I never seriously entertained the idea of going to China. I always wanted to see the great wall, but I didn’t expect it to happen. When I got an e-mail from the district office looking for teachers willing to go to China, expenses paid, I expected there to be a catch, but no. A few months later:
I traveled with about 20 other teachers from my district, along with others from different parts of South Carolina. We all met in Bejing to enjoy a few days seeing the must-see sights such as Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven, and, of course, the Great Wall.
Then my group traveled by bus to Shijiazhuang where we lived and worked for the next 4 weeks at Middle School 24. We had teachers working with high school and middle school students. I worked with English teachers who were part of a month long immersion program to improve their conversational skills and learn about American culture.
I fell in love with my students. They were all fellow teachers, some just starting out and others with more teaching experience that me. It took us a couple of days to get comfortable with one another, but then it became really fun. They were so focused and motivated…mostly. It didn’t take me long to figure out that despite the difference in culture and lifestyle, I could spot the exact same personalities that I would see in a class at home. Many of my lessons had a compare/contrast component, so I was able to learn as much as I taught in class.
We also spent a lot of time with the students, not just our own, outside of class. They all LOVED having their pictures taken with us. It was like being amid paparazzi all the time, but it was fun. Very few of the students had had the opportunity to talk with a native English speaker before and they made the most of it. The first time I went for a walk by myself, Connie came up and started a conversation. Within 10 minutes I was in the middle of a group of Chinese teachers who either joined in the conversation or were hanging on every word. I really got spoiled. My students at home don’t get nearly that excited about learning Spanish.
Leaving was hard. By the time I left we weren’t teacher and students anymore, we were friends. Every day I was surrounded by warm-hearted people who were open and generous in so many ways. It was a wonderful experience and I was extremely fortunate to return in 2013 and reconnect with a few of my friends.