“Unromantic Realities of Teaching in a Foreign Land”

I thought about this piece while walking to work this morning. The lone unicorn walking down these China streets powering through the stares and scowls of those around me. When I first made the decision to move abroad I was at the juncture in my life where I knew that if I didn’t change something and in a very big way, I was going to leave the world of academia behind altogether. My life in the U.S. was fine, but something always seemed to be missing or askew or just not quite right. And the constant threat upon my black skin from sources concrete and abstract made living there scary and seemingly dangerous. So like the romantic that I am, I decided living and teaching in a new country would be the answer. I fantasized about the impact I would make, the lessons I would perform and how I would grow to the heavens in my teaching practice. I imagined myself and my daughter in our exotic new locale indulging in new foods, visiting new countries and learning new languages. And while the things that I’ve imagined have, in fact, taken place, my main reason for living in China has been the most challenging aspect of our new journey.

You see, teaching in China has many more challenges than I anticipated. Aside from the obvious challenge of a language barrier, there have been three distinct challenges with which I have had to contend: unrealistic expectations from parents, lazy, under-motivated students and lack of resources. Teachers everywhere are reading that thinking, “I deal with the same issues!” Believe me, I know. Like many teachers, I thought teaching abroad would be a teacher’s utopia. And I especially thought teaching in China would be easier. I was a victim of the same preconceived notions as many other Americans are, “Chinese students work hard”, “Chinese students are naturally motivated”, “Chinese students are blah, blah, blah. Just wonderful”. The truth is Chinese students are, well, students, merely children who suffer from many of the same ailments and conditions as other children – laziness, self-indulgence, self-centeredness and just plain incorrigibility. Now, of course, it’s not all students all of the time, but the model student that many of us believed existed in China is in actuality a rarity not the norm.

The good thing about this realization is that being a trained, certified, experienced teacher in the U.S. properly prepared me to successfully handle this reality. Therefore, it is business as usual in my classroom. I simply employed the same strategies and expectations that I would in my American classroom. The biggest difference is having a teaching assistant/translator. Somewhat similar to the co-teaching model without the collaborative planning. Of course, many of us who have had co-teachers know that collaborative planning doesn’t always happen either.

Nonetheless, those realities aren’t enough to make me regret my decision to teach abroad, especially since I would be dealing with the exact same issues in the U.S. Moreover, just like back home, the students always make it worth it. I have students with big personalities, students who are exceptionally quiet, some who are extraordinarily loud and some who love drama. There are comedians, fighters, actors and natural leaders. Their personalities are just as varied as any group of young people would be and so are their academic levels. They definitely have helped to make this journey quite interesting.

The Six Best Places for Expats to Shop for Clothes in China

No matter what you know or don’t know about China, one thing we can all agree on is that the Chinese are rather small.  The Northern Chinese may not be as small as the Southern Chinese, but they all are still smaller on average than most Westerners. Therefore, shopping for clothes can be quite challenging. However, expats have a few choices to accommodate those extra inches. Continue reading “The Six Best Places for Expats to Shop for Clothes in China”

Where should we go? HELP!

I’ve tossed and turned and had many a sleepless night on Skyscanner, Ctrip, TripAdvisor and Facebook trying to decide where the mini and I should go for the December holiday break. Of course, I’ve come up with a multitude of destinations. All of which would be new or newish to both of us. Yet, I still cannot make a final decision as to where to go, so I’m asking for your help. I’ve created a poll and I need for my readers to tell me where they think I should go. I chose places based on access to a beach, duration of flights and cost of visa.  If you feel I’ve overlooked a destination, please share it in the comments. Soooo…where should we go??

How to Overcome the Chinese Stare: PETTINESS ALERT

The most difficult thing for me to get accustomed to is, by far, the stare of the Chinese. I read about it. Heard it mentioned in stories of travelers I know, but nothing and I mean absolutely nothing, prepared me for what I have deemed the Chinese stare. Don’t get me wrong, there are several places where people have extended their glance in my direction: India, Guatemala, Italy and Colombia are the first places that come to mind. Admittedly, the locals in each place stared for different reasons, but I never felt offended or uncomfortable. The Chinese however, my oh my do they take staring to a completely different level. I’ve had people trip, bump into one another, ride their bikes into trees, fail to yield in their cars and, of course, take my picture without my permission while eating, walking, shopping, handling business in the bank or engrossed in conversation. And it’s not even that they look you in your face. They look you up and down. Some people frown and furrow their brows while others stare with a look of surprise. And then there are those that giggle, point and whisper. I swear I wish I knew enough Chinese expletives for the latter. In my attempt to be as culturally sensitive as possible I asked my Chinese colleagues, “Yo! What’s up with the staring?” A question to which I’ve received basically the same answer – “They know it’s wrong, but they do it anyway. They don’t know it makes you uncomfortable.” …..Oh really now? They don’t know? Well, I’ve received quite a bit of advice on how best to deal with this intrusive, uncomfortable and dare I say, rude business of staring, but I’ve devised my own three ways of dealing with this madness. Yes, some may think it’s petty, but I can’t say that I’m torn up about that. *shrugs*

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My toes were so interesting to this girl. She stared at me and them from the moment she came into the salon until the moment she left.

