Our first full week in Zhuhai, and our first week with our host families has passed quickly, and life has settled into somewhat of a routine. As I write this, I sit in the second-floor bubble tea shop with the sounds of the street filtering in from below. Boba shops have become one of our favorite haunts, just as they are for many No. 9 students. Already, two girls, giggling and clumsy, have come to introduce themselves and take a picture with us. (Lest my ego become too big, they ask for our names).
Life with my host family is relatively quiet in comparison to what I’ve heard from others. During the week, it’s only my host mother, host sister, and myself, and my host mother doesn’t ply me with food or take me out to tour the city (yet). But as I haven’t experienced since I was in elementary school, she cooks breakfast for me every day, prepares dinner each night, and hangs my laundry if I forget to do it. They won’t let me lift a finger to help. But slowly, I’m making progress—my host mother now lets me bring my bowl to the sink. The comfort of being taken care of is something I had almost forgotten, and over the past week, I’ve caught myself calling my host family’s apartment home.
The first few days in the home were a little awkward. We were all silent over the dinner table, and both my host sister and I retreated to our rooms after dinner—she for the homework she had to do, and myself just to escape the atmosphere. My host sister remains shy, but she’s slowly opening up; she now asks me what I’ve been doing all day, and sits down to talk to me after a long day. Our still-cool relationship is partially my fault. I often leave in the evenings to do things with the other Duke students, and have spent the weekend with them instead of my host family. I hope that given a little more time, we will become closer, and I want to spend more time with her next week.
We’ve established a rhythm at Zhuhai No. 9. There are still plenty of visitors to our office and clapping when we enter classrooms, but the visitors are mostly familiar faces now and they no longer scream when they glimpse us from the window. Previous years have warned us that No. 9 students are a little shy, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all. This year’s students are incredibly energetic and very friendly to the Duke students. Generally, they listen to us in the classroom as well. I have only had a couple troublemakers, and the issues were easily resolved. And after some initial disagreements over how to teach, our team has come to an agreement over lesson material each week.
Perhaps the most stressful part of the week, however, was teaching extracurriculars. Film and baseball—my assigned subjects—were both areas I knew nothing about, and the film class had over sixty students at first. While I had teaching experience, I had never taught in a classroom with that many kids. The first day of film was chaotic as expected. It took almost fifteen minutes just to complete roll call and find everybody chairs (we were short about fifteen), and when we finally did start teaching material, I struggled to explain the material in Chinese. As the Chinese speaker out of the two of us teaching the class, I felt that it was my responsibility to translate for the students, but I lacked the vocabulary to do so. When students snickered at my awkward phrasing and frequent pauses, I realized that I had always taken my ability to express myself for granted. The first day of baseball, and the second day of film went much better because I had a better idea of what to expect.
So much has happened in the last week, yet it all feels like it’s passing by too quickly. I’ve begun keeping a daily journal of everything that has happened. I don’t want to forget a single thing, but already, I find myself referring back to it to figure out what I was doing even a day ago.