Ready to Re-enter China

My wife and I fly back to Qingdao early this Friday morning and will arrive Saturday evening (Beijing time). We’ve been in America the past two months, and it’s time to go! If we had more things to do or people to see, it might be a different picture. Let’s just say we’ve had some time on our hands. And since doing the Culture Shocks in China Series earlier this summer, I read a little more up on it. To my eyes came this heart-twisting quote.

Let’s not make an overly big thing of culture shock. Yes, it’s real, and for some it causes real problems. But for the great majority of missionaries it is but a temporary phenomenon. We said earlier that culture shock was basically disorientation. The solution to it, then, is to get oriented.
-Thomas Hale, On Being A Missionary

an insightful documentary
an insightful documentary

One way I’ve started recently getting more acquainted with the Chinese before re-entry is to know better their history. I decided to focus on the last century since their history spans for thousands of years, but I’m not too enthusiastic when it comes to this subject because it’s been hard for me to wrap my head around the whys of events. Nevertheless, this week has been groundbreaking. I completed a book last night called The People’s Republic of Amnesia by Louisa Lim. (Here is my review of it) Then, this afternoon we watched the first two hours of the China in Revolution documentary series. I won’t ever completely understand Chinese people because of obviously being quite opposite, American, but I started to grasp the reasoning why a few nationals think or feel the way they do. I intend to learn more about this in the future, but with a baby coming the end of September it might happen in a slightly slower fashion. Especially since I told my wife that I’d start reading a couple baby books upon our return this weekend.

That said, I feel like this summer has been quite personal. I’ve become more conscious of new ways that I can relate to Chinese as well as conversations that could turn out strange and/or extraordinary. Either way, I can do this, and it feels good to be where I am in relation to a group of people thankfully less foreign to me.

Now, being an English teacher and a fan of puns I recall a couple articles with lines that I put together in a couple ways using differing punctuation. Let them sink in.

I can get oriented.

I can. Get oriented.

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Wrapping Up, But Not Done

Exactly two weeks from today, my wife, our boy (inside of her!) and I will fly back to Qingdao for our fourth year there. The past several blogs I have written were part of a series entitled Culture Shocks in China. While shocks will inevitably still happen upon return, I would like to take the focus off of that since the upcoming weeks and months to come will be much different from the past four years of my life. With that said, I have enjoyed writing, processing and sharing some of my deepest struggles with you. But the truth is…it’s time to move on.

A couple friends have recently informed me that when living in a place that’s not your own, it’s around the 3-year mark that the most frustrations will happen. The result—either I make or break. I don’t have to envision and force change of this other culture within my ethnocentric self; I can let my heart break from that selfish desire. Because of being daily reminded about this struggle while we’ve been in the US, I took a couple days this week to read several chapters from a book called Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier. I wasn’t up for a whole new book since I just started another really good one, but I wanted to see what content this one held. At least a few caught my eye because of living in China so I thumbed through them.

1. Hot- Versus Cold-Climate Cultures

3. Direct Versus Indirect Communication

4. Individualism Versus Group Identity

8. Different Concepts of Time and Planning

9. Practical Next Steps

Why these chapters? They’re the ones where I have wrestled with the most, especially 3 and 8. What gnaws at me now is what I read on those pages. Stories that are sincerely unfathomable and practical steps that sound like a piece of cake are all being stirred up in my confused mind. But they caused me to remember what one of my friends said, “It’s the fourth through seventh year when the most fruit from your labor can show.” So there is a bright future ahead… Friends are certainly for providing encouragement and challenges.

I hope that is what I have offered you as you have read the accounts covering consequences in a Chinese school to being stared at in public. As memories (good and bad) come and go, I hope you realize that shocks and difficulties can actually work out for the good. In fact, people in this world have more similarities than we know. Some of them just may be deeper. Look for those connections and make them. Seek out the contradictions and understand them. We are never done wherever we are.

Shouldn’t the Educators Be Educated?

A little over a month ago, 20-30 English teachers gathered for a professional development (PD) at our school. One of them was up front and going to provide us with training on how to guide our students in improving their writing. Sounded like an interesting topic. My initial thought was how this was going to proceed with a middle school Chinese-English Teacher (CET) leading, multiple teachers grades 1-12 present, and the fact that CETs usually hold their students to perfection instead of realistic (yet high) expectations.

The start of the PD wasn’t too bad since it seemed like it was going to connect very well with much application. Next came three common grammar mistakes based on what she had learned at a world TEFL Convention, but I was suddenly losing interest and application because what she was speaking on focused more on secondary-level teachers’ needs. What came after this was when it went downhill. The CET seemingly introduced “6 Tools to Encourage Originality.” These included metaphors, similes, alliteration…umm… The Foreign Teachers (FTs) immediately became disinterested. The group as a whole started throwing out more jokes than usual to keep the sanity ship from sailing away.

How in the world could a teacher lecture us on these “tools”? I learned these in elementary, and from my experiences 5th grade (what I teach) is probably a little early for these to be used by a majority of my current students.

Remember that ship that was sailing away? Put the anchor down for a couple minutes, and bring your ear close.

