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It has almost been a week at the time of this post, and I must say that this trip thus far has been so much fun. In this past week, we have experienced everything from the hectic “hustle & bustle” of living in China. Everything has been so fast paced, that it is hard to keep track of what is going on. We really had to learn how to live in the moment and not be preoccupied with the future, which I thought was great. The biggest challenge thus far in the trip was the food. I thought that I liked Chinese food and that I would be fine, but I realized that I wasn’t that accustomed to traditional Chinese food. Granted, I was fine with trying new foods; I knew I wouldn’t like everything, but I wasn’t shy to give anything a try. During the first couple of days in Guangzhou, I became familiar with the Chinese climate and realized that it would be very humid and hot for the days to come. The beds at the hotels were very firm, which I thoroughly enjoyed because I felt like I was getting good support in my back. Initially, I felt like a foreigner, but rightly so. I had previous experience being in an environment where I am unfamiliar with the language and social norms, but initially it is always an uncomfortable position to be in. Eventually, we relocated to Zhuhai after visiting some of local schools and playing basketball with the students.

In our first English classes, it was apparent that everyone was nervous yet excited, students included. Having had had experience working with second language English students, it didn’t take long for the students to open up and enjoy the games and conversations we had. I was a bit taken aback at how hospital the school and the students were to us. They treated us so well that I felt it was unjustified for them to hold us in such high regards. I find that while I cannot change how they want to treat me and how they view me, the least I can do is make a similar effort to try to connect with them. I know that they are excited for us to visit and want to interact, so I tried to whenever I could. Additionally, I have taken up learning some basic Chinese. I found that there are a lot of kids who want to talk to us, but don’t understand English that well, so if I learned a bit of Chinese, at least we can communicate with each other a little better.

The main issue that I’ve encountered is how to ethically interact with my hosts. I find that my hosts are so willing and giving that I feel bad for how much they do for me. I have no clue if I should refuse their kind gestures out of my own mannerisms, or if it’d be rude for me to accept their gratuitous offers. I feel like this may be the only occasion that some of these hosts may be able to interact with us Duke students, and while I hate to put ourselves on a pedestal, some of them see us that way, and want to interact on a more personal level with us in the form of their generosity. Personally, I think that language is the first step to understanding another culture, and that by learning Chinese my future interactions will not be so one-sided.

It has been about a week, and I have learned some basic Chinese. Even today, I managed to talk to the cashier lady and understood that she was asking me if I wanted a bag, so I guess that’s progress. But more notably, I found that my interactions with the students are more engaging, especially now that they know that I am learning Chinese. Every day, I have students trying to ask me to say something in Chinese or asking me if I understand what they say, and in general we just have a good time. There have even been several occasions where they would joke around in Chinese and I would understand them. I think they might also be more receptive to learning English if they see that their teachers are trying to learn Chinese, just to show that it goes both ways.

As for now, everything is going smoothly, and I am really enjoying the trip thus far and all the people. Also, I have to say that I am glad to have my fellow Duke students here with me, as they have supported me and helped me and anyone else out when needed. I think that our willingness to work together and not only be coworkers, but family and friends to one another is what makes us capable to be so successful thus far.