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It’s only Week 2, and I have already been so encouraged by the middle schoolers’ incredible passion and enthusiasm. Our louder classes brought so much energy this week, and even the students in the quieter groups were more eager to participate than they had been last week. At the end of every class, the kids wave and shout repeated thank-you’s, but I almost feel like (as cheesy as this sounds) we should be the ones thanking them. As I was reflecting with our site coordinator Sara earlier this week, so much of the classes’ success depends on the kids. We make the lesson plans and initiate discussion, but the rest of it is really up to them. There’s no doubt that teaching is mentally and emotionally exhausting. But as my energy level drains, I feel recharged every single time a student jumps in with an answer — or even just smiles devilishly before getting to choose their next victim in our popcorning activity.

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My second period class on Monday night with Sandy
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My third period class on Monday night with Zach

Because we only meet with each group of students for forty minutes (on a good day) once a week, and we have fourteen groups in total, I was honestly a little worried going into the second week that I wouldn’t remember any of my students’ names. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when I recognized most of the names I saw on my screen! To be fair, some of them have very creative English names. But even the students with just pinyin (Romanized spelling of Chinese characters) were more familiar to me than I’d expected.

I remembered Susan, for example, as the girl who’d made me a heart with her hands at the end of our very first lesson. She made me another heart at the conclusion of our second class, but this time it was bigger because she used her arms, filling the space above her head. Her friend even joined in on another screen. I found this development rather symbolic: just like that, their love of learning, our love of teaching, and our love for each other are constantly growing and expanding.

I won’t lie, I’m still nowhere near knowing everyone’s names. But I’m definitely making progress — we received rosters for our classes this week, and I went through and compiled a master roster for all of my classes. (Full disclosure, reading Chinese names is hard and I did have to consult Google Translate for quite a few of the tones.)

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One of the activities from our lesson this week! The topic was food and learning how to order at a restaurant

Perhaps even more heartwarming were the connections made outside of our classes. I would type my WeChat ID (WeChat is the main chat and social media platform used in China) into the Zoom chat at the end of class and tell my students to add me as friends. They were honestly so excited about it! It was so cute to watch them run off to get a pencil, or to see their eyes dart up and down as they carefully transcribed from screen to paper. One of my students made a class-wide group chat, and every morning I would awake to a plethora of messages from these kids. I’d also get the sweetest friend requests from my students… and sometimes even those who weren’t my students!

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They were waiting for us!
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We awoke to several good morning texts 🥰

I was quite sad at the beginning of the program that we would not be there with the kids in person — and to a certain extent, I still am because nothing can replace face-to-face interaction — but this week of virtual connections in and out of the classroom has really warmed my heart. Our students have poured so much energy and love into us already, and I can only imagine how much more they would give off-screen. Until we are able to chat in person, though, I’ll content myself with WeChat. Onwards to Week 3!