“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.” – Michael J. Fox
Hi followers, I’m sorry for the lack of consistency of my blog. I just want to give a shout out to all of you for being so loyal and asking for updates and how I am and everything. Well I’m about to give you a general explanation for why I haven’t been updating consistently. Being in China and working where I am has been a great blessing. However, it wouldn’t be life if I didn’t get lemons with all the good stuff.
Hardships of teaching:
I am thankful for the job that I have now even though I have problems with the English department. My contract requires me to work 18 hours per week when I only work 16 and all of those hours are done by noon from Monday-Friday. In addition ,my students are around the ages of 17-20 which makes it easier for me to connect with them as a recent college graduate. Unfortunately, while I do have dedicated, kind and passionate students, some of my students aren’t so happy with me as a teacher.
As an English teacher at this school, I have English books with recordings and lesson plans based on them that are optional for me to use. My students and I both dislike them. My students dislike them because the recordings and the book activities are boring. I dislike them because the books were written by Chinese authors and don’t teach any authentic English.
After I used the powerpoints my mom made for me voluntarily, I worked hard to make more. I made powerpoints based on the book topics going over useful vocabulary while also giving my students English lessons they could relate to. I ranged from talking about my childhood demonstrating the past tenses, practice job interview questions demonstrating the present tenses, and shopping demonstrating the four conditionals. I even created an environmental protection presentation demonstrating the use of gerunds. I would work from Sunday afternoon to night on these powerpoints to teach my students but also make English class fun. While some of my students still try to sleep and use their phones in class (I call them out on it, I don’t let them get away with it) most of them seemed to pick up on my lessons and enjoy my teaching.
Just today, Teacher Wu, the human resource person stopped by to give us new information on the department.
The good news: Our communications person between us and the head of the English department is changing next semester because the current one has not been informative to Matt or I. She has not told us stuff like about our days off or even when classes end for this semester. When the department head has asked us to be at a school event, she would only tell us about two days in advance and still expect us to be there. Even after I politely asked her to be more informative during a text chat, she did not respond to me. Hence, Matt and I are pleased.
The bad news: It’s not so much bad news as it is gossip. While I was gone, Teacher Wu told Emily and Matt about past foreign teachers at the school. He told us when the students had a British teacher, they complained to the English department that his pronunciation was incorrect. One of the other teachers would try to make his lessons fun by playing guitar and singing English and the students still complained.
So Teacher Wu dropped that the students were complaining about Matt and my classes, saying that our lessons weren’t serious enough. Matt let me know that no matter what I do, there will be students who complain about you just to complain. Still though, being a first time teacher who was proud of her hard work, I took it very personally.
Hearing this news was like putting Matt and I in our places on the totem pole as foreign teachers at the school. It frustrates me that while I’m the teacher, the students seem to hold more power over us even just by having contact info to our boss, which Matt nor I were even given. In the movie Moneyball, there’s a quote from Brad Pitt saying “Here are the good teams and here are the bad teams, now there’s a bucket of crap, and then there’s us.” Here is my version, “Here is the school headmaster, then the English department head, then the Chinese English teachers, then the students, now here’s a huge bucket of crap and then there’s Matt and I.”
Matt is right though, I just need to move on. I have actually had a few students, two who aren’t even mine, who choose to come at 8 to my classes and compliment my lessons every time. They tell me that most English teachers sit and play the recordings and that it’s great that I am not only teaching authentic English but making it fun. In each of my classes while I always have those students who try to sleep or use their phones, I have at least 5 per class who participate, give me friendly smiles and even give genuine greetings to me on campus. For teaching, I need to accept that not all of my students will like my classes no matter what I do but just continue to enjoy myself and focus on the friendly faces in my job experience.
Hardships of being a foreigner:
This is probably my biggest source of unhappiness and frustration. Being a foreigner not just in China but in Bengbu has been a huge struggle for me.
Let me break this down. People personify Beijing as an old man tied to Chinese history and traditions and Shanghai as a modern and lively 20 year-old woman. If Bengbu was a person, it would be a junior high student who lacks general social etiquette and thinks the world centers around them. Right now, Bengbu is a developing city but is still a small, countryside place that most of the residents have never been outside of. You can only imagine their reactions when they see foreigners.
