Another week has gone by, and it seems as if each week is passing more quickly than the one before it even though some of the days feel long. It is already time to write another blog post, and while writing terrifies me (it is not something I am good at-that’s why I’m in Pratt), a part of me is thankful that I am being forced to take time to reflect each week. Without the blog, I wouldn’t have the chance to process my thoughts because everything is happening so rapidly.
There were no classes on Monday and Tuesday because of the Dragon Boat Festival, but as Hsiao-Mei had told us, our days off are not really days off; there are always activities for us to do when we’re not at school.
On Monday morning we visited a program for Autistic children that aimed to support families with Autistic children and provide a space in which those children could foster their talents in things such as visual arts and music.
Together, we made zongzi, a traditional Chinese food for the Dragon Boat Festival that consists of rice and other fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves. Some of the children performed music for us or showed us paintings they had made. One lady who was involved with the organization explained to us how in China, the concept of volunteering for organizations such as this is not very common. The level of awareness to these disorders and conditions is generally lower in China while in America, there are more prominent organizations that host activities such as Autism Awareness Walks. It was humbling to hear about how many additional challenges these children and their families face in China because there is less awareness. However, the lady who spoke to us did say that she thinks that awareness is increasing and that more people are starting to be willing to volunteer for similar organizations.
On Tuesday, several of our host families planned a day full of activities for us to do together. We went to Qi’Ao Island to watch Dragon Boat Festival performances, see an old village, and drive Go Karts. By the time I got back to my host family’s home, I was exhausted and quickly fell asleep. Every weekend so far has been occupied with events with the host families and/or the Zhuhai No. 9 Middle School students. I appreciate the host families taking the time to plan so many activities for us on the weekends, and I am grateful for the opportunity to see so many new things during my time here, but constantly interacting with the kids and families on our “days off” has also been wearing me down, both emotionally and physically. I often struggle even communicating and interacting with people in English back in America due to anxiety, so I am certainly not accustomed to so much social interaction on a daily basis. The language barrier introduces an additional challenge, making communication more difficult and increasing the constant worry that my actions or words might be misinterpreted.
Above all else, I want to be able to express my thankfulness to the community members for their kindness, and I don’t want to come off as rude when I do care deeply inside, but without the ability to speak the native language, I struggle to express my true thoughts. I feel as if I am running a marathon; from the time I arrived here, I was tired mentally and physically, but since then, I have not had to chance to recover, so I keep pushing myself onward. Having more time to myself would allow me to recuperate, but that is not always possible here, and there is a guilt associated with taking time for myself. It feels selfish. I know it is a unique opportunity both for me to be here and for some of the students to interact with foreigners from America, so I don’t want to let them down and myself down by not making the most of every opportunity. I don’t have enough energy to do everything, so yes, there have been times when I’ve wished that we didn’t have to do our weekend activities with the middle school students. However, I am also here to give as much as I can to the students and the community, so when a kid approaches me, eager to talk, I plaster a smile on my face even if I’m in a bad mood because I want to make them happy. Its draining when I have to feign excitement even though inside I’m yearning for rest, but I couldn’t forgive myself if I let the students down or was unkind to them just because I was being selfish. I’ve been pushing my introverted, shy self each day to live in the discomfort of continuous social interaction. While on paper, we are here to teach English and arts classes, it seems like so many of our strong relationships are formed in those times outside of the classroom, when we go on trips with the students or talk during breaks. So, although it does create constant exhaustion for me, every time I can encourage a student or make them smile, it makes everything worth it.
For the rest of the week, we resumed our normal teaching schedule : I get to the school by 8:30 AM, and teach 2 English classes in the morning. Then, I go somewhere for lunch with other DukeEngage members and Zhuhai No. 9 Middle School students. After lunch, I teach one more English class, and on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I teach my extracurricular classes at the end of the day. I’m done teaching around 6 PM, and then I walk back to my host family’s home for dinner. My English classes have improved since the first week here. The classes run more smoothly, I’m getting to know the students better, and the students seem more willing to participate. Several of my classes have some shy students who don’t want to talk along with other students who are loud but don’t want to follow my instructions. However, this week both types of students seemed more engaged, and I did not have to struggle as much to hold everyone’s attention.
Even though I am finding a rhythm with English classes, the extracurricular classes continue to pose greater challenges for me. While teaching frisbee on Wednesday with Aditya, there was a group of boys who were not listening to Aditya’s instructions and instead were playing around with other things outside. I asked them a couple of times to pay attention and rejoin the rest of the class to do what they were supposed to be doing, but they ignored me. Then, one small boy walked up to me and asked, “Do you speak Chinese?” I replied, “no”. The boy frowned and started speaking in Chinese. In the middle of the Chinese, I heard a few English curse words/inappropriate phrases, but I couldn’t tell him to not use those words because I didn’t process what had happened until he walked away. I understand that middle schoolers can sometimes say things they shouldn’t, but I was more frustrated with myself after that incident because I didn’t do anything. I didn’t think quickly enough to realize what he was saying. I felt taken advantage of. I’m here to be a teacher, but in that moment I felt that the student didn’t respect me as a teacher because I don’t know Chinese. The issue of not knowing Chinese has always placed pressure on me, and I was worried from the beginning about whether students would respect me or not because of it, so the incident brought back my fears. If I knew Chinese then I would have known what he was saying from the beginning. If I knew Chinese then maybe some of the students would take me more seriously and be more willing to listen to me. If I knew Chinese then I wouldn’t be so lost all the time when we’re ordering food or a taxi. If I knew Chinese, it wouldn’t solve all of my problems, but I’ve always felt that others were disappointed in me or I’ve been disappointed in myself for that weakness, so I’m extra sensitive to issues involving my lack of Chinese skills. I’m thankful for the members of my DukeEngage team though, because they have been extremely supportive and are helping me make it through the days when I’m down on myself and exhausted. There is no rest for the weary it seems, but fortunately we do have friends to ease our burdens.