminishes so much of the nervousness…and then these curious young minds start slowly taking steps towards these smiling foreigners…wondering (I’m sure)…”are these the 美国人 (Americans) they told us about? They don’t look it.” Haha!
On the playground, we (my fellow English teacher, Hiram Rios, and myself) were soon surrounded by a large mass of kids speaking all at once. There was one young man and young woman, in particular, who were both overflowing with questions. The young boy asked if I was African. Haha! In Chinese, I told him that my parents are from Ghana but my younger siblings and myself were born in America. Hiram helped me to explain in more detail. As I’ve said…it’s definitely a process learning how to explain more about who I am as an American. Based on the thoughtful expressions on their faces after the explanation, I have some room for improvement. Haha! But they were absolutely fascinated by the answer.
Quite honestly, I felt a bit nervous too… it is NOT easy to use Chinese in an immersive setting…but you realize that that is really your ONLY option. There is a completely different connection that you, as a foreigner, can make with people all around the world when you can speak THEIR language. Another blog will explain the hard time I’ve been having with the speaking and listening…they aren’t my strongest skills, but I love talking to the people. The reality is that both ARE getting better…slowly…but they are because I am not supposed to speak English because of the language pledge. Our resident director is very particular about that – and that is an understatement. I have to be mindful at all times and catch myself when I automatically want to respond in English.
At the school, I had to remind myself of what an ambassador told me once… signs of greeting are universal. So I SMILED to death! It doesn’t matter if your black, blue, purple, yellow, green…and all of the colors of the rainbow combined…EVERYONE recognizes a smile and a laugh and a welcoming demeanor, particularly children. I smiled when I approached them and they backed away from me. Smiled when I stopped and just stood there smiling and then asked them their names in Chinese. Smiled as they creeped closer to me, letting their curiosities get the best of them. Goodness…can you tell I love kids?! My smile quickly became more natural.
Before we knew it, the kids were just packed tightly around us talking all at once. Some would run up to me and say “hi” and then run away, then come back and keep talking. Before we knew it, we were all taking photos, throwing our arms around each other liked we’d known each other for more than 30 minutes. Later, Hiram and I were waiting in the hallway outside of our assigned classroom and all of these students are looking at us standing there, waving at us. We waved back at every one of them. Two young ladies came up to us and gave us extra ice cream that they had. We melted completely! These kids are not middle class but they were willing to give us the extra ice cream that they had just to make us feel welcome.
You know…it is amazing how the status of the teacher in China (and in many parts of the world) is much more highly revered compared to teachers in America. This is a sad, but true, reality. Here, in China, you never WALK by your professor in the hallway without addressing them. You NEVER address them by last name, as we tend to do in America. I remember, in Dr. Lester’s Politics and Religions course, we discussed how American students address their professors compared to students in other parts of the world. Often we hear students calling to their professors, “Hey, Lester!” Instead of “Hello, Dr. Lester.”
It’s very true…coming from a Ghanaian background, a sign of respect is to always refer to your elder as ‘Uncle’. I remember a professor invited me to refer to him in a very casual way and my first reaction was “no, no…”. It was very non-negotiable to me to refer to a professor as anything other than “Dr.____” etc etc. I have learned something quite interesting though… I believe, in some cases, when you have formed a solid foundation with a professor and really have a friendship with that professor, you can refer to one another on a less formal basis …but there is still that mentor/mentee relationship. You continue to respect that person as someone who can provide you advice and they have a mutual respect for you as someone coming into their own and ready for the trials and errors that it takes to grow. It is a bit more complex in America….but you know when it feels right to do so or to decide against it.
That aside, in other countries…you never blend the friendship/teacher relationship. For example, in Taiwan… my tutor was younger than I – but she was my tutor. She was very serious about keeping that line between friendship and teacher completely separate! Told me that directly when I had a moment of ignorance and asked her out to lunch if she wasn’t busy. Haha! I might have been raised with Ghanaian values but I have still been cultured a certain way in balancing being Ghanaian and American. From that interaction, I found that I have to routinely remind myself that “ok…some things are non-negotiable in this setting.” We became good friends AFTER the program was over and speak to each other less formally…but I still feel like she is my tutor when she tells me that my Chinese is not as good as it was before. Haha!