Being a foreigner in Bengbu has been hard for me. I feel as though I am treated as a funny-looking and dim-witted alien by both my students and the locals. Whenever Matt, Emily and I are out in Bengbu, we constantly get uncomfortable stares from strangers, and that’s not even the worst of it. I’ve seen people not-so-subtly talk and gossip when they spot me in public. Last week when I added my students WeChat names, I told them in both English and Chinese to send messages in Chinese so I could practice reading. No matter how many times I told them, they did not believe I had the capacity to understand Chinese writing until I wrote a few characters for them.
When we are out shopping, shopkeepers will go walk to us and offer service to Emily, dismissing Matt and I, assuming we don’t know any Chinese and that Emily is only with us as our translator. Even when I use Chinese with locals, they ignore me and only speak to Emily. One day when we were shopping, I used some Chinese to buy some gloves. As I tried to take out money, four of the shopkeepers closely surrounded me asking me where I was from in a different way from how I was taught. They kept laughing and staring until I understood and answered them.
Being a foreigner and still in the process of learning conversational Mandarin, I feel so powerless and alone. As someone who has traveled a lot and and holds a liberal arts education, it’s frustrating to be in an environment where the people discriminate so openly against foreigners. However, it also brings me back to some teachings of Wica.
Last Spring, I went to Ft. Bragg to learn about military life and the religions represented on base. Wicca was one of them and one huge aspect of Wiccan teachings is power. In Wicca, they discuss that you cannot control the forces in your life but you have control of yourself and your reactions.
From this, I know that people in Bengbu will continue to remain ignorant and discriminate but I should not let it have an impact on me. I constantly remind myself that I am lucky to be more cultured and experienced in the world outside of my home country. In addition, I continue to remain open-minded which means that I not only embrace diversity in background but also in opinions.
Hardships of the real world:
A part of me is happy to be out of school and on my own. I may not have a desired career path right now but it has given me time to explore my options and organize my priorities. While I am excited to see where life is taking me, there are times I wish everything could go back to the way it used to be.
My parents just came to visit for Thanksgiving break and my birthday (keep an eye out for a separate entry soon). Being stressed out about my job, it was nice to pick them up in Shanghai and even bring them back to Bengbu with me. We were both able to catch up with each other and give them a fun experience in China. It made it more difficult for me to say goodbye.
A part of me just wanted to go back to America with them. I miss the small things like watching movies at home, going out to lunch/dinner at home, visiting my extended family in NJ, Connecticut, and Hawaii and having family friend BBQ’s. When I’m surrounded by both family and family friends, I feel so much love and support and all my worries aren’t as important as spending time with them in the moment.
I also miss and envy my friends. College was a time I was within walking distance from friends and even at home, I was only a drive away. Being on my own is hard even just for conveniently making friends. A few of my friends are still in college, being accepted into or attending grad school, or have their desired careers. As I mentioned, sometimes I feel as though my efforts in teaching are a waste and am hired to help the school’s publicity rather than actually teach. As a result, I feel insignificant and small. While I am proud of my friends for their accomplishments, one reason why I envy them is they are given work they’re passionate about or at least direction in a desired career path. As for me, I am still pondering what career I want in the future.
I’m convincing myself that just because something is easy doesn’t mean it isn’t worth experiencing. It’s hard for me to be done with college and currently not being in reach of friends or family. However, I always keep them in mind and remember that when people don’t always accept me in Bengbu that I have all of my support both back at home and overseas.
So the answer to my title is “when life gives you lemons…learn from it, accept it and move on.” Just by finally acknowledging and accepting my built-up emotions is a huge relief for me. I apologize for such a long and sad entry but this was helpful for me. I will encounter many challenges that I may not be able to fix but the best that I can do is accept these challenges. Some people will always be ignorant, some students will never be happy and I will always feel nostalgic but the best that I can do is accept how I feel and control how I react to what life throws at me.