“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
- Dahai Lama
Hey all! I’m so sorry about my latest blog entry. I have been on a roller coaster of emotions and have so much to say. I’m so excited to write this post and for all of you to read it. Personally, I thought I was a little bitter in my last blog entry, mainly because of the frustrations that I have experienced being in China. Well I’m excited to let you know that this will definitely be a happier post. Btw, my next post will be around Tuesday.
After being a foreign English teacher in a less “touristy” town in China, I’ve finally figured out methods on how to be happy with my job, Bengbu and even my development with the Chinese language.
Steps to happiness as a teacher:
I’ve mentioned before that it’s difficult for me to by motivated to go to my classes everyday, especially before 8 in the morning. It’s even harder to teach a class with a majority of students that couldn’t care less about learning English. In fact, unless your school dismisses classes, you are required to teach no matter what conditions you have. Even though I had a bad day of food poisoning, I still pushed myself out of bed at 7:30 to teach.
While the perks of being an English teacher in another country involve traveling and fun, it doesn’t sound so desirable to teach a bunch of students who don’t care or have difficulty with the topic. But there is a way to enjoy teaching that I recently discovered.
1. Make visuals. For the first week of classes, I tried speaking so my students could practice listening. Actually one of the topics was called “courage” which I found was more difficult to talk about in English than I thought. When I talked about courage, I ended up talking about Superman and Batman and drawing cartoons on the chalk board. My students not only laughed but understood what I was talking about. Then it hit me. College students still like pretty pictures. So after that I put together powerpoints (with the help from my generous parents), video clips and more. Visuals, whether they involve technology or just drawing on the board, are great to use with students who haven’t quite grasped the English language yet.
2. Loosen up. Yes you are a teacher, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. When I first began, I was so afraid of messing up a lesson or embarrassing myself. However, I realized that I’m not just a teacher, but an English teacher. What I mean is that my job is to help my students practice listening and speaking English so basically, what I’m really doing is hanging out with them but also teaching them grammar and pronunciation. For example, after the National break, I asked my classes to give adjectives to describe their holidays. After telling them what I did for the National break, I asked them what they did. Every time they shouted out answers like “sleep” or “spend time with family”, I changed it to the past, explaining that because the National break was in the past, they would not say “I sleep” but “I slept” and “I spent time with family” rather than “I spend time with family.” Not only did I learn more about what happens on the National holiday but my students understood how to use the past tense which barely exists in the Chinese language.
3. Be Creative. For my teaching job, my boss told me that I am supposed to speak in English to my students and play recordings for them every week. It is easy to just rant in English and then play English dialogues. But if I want to in any way reach out to my students, I need to make class more enjoyable. For example, one of the units for my classes was “school life”. I put together a powerpoint of my college experience discussing my dormitories, classes, clubs/activities and more. In this powerpoint, I included the book’s vocabulary like “accommodation” , “private school”, and the phrase “It all depends…”. This was my way to introduce American universities and show the differences in culture and student life. Most of my students have never been out of the Anhui province so this was very interesting for them.
Steps to happiness as a traveler:
Everyone loves to travel. Traveling is one of my personal enjoyments since I have had the opportunities to do so my whole life, including living in England for three years. However, as much as I don’t like to admit it, I usually long to return back to America if I’m away for too long. America is my comfort zone and being in a country like China is a huge step out of it. But as a traveler, if you want to enjoy your experience, you need to know how to enjoy it.
1. Go with the flow. Honestly, when you are traveling, nothing is going to go as planned. Originally, Emily and I had planned on going to the Bengbu amusement park and riding on the Tianjin Ferris wheel where we can see an entire view of Bengbu.
Unfortunately, we found out that one ticket is 160 yuan which for that small of a park we thought was too expensive. Although we decided not to spend that much, we wanted to spend 35 yuan to go on the Tianjin Ferris Wheel. However, we found out that for some reason, they didn’t want to sell tickets to people. Having thought this was a bad day, we returned home but our day significantly improved when we started watching Kungfu Panda. So even though our day didn’t turn out to be as fun, we still found a way to have fun and agreed to go another day. Maybe when my parents come here.
2. Be open-minded. This is a very obvious tip that I know everyone follows. But after being in China for nearly 2 months, I have another take on being “open-minded”. I, along with Matt, have not only learned of but experienced some discrimination against non-native speakers. Being in Bengbu, a city with few English speakers, I have observed people gossiping, staring and even disregarding our Nationality by referring to us as foreigners rather than Americans. Trust me, when they call you a foreigner, they are acting like you are from another planet. However, when I am hurt and overwhelmed by the discrimination, I remember to remain open-minded.
