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What happened in my first class on Wednesday was something I really had not prepared for. This week marks the last week of our English classes, which also means these are the last times we have the chance to meet with our English students on a regular basis. The week started off with a typhoon, so Nadia, Jonah, and I combined our classes and taught in the auditorium because of the lack of indoor spaces. My Monday and Tuesday classes passed by without any emotional twitch, so I naturally expected my Wednesday classes to be the same.

I have to admit, I have a particular attachment to my first class on Wednesdays. It was the first group I ever taught in Zhuhai N.9 Middle School, and the students in this class have been phenomenal from the very start. They always put in their best efforts, were willing to struggle through challenges, and expressed a consistent eagerness to learn. On the first day of class with them, there was a student that quite literally shook from his nerves as he spoke to me, but nevertheless kept speaking with some of the best English I’ve heard from any student here. He became the go-to translator and a star student in the class. Another student, the class jokester (now known as baozi boy), came up to me after class and said he would bring me baozi, just because I had mentioned it was my favorite Chinese food as part of a lesson exercise. One of the girls heard that I loved to sing and sang a song for me in front of the entire class. She had a powerful voice and kept the class in check whenever students got a bit too rowdy. I could not have asked for a better first class to make me feel comfortable and welcome amidst all the- at times disorienting- change that accompanied the start of this program.

Yesterday, as we reached the end of our class session, I started to say that class was dismissed and that it was time to go. All of them sat still, yelling that they didn’t want to leave. I was touched to see that they enjoyed this class as much as I did, but I didn’t think too much of it. Part of me even thought that they just didn’t want to attend their next class. The atmosphere of the room took a turn when the same girl that had sung on our first day together started to sing another song for me. The rest of the students fell silent and listened. In the middle of the song, her eyes started to well up. I was a bit confused/concerned at first, because I was unsure if the students also knew that this was my last time teaching them. Eventually, she was sobbing and covering her face as her friends crowded around her for comfort. I hugged her as she muttered “…because this is our last class”. As soon as I heard that, my heart broke. It didn’t hit me until that moment. I looked around as more students started to cry. I looked over at Nadia, and I could tell both of us were hit with the same realization. I can’t fully describe the strange combination of sadness, love, pain, and happiness I felt in that moment. I had never realized our students cared that much. I didn’t know to what extent they connected with us during our time teaching them. I started crying along with them and holding my hand over my heart, struggling to express how they were wonderful students that I would miss so, so much. Some were asking if we could come again next year, and I told them I would try my best to visit, though I acknowledged how difficult that would be. More pain settled in as I saw baozi boy and my adorably kind star student holding back tears, while simultaneously trying to maintain a brave face. We all stayed in the auditorium for half an hour over our class time until they had to finally leave for their next class. The rest of the time was spent crying more, hugging, singing, dancing, taking pictures, exchanging WeChats, planning lunches together, and just goofing around.

There have been days where I felt so exhausted and drained that I couldn’t wait to get home to rest. Some days, I found myself getting frustrated in class and letting my smile fade away. These last minutes of class with them reminded me not to take my remaining interactions with my students for granted. Every smile, every gesture, every laugh, and every word of every conversation count now more than ever. I’ll be gone before I know it, and I need to make the most out of these last moments with my new friends 🙂

And yes, I realize that most of my students are taller than me.