In China, you ALWAYS greet and thank your professor. Our resident director, 李老师 （Professor Li) is sure to ingrain that in our heads. A few of us messed that up one morning…and that afternoon he said, “I was thinking, “Do I look like a student to them?” I’m sure no one forgot after that! You never pass a professor in the hall… you MUST say 老师好 Laoshi hao! “Hello teacher” and早 “Good Morning”. Also, when your professor enters the classroom, you say 老师好 again. You do NOT just sit there and not greet the professor. Period. Also, Chinese teachers give criticism of your performance in front of everyone…there is no, “we’ll talk after class so that I can give you an overview of your performance.” You have to acknowledge that you are thankful for the information when you are being criticized…you don’t debate it, you accept it, and show thanks.
I will never forget my first day of class… I performed terribly. TERRIBLY! 王老师 (Professor Wang), in front of everyone, told me that I had received zero points for the day because I could not recite the dialogue. I remember my face BURNING in absolute terror and embarrassment. I was already struggling with the fact that I hadn’t been in a Chinese class for a year and now I was being criticized in front of everyone. I am going to be 100% honest about how I was thinking about this…I’d just graduated with more than several honor societies cords around my neck. I’d received a Fulbright, the Boren, and more than 15-20 other scholarships, I had great work ethic, diligence, and perseverance…and I was being told that I was receiving zero points.
Quite honestly…that tore my pride TO SHREDS. The rest of that week, I felt a stress to make up for that in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. That story is for another blog. Either way, I had to take a step back and think about a different perspective…the reality is ( and I have always known this), that my achievements in college are not going to guarantee that I master Chinese…a foreign language is a foreign language… none of them are easy to learn. The end and period. I had to keep telling myself that…because as someone who is always organized and prepared… that thrashing scarred me for life. I had to keep the straightest face possible when I said 谢谢老师 “Thank you, laoshi.” I just don’t believe in making a first bad impression…and that’s what happened.
Different than it is in America, huh? Yes…very much so. This new way of teaching puts on the pressure to be prepared in class, that’s for sure! I will say…by last Friday, 王老师was very impressed by my improvement. She knew I was working to death to do better. One night, I remember 李老师 told me to stop being “so fragile,” that I needed to accept that I was going to make a lot of mistakes and that making mistakes is exactly what I am here to do. I keep telling myself that I did not expect perfection, but to an extent…I likely did. I am a perfectionist…I have struggled to be where I am now but I have forgotten that there are fifty million more hills for me to climb in my future. The show never stops when it comes to that… it will always be about how I decide to approach the challenge that will determine my success in the future. I entirely believe that…and so I have been reminding myself of that fact.
Now…in our class, Hiram and I introduced ourselves to our students in Chinese. Then we reintroduced ourselves in English. We instructed our students to refer to me as Miss 马 (Miss Martey) or 马老师 (Teacher Martey) and Hiram as 刘 老师 (Teacher Rios). We told them that we are here to be their English teachers and asked them how long they’d been learning English. Four years! This makes me reflect back to Mr. Craig Allen’s comments during the CLS orientation. Mr. Allen conducts direct trade negotiations with top leaders in China. He was very frank about the fact that America is at a severe disadvantage for not having language training at a younger age compared to other countries. These kids are the children of migrant workers and they are not middle class, yet already know a good amount of English. English isn’t even their first language.
To review English with them, we decided to draw fruits on the board and ask them what the English words are. What is absolutely universal about children is that they ALL have a sweet tooth. So, we encouraged their participation and work ethic by bribing them with 糖 “candy”! It was a fun class and the children definitely knew their English words! Afterward, we played “Simon Says”. To teach them the rules of the game, Hiram explained the instructions while I sat in one of the seats with the children and demonstrated. I think our willingness to stand at the front of the class and walk down the aisles and directly speak to the children in English encouraged them to be less shy about using their English.
We also ensured everyone participated by directly going to some students who seemed a bit shy. After each student gave a correct answer, we led the class in applause after every answer was given so that all classmates felt that they were in this TOGETHER.
Soon…we had to leave! * tear * We took final pictures and thanked them in English for having us. We passed out the candy to all of them. Each of them said “thank you” to us in English and I would respond with a “You’re welcome.” Goodness, they were all so adorable! It was such a great time and the students literally look up to their teachers. It was definitely a different feeling… I remember I taught diversity to students in Taiwan and it was the same exact feeling. They look up to their teachers and have so much respect for them. That is just magnificent!
