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Even though there are still three weeks left of this program, this week was my last week of teaching English classes  . The reality of how quickly this program was passing by didn’t quite hit me until my first morning English class on Wednesday. After my English lesson was over, all of the students got up from their desks and, in unison, bowed and shouted “xie xie lao shi!” (“thank you teacher!”), followed by loud clapping. One of my students Annie, who I mentioned in my last blog post, ran up to the front of the class where I was standing and enveloped me in hugs. Her eyes were starting to fill with tears as she said “I am so sad this is our last class. I like you so much teacher!” I could feel myself almost start to cry as well so I just assured her that when she worked really hard on her English and came to America, I would be waiting for her. I took many pictures with my students and kept hugging them. In my other classes, even the students who were extremely shy and never said a word in my class (I thought that they didn’t find me interesting) quietly came up to me after class and asked for my WeChat so we could continue to talk outside of class and when I went back to America. I was so touched that those that did not seem to get much out of my class had actually wanted to develop a friendship with me all along and was just too afraid to initiate the conversation in the beginning.

I also had my last official singing class this week before the dress rehearsals for the final performance. We finished teaching the hand motions to “You’re Beautiful”, “What Makes You Beautiful” and “All of Me”. When Athina and I dismissed our class, everyone started cheering and showering us with hugs, even the students that never spoke to me after class the other times. At one point, a girl started to break out into song and many of the other girls joined in, singing something melodious in Chinese. They sang until Athina and I had to kick them out so we could go back home and pack for our weekend vacation to Shanghai/Beijing. Their enthusiastic gestures moved me. Before Duke Engage, I had never formally sung before so when I came here to teach singing, I felt unqualified to be the teacher. To make up for my lack of talent and experience in singing, I tried to compensate with more passion and gusto in my teaching during my singing class so that I could inspire them to sing, express themselves passionately, and have fun. It was so rewarding to see my students reciprocate the same kind of excitement I would display in class towards me.

It was also a pretty noteworthy week for me and my host sister as well. On Wednesday night, my host sister Selina and I were hanging out in my room scrolling through different Duke Engage people’s Instagram posts (she had just recently discovered the beauty of the VPN). While looking through people’s pictures, she kept seeing people of different ethnicities and kept asking “which country are they from?” I explained that they are from America also but she looked really confused. She asked why they didn’t all have blonde hair and pale white skin like a “typical American” and I explained that their parents immigrated to America from different countries so they all look different but are from America. When I explained that even the people with blonde hair and pale skin, the “typical American”, could trace back to ancestors that immigrated to America, and that unless you were Native American, everyone in America some point in their lineage had immigrated to America from another country. She was really surprised because she said that she had always thought all Americans looked the same: blonde hair, blue eyes, tall petite nose and pale skin. Afterwards, she said “I understand now.” I think understanding what my host sister and her classmates had originally thought about America and American people helped explain many things that I was thinking and experiencing. It was an enlightening cultural exchange breakthrough for both sides.

On a lighter and funnier note, this week the teaching theme was “movies and celebrities” which produced many interesting activities and stories. We gave them a picture and their job was to write a story/caption to the picture and then act it out. Some popular pictures that produced some great stories and shows were photos of a boy and girl hugging, Xi Yang Yang (Chinese cartoon that literally translates to “Happy Sheep” and the kids find it hilarious for some reason), and Mr. Bean. One group reenacted a scene from the Titanic and concluded the performance with a short rendition of “See You Again” after both “Jack” and “Rose” jumped off the ship. Another group wrote a scene where Mr. Bean gets robbed by three criminals and gets his money taken away, and the students even spontaneously procured props to act out the scenes. I also learned the Chinese equivalent of a meme called a “Bio Qing Biao” during one of my English classes because they were trying to meme my prompt photos (I’m lowkey proud even though that wasn’t the task).