Continue reading “How to Overcome the Chinese Stare: PETTINESS ALERT”

Chinese Medicine…or something

One of the things I was looking forward to during my stay in China, other than the proximity and easy access to the many countries on my bucket list, is the opportunity to study and learn about traditional Chinese medicine. Of course, one main component in understanding the medicine is having sufficient background knowledge to comprehend the many beliefs and reasons behind why they do some of the things they do. Needless to say, I have been seriously enlightened by what I’ve learned thus far. Mind you, I haven’t even begun to learn about some of the medicine because I’ve had such a hard time getting past some of the things they do that are commonplace.

The biggest hurdle I’ve had to jump so far is the hawking. You know…the hawking of spit and whatever else in their mouths at the time. Not sure how it’s viewed in other countries, but in America it is not viewed as a socially acceptable practice hawk and spit at will. Well, here it is rather commonplace and both men and women do it. They do it during casual walks down the street, leisurely chats in front of stores and even while driving, taxi drivers too! So I asked someone about this because I just did not understand why it was widely accepted and it was explained that it is done for health reasons. It is believed that phlegm needs to be removed from the body immediately to rid the body of sickness. Now that I understand, but I mean can we get a phlegm cup or something?

Another tradition which isn’t hard for me to accept or even practice is the removal of shoes once you enter a home. Now that I see just how commonplace spitting is here and because of the way they potty train their children (that’s a whole other story), I gladly remove my shoes just upon entering my home as I have no idea what I’ve stepped in outside. Some of my neighbors even remove them before they go inside their apartment. They don’t believe in carpet on the floors either for that very reason. It’s healthier.

And the last thing which I’m still struggling with practicing is the drinking of hot water. I still don’t quite understand the purpose behind this practice. I’ve asked several times and the only answer I get is – balance. Well, I need a bit of a more convincing argument especially when it’s hot as hell outside most days. I look forward to the day when someone can sufficiently break down to me the benefits of drinking hot water in 90 degree weather. I’ve done it on a few occasions and it’s tolerable but it is definitely not my favorite thing to do.

As I continue to learn more I will update my blog. I have been inspired in many ways to change some of my own habits because of what I’ve experienced here – more massages and rededicating myself to my yoga practice and spin. However, I still need help understanding why people so seemingly into their health smoke at such a high rate and in most public places. I look forward to learning more about that as well.

I came. I saw. And nothing was conquered….

After many long sleepless nights and hours spent meditating on writing, I decided it was finally time for me to actually perform the task of writing. When it comes to writing I am a living, breathing contradiction. I am for all intents and purposes a writer. However, I haven’t written anything in months. I have suffered for some time from a crippling form of writer’s block. That is until I moved here…China. I have been living in China for exactly one month and while embarking on this journey I find myself mulling over all of my past travels, Cuba particularly.

I have no idea whether or not it is safe for me to disclose details about my trip to Cuba, but since it was a highly educational experience I will take my chances. Before every trip I always envision the experience I wish to have, right down to the feelings I want to feel. Now, most of the times I am able to recreate this projection of sorts. I eat the foods I want to eat. I reach the destinations I planned to visit. And I meet locals and learn about the culture. But Cuba was different. Cuba made me question much of what I do as a traveler, how I do it and what I need to do differently. I realized that as a traveler, and perhaps because I am a writer (really I am) I have a tendency to romanticize a place and the expected experiences I will have in said place. Cuba, unintentionally, burst my little romantic fantasy bubble. There is no romanticizing a place when you spend more than four days there. I didn’t just speak to the little locals, I went to their homes. I ate with them. And I really, really talked to them. Not just about their country, but about their condition. Don’t get me wrong. It was never a tale of woe. Cubans are extraordinarily proud people who love their country. And many wouldn’t leave under any circumstances. Ironically, this realization fascinated me the most.

But the greatest thing of all about Cuba is that it helped to prepare me, albeit slightly, for life in China. The lack of access to social media. The blind patriotism and socialist ideologies. And the obvious gulf between the classes. I now have more questions than answers about the places I’ve traveled to and the destinations yet to come. I no longer have a desire to “conquer” a place because I know that it is an impossible feat. But my hope is that by the time I leave China, I will understand and appreciate it as I eventually understood and appreciated Cuba.

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