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Chinese don’t get to change their major. The scores on their high school to college test determines what kind of university they can attend, which is kind of like the US. But they aren’t able to change their major! Never mind that I switched mine five times. Less than half of the CETs in our school ended up not majoring in English. One teacher actually majored in Water Resource and quit after his third year. He has yet to obtain his teaching certificate, which is similar to a state teaching license though the preparation for it is certainly different.

There has been a debate going on in English teaching for years about which teacher is better: native speaking English teachers or teachers of the students’ L1. Please add this to the argument: some of the nationals possibly haven’t been educated in teaching, English, or both. Am I upset? No. This is how education works in China. It’s different. Sometimes, I’ll be honest, too different.

But it’s something I’m working on. Initially, I let pride build an enormous wall in my heart against these teachers. Word to the wise: Don’t do this. It will hurt your relationships with these people, which in turn, hurts you tremendously. Even though some discussions about teaching (or life for that matter) may appear illogical, try to see it from the nationals’ point of view. How is it logical to them? Is this a traditional, cultural, or co-worker’s idea? There are various angles to approach from when trying to decipher what in the world is happening. The deeper question is if we’re actually going to make an effort to see it another way, even if it is far from what we originally thought. Anchor up!!

Outside of the Foreigner (or English-Speaking) Bubble

This is the third year that I’ve been working at this private Chinese school, and I had a moment a few weeks back that ended up like a Chuck Norris roundhouse to the face.

I was spending time with our Father above, and it struck me how I don’t personally know that many teachers and staff at our school. When it comes to meals and time outside of the office, I tend to float close to those within the Foreigner, or English-Speaking, Bubble. (Both are worth mentioning since there are many Chinese nationals at our school who can speak English, and it’s quite easy to stick with them as well to remain comfortable.) Recently, I have thought back to the beginning of the year and the first day of work when the new/returning teachers were introduced. After we were greeted and applauded for our embarrassing speeches, the head of our Foreign English Department encouraged the whole staff to sit with us foreigners, say hello, and to “not be afraid to get to know us.” This video is on repeat in my head, but it’s one that I won’t probably click the ‘Like’ button for.

I can’t help but think time and time again about how I don’t know the people in the same building that I work at. Granted, there is a lot of staff, but why am I so comfortable with just sticking with those who I know? Why am I not willing to get to know others? Chinese… oh yes, there’s the language barrier. That can be solved. Try using it, failing and improving while getting to know others. Ask questions about the language and culture, and get the personal thoughts of another (believer or not). Stick with the Chinese food, even if it is fish filled with bones. It takes a lot to do some of these things in order to speak with nationals whom I don’t know, but it’s deeply satisfying knowing that it’s the Holy Spirit’s conviction pushing me to sit with them, speak with them, build a relationship, and watch them chow down on squid. (Maybe that last part isn’t true… hmm.)

What about the other English-speaking relationships? Well, I don’t ignore them, but the time does seem to go by better with those that don’t know English at all. Yes, I maintain these relationships in various ways, and the one with my wife is going great. (Speaking of… if you haven’t read Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage,” I’d strongly suggest it. Wow, do I have so much to learn…)

I say all of this to say… if you work in China, America, or wherever, and you don’t know the people around you, have you considered getting to know those around you without seeking to be heard? Or do you think they should be the ones to ask the first question, to take the initiative, and to get to know you? Have you considered going outside of the bubble you may have around you?

Hot and I Don’t Care

Currently, I am at a local friend’s house in the midst of studying Chinese. He is in the middle of studying English. I’m sure he has been doing it for over an hour or two since he keeps murmuring while looking at his phone dictionary, and the paper he is writing on is covered front and back. The words he is using are ones I don’t even know, and they would probably be used by my grandma in a wicked game of Scrabble. And they call me an “English teacher” (ha!). I’m here reviewing my Chinese, and my wonderful Anki tells me that I’ve crammed 625 vocabulary cards in 48 minutes. I need to take a break. I think my brain is swelling.

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A thought came to me this morning as my wife and I walked to the school cafeteria for lunch. I need to speak Chinese. As soon as I walk out of our apartment, I need to speak Chinese. Some of you may say, “No, you don’t.” But I think it would just be a waste for me not to learn the language. It just happened to hit me even more today. At times, it’s been a struggle using another language. It’s been a little difficult also when simply walking down the road in 30˚-40˚C weather (that’s 86˚-104˚F for those doing the conversion in your head). To arrive at my friend’s place, I had to walk 400 meters or so, and by the time I reached here my shirt was already drenched with sweat. Even though my friend’s air conditioning isn’t on, I don’t care. Water seems to be at the forefront of my mind more than usual, and it’s either embrace the sweat or complain about it. I’ll choose the former.

Speaking of not caring, when I was with a Chinese friend yesterday I asked about the police signs posted above the roads and what they meant. My friend chuckled, defined that particular one, and said, “Nobody reads those.” I pressed even further and questioned if anyone reads the partnering signs that include encouraging phrases, quotes, and proverbs for all to see and take in deeply. “I don’t think so.” Then, just for fun, I asked if the government officials read them. “I hope they do.”

What does that mean? I have yet to inquire, but I do know that my friend and I both have things we don’t care about.