June marks the end of my first year of university teaching. As I reflect on my time in a semi-rural Chinese city, I realize I experienced a lot of firsts: my first months in China, first time working with university students, and my first time taking on Mandarin (Chinese language). Below, I will discuss some of the hi-lights of the past few months with a brief look at my new city, Hangzhou.
University teaching comes with its own forms of teaching techniques and strategies. My greatest challenge this year was getting some meaningful information through to my students, while working with very low English comprehension levels. My personal goal was to help them think about English language and culture in a new and exciting way. I attempted to do this through classroom activities that would introduce them to sub cultures influenced by English language, while enforcing the vocabulary and linguistic mechanics of each respective unit.
I was pleased to see that some students clearly had a good grasp of what was going on. These students tried to help the other learners along, which was great to see. Collectivist culture was something my students helped me learn more about. It was always important to them that their classmates could follow along, that they were excused from class when they were absent, and so on. This attitude is far different from American individualistic society. It was a good reminder that individualist and collective societies have their pros and cons.
Outside of school, I met a handful of very helpful locals who spoke English. These folks ranged from doctors to entrepreneurs, and I certainly wouldn’t have fared as well without their help. Ironically, I always seem to meet people who help me along the way right as I’m about to move to a new place!
Aside from the food and local atmosphere, the best trait of Henan Province has got to be its people, with their friendly smiles and curious demeanors. Not a day went by that I didn’t hear firecrackers, traditional Chinese music, or the laughter of children outside my apartment window. Towards the close of second semester, the weather began to warm up, which meant more time for outdoor activities. Who needs an alarm clock when you have students bouncing basketballs outside your window at 7:00am on Saturday mornings? There was never a shortage of activities going on with the locals and university students.
Now that I have moved to Hangzhou, I am looking forward to the opportunities this tier-2 city will bring. Having been here a little more than a week, I have already met some of the foreign teachers and administration. Like Xuchang, everyone here is friendly, pleasant, and easygoing. There are a thousand things to do here in Northern Hangzhou, and there seem two a thousand more in the touristy area in Southern Hangzhou. While I have not been to the West Lake yet, it should be great fun to ride one of the many public bikes along the bike paths, discover some of the tea shops, and eat West Lake fish.
The summer is well underway here, and my bones are clamoring for adventure. I’m thankful for Xuchang, my first Chinese city. And I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time in Hangzhou and learning more about Chinese culture.