It’s day one in our first assignment city — Shijiazhuang — and wow! The culture shock really isn’t as bad as I had feared; the biggest issue is the language barrier, but we have guides with us at all times (for now, at least) whose English, though not great, is definitely sufficient for us to communicate and figure out what we need.
Yesterday was an entire day of travel. Literally 24 hours, all told! The bus ride to the city was the worst: we were all exhausted and wanted desperately to sleep, but by the time we got to our dormitory, we had caught a second wind. Our living quarters are quite nice — very art deco, interestingly enough — and my roommate seems like a lovely person.
Our first three days are going to be spent helping out at “open houses” to attract students to the summer program. Today, that meant traipsing by taxi across the city with my new friend Nia Hai Gu (that’s phonetic, as I have no idea how to spell her name) to one of the local middle schools and putting on a smiling face while the locals gawked at the short American with her increasingly-frizzy curly locks. Hai Gu taught me some interesting things about China while we rested. Among other things, I was interested to learn that in the Chinese schools, lessons are 40 minutes long and the teachers typically only teach 2 lessons every day. The rest of their time is taken up with grading, planning, and overseeing student study halls. I could definitely get on board with that!
So far, some of the strangest things about China are:
- The toilets! There are “western-style” sitting toilets available in every place we’ve been so far, but squatting toilets are actually the norm. Yikes! Also, you can’t put your toilet paper/tissue in the toilet: you throw it in the trashcan. That’s probably the thing that weirds me out the most right now.
- Chinese drivers are crazy! It’s like a mini-New York City with the way that taxi drivers disregard pedestrians, and every few minutes or so you’re quite sure that a cyclist is going to get run down in the street. Bicycles everywhere!
- Soup for breakfast is a thing, and I absolutely, friggin’ love it.
We begin teaching on Thursday, and we’ll actually be teaching for 7 days instead of the 9 I was originally told. The final day is for performances where the students demonstrate what they’ve learned. I plan on using these “open house” days to get my lesson plans together. I’m still worried about the students’ language abilities, but I think we’ll get on fine, and I don’t think there’s anything I’ve planned that will prove too rigorous if I work with them long enough and paraphrase. Easy peasy, right?