Well it has been a while and now it is time to recap and give y’all the details for weeks 3 and 4.
Week three was filled with up and downs from making new friends and great classes to boss problems and culture clash. After monitoring the high school entrance exams over the weekend and into the Wednesday afternoon I resumed my classes. The first class back was slow, students were tired as was I from a seven day work week and our technology to connect computers for class were broken. Given these challenges I had to re-organize my lesson plans at the last minute and muster energy for class. Classes for the rest of the week went great! All the students were engaged and enthusiastic! Students were also more active in coming to me after class during office hours to ask questions!
On the other side of work, my co-worker, Reina (BMC ’15), and I were having struggles with our boss, teacher Bi, on two levels: 1) independence as teachers 2) traditional culture values. From the beginning of our arrival at Huashan high school our boss emphasized that we were like our Chinese co-workers and for us to “make ourselves at home”. However, it soon became apparent that we were not. While we did not complain at first when our boss would sit in on every class the line was drawn when he would interrupt in the middle of our class to add his own input, translate our words, and take us out of class to meet a friend of his. His presence in class discouraged and intimidated students, as well as interrupting our lesson plans. We thus had a meeting with him to express our concerns. His response was to only peek in for a few minutes every class period, as well as escorting us to and from classes, limiting our time to be available for questions with the students. We were also restricted to only eating with him, away from students or the other teachers. This was also very frustrating. While he reassured us that this was all for our safety as foreign teachers, which we understood, it had crossed the line when we were also escorted to the bathroom and lectured us afterword for going alone. Every day we would talk with him about letting us go out to eat with other teachers, students however, he saw it as his sole responsibility to guard and provide for us. This was a kind thought on his part and done with good intentions but the excess to which he carried out this was overbearing. Some of our boss clashes also came from his traditional culture beliefs. This was very surprising to me! From previous time spent living with a host family and traveling to other rural parts of China I had never felt a strong culture clash. While I noticed strong cultural differences clash was never an issue. Male superiority was the main aspect of which we often came in conflict with. While teacher Bi was very open minded to learn and hear about our culture and was very curious with questions he always held tight to his beliefs and tried to encourage them upon us. One instance was when he “advised” us not to go off campus to have lunch with students that already graduated. We brought to him the case that for the past two week we ate every meal everyday with him for the past two weeks and were only being exposed to the China that he wanted us to see. We wanted to see other parts and talk to students without being under a watchful eye that would censor them. His response was “that seems logical. But you know when I give my daughter advise she listens. When I give my wife advice she listens. I strongly recommend that you follow my advice”. We addressed him letting him know that we understand his concerns but advice is just that advice and we would only be at the restaurant just outside of the school at the corner. For the rest of the day, until dinner time he did not speak one word to us. Then during dinner his frustration at our “disobedience” was spoken. The argument was the same as it had been all day until he began to speak of his large role at home as the male and then brought it up that “if you were men this would be different”. This was the peak of our clash. Very frustrated Reina and I continued to explain gender roles in America to try and let him know where we are coming from and how that offended us. After a long dinner discussion we were able to come to a better understanding of where both we and he was coming from. Despite teacher Bi’s overbearing tactics I learned a lot from him about traditional Chinese culture and how it is changing in the country side compared to big cities. He also gave me a different look into the Chinese education system and arranged for us to meet with the English department at his school to crate modified lesson plans that would allow for the students to learn English more effectively and not just for the Gaokao.
The end of my week three ended GREAT!! Classes went well! I had lunch with friends that I made, teacher Bi and I also came to a new understanding of each other and our cultures! That was our last week in the country side and on Sunday we returned to Nanjing for other service work with other schools.
SHIFTING GEARS- Back to Nanjing
We were given Monday of week 4 off to settle back in to Nanjing after a day of traveling. Week four we have spent by volunteering at a school for mentally disabled young adults. This experience has been very different than that in Huashan. First, well we are not teaching we are just assisting in whatever needs help and observing classes. Each student it at a different level and thus classes are very individual based. The class size is also around 12 students. Here we do a lot of socializing with the students as well as cleaning. As other students they are all very eager to meet us and show us their singing talents. But as for being a part of their education system we are not. Thus, we just observe classes and help during activity time.
This past weekend I was able to take a two day trip to Hangzhou, also know as “heaven on earth”. It was raining most of the time but I was able to take some good photos and visit a friend who just moved there! When we returned to Nanjing our program coordinator, Wendy, also took us to see Kun Opera (traditional Nanjing opera). I enjoyed it very much! The stories were humorous love stories and it was a great way to spend the weekend with other interns. So far these past four weeks have been filled with many ups and downs, questions about if what I am doing here is really effective and new understandings about Chinese culture. It has been great and I look forward to the other parts of my time here!