Wǒ bù zhīdào, which means “I don’t know”, is one of the first Chinese phrases I’ve learned, but it also sums up many of my feelings on a daily basis. What are the students saying about me when they speak to each other in Chinese during class? I don’t know. What are my peers saying when they relay instructions in Chinese? I don’t know. What are my host parents trying to say to me and how do I communicate with them? I don’t know. How well are the students going to understand and participate in my activities each day? I don’t know. How exactly will each day play out? I don’t know. Not knowing things can be scary. I like figuring out detailed plans and being aware of what is going on around me because uncertainty makes me uncomfortable. But, every day here is filled with surprises, and I struggle with the language barrier, so I constantly feel on edge because I don’t know what is going on-or, at least, I don’t know as much as I would like. I prepare as much as I can, but I can’t prepare for everything.
We moved in with our host families this week. I was initially scared because I did not know what they would think of me, how I would communicate with them, and what it would be like to live with a new family, away from the other members of my DukeEngage team. However, as soon as I met my host family, I felt welcomed into their home. I was amazed at their hospitality and willingness to offer so much to me, a stranger who doesn’t speak their native language. I often feel embarrassed because I don’t feel that I have done enough to deserve such generous treatment. My host sister, Wendy, speaks very good English and is always willing to help translate for me. She is extremely energetic and outgoing, and she can always put a smile on my face even when I’m feeling exhausted from a busy day of teaching. Although her enthusiasm can sometimes wear me down because it is too much energy for me to handle, I’m glad that she is so willing to talk to me and befriend me.
This week was also our first week teaching extracurriculars. I didn’t know how to begin teaching acting because I didn’t know much about acting. I was in musicals when I was in middle school, but I never took acting classes since I am so shy. Yet, Monday afternoon, I found myself standing in front of a class of students, encouraging them to not be shy. The first acting class went better than I could have expected. The students came up with good skits for random scenarios I gave them (in a charades type game), and they were all willing to participate which I was happy about.
Teaching English became easier this week as I got accustomed to the rhythm and format of the classes. When I first started teaching, I had no idea what to do, how to explain English, or what would keep the kids engaged. Now, I have a little bit of a better idea of how to teach the students while making sure they have fun too. There is always some aspect of improvisation as the students’ behavior varies from day to day, but I think I’m getting better at adapting.
What exactly is going to happen during the rest of my time in Zhuhai? I don’t know, but I’m realizing that hey, it’s ok not knowing.