Part 3 of the day…
Last night, Suzhou University put together a Welcome Ceremony for the CLS, Hong Kong, and Ohio state exchange to China programs. We were asked to prepare performances that emphasized cultures in our countries. Well! At the beginning of this week, Hiram asked me if I would like to be his dancing partner for one of the performances. I snatched up the chance! I just LOVE dancing and thought a performance would be fun. Also, I have been looking for ways to enjoy dancing in China… (Another blog will outline the, uh, trials and errors that I went through trying to find a dancing place. Yes…I will refer to those bumps in the road as “trials and errors” and leave it at that for now.)
I have always wanted to learn how to do salsa/zumba dance. Hiram is Puerto Rican so he knew how to dance to Latin music. He had two days to teach and and practice with me. Three hours per day. It helped – significantly – that I have always enjoyed dance because I was able to catch on to the moves quickly. Helped that I already knew how to feel music. Below is the performance! I am looking for better footage and a recording of the ENTIRE dance…once I find it, I will switch out the videos. This video doesn’t do that dance justice! I think we hit the Chinese members in the audience with a WHOLE lot of culture at once. We did a Latin dance but I’m obviously not Latino. The looks of absolute surprise were amusing but after the performance, many of the Chinese students and directors congratulated us heartily on such a great performance. It was a good time!
Most of the CLS students immediately went to Shanghai so only a few of us were heading back to the hotel. Most of us just needed the sleep – including myself. These first two weeks have been truly a piece of work in terms of adjusting and just figuring out what works for me, in general.
Now, Part 4:
Some of you may be familiar with the Japanese show, Conan the Detective? Also, remember the Tom and Jerry Kids? I ended up staying up and watching late night episodes of both on Chinese television! How cool is that!? I was just sitting in my room laughing because I haven’t seen the Tom and Jerry kids since…since I was a kid! You never forget that theme song though… All of this Chinese I have been hearing has helped me to improve my ability to listen. I am really good at character reading so the shows had captions and I was able to read what was being said in the shows. Last week, I bought Conan the Detective comics translated in Chinese.
All of that aside…A lot of people have been asking me, “How are you liking China?” I’m adjusting…and that is certainly a process. I keep thinking that my former professor, Dr. Singh, was not kidding about the value of being able to show that you can live in different environments. As I am not heavily traveled, this is definitely not easy for me.
I have up and down days. Sometimes the constant staring is exhausting. Other times, I don’t mind them. (Yes, I know that this is a largely homogenous society…knowing that doesn’t make the hyperawareness any less tiring.) Sometimes I do not know entirely how to deal with just being here in general…but I know that I will not be home until May 2015 – possibly longer considering how things move along in that time.
So, with that said, I need to figure out what makes me feel connected here…also a process, it seems. This program requires the sacrifice of personal time…depending on what you seek to take from it. Four hours of class a day and 4 to 6 hours of preparation for classes. Also, you have to go out into the community and practice your Chinese…about 50 hours a week in all. What I have learned in these two weeks? Don’t sacrifice sleep for anything…that is a rule that I implemented in college and it certainly applies here. As 李老师 told me, “Don’t be so fragile” and “Sleep is essential to memory to learn Chinese.” Sounds like 101 info but it sure isn’t when you’ve been taken right out of your element and are just standing there wide-eyed.
Right now, more than ever, I appreciate being able to connect with my friends and family when I need it. Makes me very grateful that I took the time to get to know all of the wise people that I did while in college. They’ve been my backbone! :-) Haven’t contacted everyone but it is a great feeling knowing that I can any time that I needed to. The only people I need to talk to are those who understand how Shirley operates…haha, I know some of them are thinking, “Yup…she’s definitely going to learn some patience.” Haha! Yeah…so I see… I seem to learn the best when things are forced on me. 加油！My goal at the end of the day…is to recognize that I need to be patient but to make it a mindful adjustment to China’s culture so that I am not wasting valuable time.
Some people might advise… “There is no way that you can finish everything…” etc etc. I am not too concerned with what it makes me look like that I 100% believe that I NEED to figure out a way to balance intensive amounts of work. Every bit of this is supposed to improve my Chinese…I will work the entire two months to figure that out if I have to. I will continue to ask questions to gain as much understanding of what I need to specifically focus on to use my time wisely SO THAT my Chinese improves.
I’m here because I knew I was going to have to make some sacrifices…I don’t believe success comes with a foundation of half assing (to put it bluntly) your work….of kinda sorta getting what is kinda sorta going on in class. I am going to an extremely intensive program after this… I better figure out how to balance this workload. I intentionally put myself through the shredder in order to learn this language. As I was told…there are people who know Chinese and then there are those who master Chinese. I intend to be in the latter category.
So let the struggle continue.