China, like every country, has discrimination and disrespectful people. However, that means it also has kind, friendly and generous people. Every time I find a problem with someone here, I remember my students, my Chinese friends from OWU and every other Chinese native I’ve met here. I remember that China isn’t just a place of ignorance and negative attitudes towards foreigners, it is also a country of respectful and caring people who yearn to learn more about the Western world as much as I yearn to learn about their world.
Steps to happiness in learning a language:
In my last post, I talked about my personal struggle with learning Chinese. I mentioned that while I know many vocabulary words and grammatical structures, my listening comprehension is still lacking. I know a decent amount of Chinese but unfortunately, my experience doesn’t really show in normal Chinese conversations. However, I realized why I have been so frustrated about my Chinese and how I can change it.
1. Expand vocabulary. My problem with Chinese is not just listening comprehension but lack of vocabulary used by native speakers. However, I have discovered a wonderful secret to expanding vocabulary that helps with both speaking and reading comprehension.
So my students and Emily have told me that if I don’t know how to say my favorite tv shows, movies or bands, I can look up their Chinese names on Baidu.com, a search engine website in China. So that’s what I did and I even made note cards for myself. Let me give you a couple of examples.
So one of my favorite bands is Big Time Rush whom have two different Chinese names; “与梦随行” (yu4 meng4 sui2xing2) meaning “Accompanied with a dream” and “派对男孩”, (pai4dui4 nan2hai2), meaning “Party Boys”. Take a look at the first name, “yu4″ means “to take part in”, “meng4″ means “dream” and “随行” means “to accompany”. The words “随” means “to follow” and “行” can mean “go” or “walk”. So alone in BTR’s Chinese name, we learned 3-5 vocabulary words.
Now take a look at this sign that I took a picture of.
You can probably guess what it says based on the rough translation “Follow Your Heart DRINK!”. Do you recognize any of the characters? No? Remember what we just learned and read it again, you might see “随行” meaning “to accompany” and “随” meaning “to follow”. You may not be able to read the entire sign but even so, you are able to pick out two vocabulary words. Since you might be curious, the sign translates roughly to “one person one cup, accompanied by following your heart.” (If you have a better translation, comment it on my post). Congratulations, you just learned some Chinese!
2. Build a relationship between you and the language. In the Karate Kid, the one with Will Smith’s son going to China to learn Kung Fu, his master, Jackie Chan says “Kung Fu lives in everything we do, Xiao Dre! It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people! Everything… is Kung Fu.”
This line speaks to me because it reminds me about my experience with Chinese. My struggles with the language haven’t been about my lack of knowledge, it has been about my lack of passion. Anybody can sit in classes and memorize textbook phrases and words but unless you feel that you can use them in the real world, you aren’t going to remember them after your class ends. So in Hefei, I went to the foreigners section in a bookstore and picked out books to further my Chinese studies.
3. Pace yourself. One of the reasons why I have struggled with Chinese in the past is because I try to memorize too many phrases and words at one time, mostly words that I rarely find opportunities to say. I have spent so much time trying to memorize 20-30 words in one week that I become overwhelmed by the amount of characters in the writing system. So what I have done is make about 4-5 note cards with 6 vocabulary words/names/phrases each and practice saying and writing them while I’m watching tv or listening to music.
I am also very blessed to have Emily a friend for many reasons, one of them being her interest in helping me practice Chinese. When we went to Hefei, after a busy day of shopping, we stopped by a famous restaurant that is known for serving Anhui province food.
Eggs mixed with vegetables and ham in a soupish thing
Beef with vegetables and tofu in broth
Egg Crispie Treats basically. Called “Dan huang ju guo ba”.
The food is very delicious and they make tofu perfectly in the Anhui province apparently. But during dinner, Emily wrote down how she would say “Please give us another cup of tea.” in pinyin. Phonetically, it is “B-ah-ng woah-men t-ann cha.” When I called over the waitress, she completely understood me. Emily also helped me ask for the check and pay the bill for dinner in Chinese. Even though it was only two phrases I learned, I have memorized them and am able to use them in everyday life.
I chose to quote the Dalai Lama in this post because he says that we create our own happiness. During my entire stay, I have found my own ways of creating happiness. I can travel anywhere in the world but in some places like less touristy Bengbu with little to nothing to see/do, I have to find my own way to enjoy my new home. I have the power to alter my experience and be happy, no matter the conditions. No matter what challenges and frustrations are thrown at me, as long as I stay optim