The hardest thing about living abroad in general for me is being away from my family, my mother and sister specifically. If I came from one of those globetrotting families who travel all over the planet and meet up in exotic locations, it would be much easier. If I had my way, we’d meet in London during fall break, South Africa during Christmas and some sexy beach locale during the summer. But whether or not I see my family and friends back home depends a lot on me. Folks simply don’t visit. I’m sure they’ll say money is an issue, but hell, even when I’m home I don’t see them unless I go to them and sometimes that requires me traveling an additional two to three hours even though I’ve traveled thousands of miles and most of the times, more than 16 hours. Continue reading “Gratitude in Da ‘Buj”
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.
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??
I remember asking some people how much time one should plan to spend in Bangkok and being told two days max. Admittedly, my perspective of Bangkok was a bit skewed due in part to the stories and feedback of others’ and largely the Hangover movie. I had a picture in my mind of a place with tons of garbage and grunge and lady boys and lots of sex for sale wherever you turned. I got the impression that absolutely anything goes and that two days was more than I could take in a place that offered up cheap booty and anal invasions even to those who weren’t the least bit interested. Needless to say, I was wrong and hella glad of it. Continue reading “To Bangkok with Love Part 2- A Happy Surprise”