Last year when I stood in front of my freshmen phonetics classes there was a nervous atmosphere. The students reserved and worried, but I had some of those same emotions. I was just arriving in a new country, after all. My time in China was filled with communication failures, social blunders, and mistakes in cultivating professional relationships that would help me get things done (guanxi).
I have a better idea of what to do this year in my classes. China is not new, but a place I've lived for 15 months. The Chinese classroom is also familiar. The students follow a pattern and I hear many of the same questions; their curiosity is similar to that of former freshmen and to that of Chinese citizens in general. While I'm not exactly finishing their sentences for them, I am far more prepared to educate these students than I was 12 months ago.
This makes things easier... and harder.
It makes teaching easier. I know how to reach my students now. I know what they need from me as a foreign teacher, especially when it comes to questions of culture and thinking.
It makes watching administrative mistakes very painful. When a new staff member argues with me or a Dean says that there is no way to book that room I get upset. It hurts when I know there are ways to fix things, but some people are too lazy to make the changes. The situations are related to development and poverty. Once I heard a cook complain to his wife when he had to get up from his table to get me some extra salt. So sorry to put you out! Sheesh. But then, this is common for Peace Corps, and I try to accept it.
Our game club will begin soon. I'm trying to create some interest in a movie club. Maybe we'll get around to having a boy's club. The English department's population is under 10% male students. Maybe they need their own club.
What are all of these clubs, but opportunities to speak English? They aren't much more. Maybe they are a window into American culture, but I am only one person. More likely they are chances for me to learn more about my students, develop relationships, better understand them, and better understand China.
It's 7:09 a.m. My floors are cold this morning - a sign of the impending winter. I have Chinese at 8:15 a.m., then an English class following it at 10.