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Our first week in China passed before we knew it, but at the same time, it feels as though we have been here far longer.
During the first half of the week, we visited Zhixin High School in Guangzhou (one of the top high schools in the area), and received a tour from the students in impressively proficient English. The Chinese hospitality Hsiao-mei had told us about was already evident in the way we were treated: an announcement on the electric sign heralded the arrival of “Duke students from America”, a room with bottled water prepared for us, and we were served food at the school’s canteen. As we practiced our group dance in between the activities Win-Win English Education had scheduled for us, I began to feel just a little of the weight of responsibility which would soon be placed on us. And as we were given plaques and gifts on only our second day of the program, the feeling of being an imposter only grew. Who was I—just coming off my first year at Duke—to be treated with such respect?
The full weight of our responsibility here hit me when we received our welcome to Zhuhai No. 9 at 7:30AM a day later. Hundreds of students in blue uniforms lined up smartly along a red carpet they had rolled out, and line leaders thrust bouquets of flowers into our hands. As we waved from the Dreams Stage to a huge crowd of students, the feeling of apprehension grew. I still didn’t feel prepared, and barely had a lesson plan, but I was expected to come up with something viable. Though I had seen videos and heard Hsiao-mei’s description of the grand welcome the experience itself far surpassed what words/images could convey. Now I understood what DukeEngagers of previous years had written about.
Flexibility—Hsiao mei’s watchword—was key during this first week of teaching. Not only were the students of Zhuhai No. 9 extremely energetic and happy to see us, they also varied immensely in English speaking skills. Though I had the advantage of understanding and speaking some Chinese, I tried to conduct my classes without using it. Outside of classes, many of the students were eager to visit and speak with us, and by the end of the week, some waved to us on the streets as well. Unlike in American suburbia, teens in Zhuhai often hung out together after school, and ate dinner at a restaurant, so we would encounter many students even after 7pm). In the evenings, our group often hung out in the Vanguard mall/supermarket across from the hotel, and got bubble tea.
These first few days have been packed with activities from dawn to dusk, and have felt longer than a whole month at Duke. I know our time here will pass in a flash, but everything still seems so far away.
One week down, seven to go.