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“Wow, your house is just like I dreamed the houses in America to be, so big and grand, not like they are here!” One of my host sister’s friends was rapidly zooming in and out of a picture of my house on my iPhone, commenting on it in awe. On the inside, it felt strange to be lauded for something I had been used to my entire life.

This entire week of teaching has been full of surprises and warm moments. This week of English classes went much more smoothly than last week and the kids seemed much more willing to acknowledge my authority as not just a friend, but also a teacher. We taught the kids about sports and different vocabulary relating to that, and played games that required two teams to compete against each other. The students here seem to enjoy the competition which helps raise the energy of the class. At the end of every class, I would dismiss the kids and they would clap and say “thank you!” in loud voices. Sometimes, if I passed a student in the hallways, they would say “Teacher, hello” in Chinese very respectfully. It felt strange to be treated with such high respect as “teacher” when in reality, I’m only a meager first year college student, only about five to six years older than them.

My singing class has gone surprisingly well also. Within the first few classes, we were able to learn “See You Again” and “All of Me”. Athina and I were so impressed that they were able to follow the melody so well! We even decided to incorporate harmony into the songs. At the end of my singing class, which had almost sixty students, Athina and I would have to stay another extra ten to fifteen minutes, hugging students and sometimes receiving various food gifts from them. One time, a girl even wrote on the board in nice handwriting, “You are my goddess.” I was flattered that they saw us so highly, but I felt that I did not deserve such high praises and did not deserve to be put on such a high pedestal. I am only a nineteen-year old girl from New Jersey that still gets yelled at by her parents for not cleaning up her room or not doing well on tests. I am no hero that deserves to be called a “goddess” in their eyes. I only teach students basic English and English songs, so I felt unfit to receive all of the high praise of the students.

Throughout the week, I couldn’t help but think that I could have been one of them, living here in Asia, if my parents had not sacrificed their comfort to move to the United States. I am able to learn the piano, the flute, go to Duke, and as a result, attend this Duke Engage program to be a teacher, because my parents had moved to the United States. I was only able to be put in this position of high praise because of something my parents did, not because of something heroic I had done. Both of my parents came to the U.S. with only $100 for college and to make a living for themselves in a language that was not their first. They had to give up the comfort of living in the familiarity of their hometowns. I was simply here because my parents were able to do that.

This reminded me of the privilege I have by being born and raised in the U.S. Coming to America is something many of my students dream of doing one day and they tell me how cool and smart I must be for being a student at Duke. How successful I must be because my house is big. How talented I must be to be able to play the piano and flute. But in reality, I have these things not because of what I am capable of doing, but because of the privilege I was blessed to have because my parents moved to the U.S. Because of my parents, I was able to take piano and flute lessons at a young age. Because of my parents I was able to go to a competitive school district to help me get into Duke. By simply growing up in the U.S., English naturally was my first language and thus increased my chances of getting into an American university such as Duke. Because of my parents, and only because of my parents, I am able to live comfortably in a large house in New Jersey. My privilege has allowed me to have these assets that these kids praise me for, respectfully call me “teacher” for, call me a “goddess” for.

As I continue on this program, I am constantly reminded of my privilege and how thankful I am for all of the opportunities I have because I live in the U.S. I am also thankful for the students here at Zhuhai No. 9 Middle School for receiving us so well and I already know it will be so hard to leave this place when the time comes in July.