- Pleasant surprises: Despite having read about how Chinese-Americans in China are met with "a mix of admiration and scorn" I've found that a good number of people seem open to me being an American of Chinese descent. It probably helps that I speak some Chinese and can say that I'm American and I studied some standard Chinese though.
- The students. Creative kids, really sweet, really smart.
- How open the other teachers have been. And the teachers at my school have surprised in wonderful ways as well. For the most part, Chinese teachers just read or lecture (from what I understand) but my colleagues have shown a real effort to help me get better and have surprised me with their variety of methods.
- Finding that my kids actually really love my class and are very happy to see me every week.
- Chinese food. The variety, the taste, the textures. There's no way I can cover everything available in Zhuzhou alone but going out around the train station at night when all the booths are set up with their goods is incredible.
- Despite the air quality on some days, I do like Zhuzhou. It's relatively clean, has a lot going on, is pretty well connected to other parts of China through its trains and does feel different from Changsha which at times was too much for me.
And now some of the tougher things:
- How aware people are when it comes to physical differences. I'm used to people being confused by my face wherever I go, but here in China the way people act around me varies. Most of the time, I'm any other Chinese person. Sometimes I'll get on a bus and have people staring at me for a while before asking about Xinjiang. I look just similar enough but just different enough that people seem to think I'm a Uyghur. Physical appearance can change how people treat you anywhere, but here in China I notice that some of my obviously non-Chinese friends have become used to being treated in a way that I am not ("Why aren't people trying to aggressively help us? Oh, we're foreigners they'll like us...").
- We found out that other teachers have been telling our liaison to sit with us at lunch so they don't have to talk to us. It stung to think of how we both came here wanting to do a job, meet new people, see something different...and that it wasn't wholly reciprocated. But I may have lost sight of those who have clearly made an effort to be available to us for questions and who do want to practice what they know. As I mentioned in a post before, I shared some chocolate that I got for my birthday and they shared food with me in return. They were getting ready to rest, but one of the teachers who shares two classes with me gave me an apple, some tea, and let me see what the kids do in his class and some of the ID cards he had them make so he'd know them better.
- I heard a conversation once about how the US caters too much. I don't really remember how it got started, but I do remember feeling it wasn't really fair. I may not be the most informed person on these matters, but I can say that I'm a foreign teacher here who was told I needed two basic qualifications for this job: a college degree and fluency in English. No Chinese required, a liaison will be provided to help you with legal and official matters and to keep you up to date with what happens at the school. Arguably, the world caters to the US. I can't think of a position with equivalent requirement in the US, though maybe I haven't looked far enough. I feel like simply due to English as a language for business there are more opportunities for English speakers to simply jump in and be viewed as a special resource in places around the world in a way that native speakers of other languages wouldn't be. In this sense, I understand the very practical need for students to have more opportunities to practice with me but I can't complain about catering to others who have immigrated to the US and use non-English services.
- Speaking of catering and privileges, what lead me to realize I was a very good fit and had many things to offer in this position was when I could say that I was a highly privileged person with unique experiences. Instead of being in denial of my privilege or feeling guilty about the things I couldn't promise to everyone who lives on this world, I was able to say I am highly privileged to have lived the life I have and have the skills that I do. And that acceptance in turn lead me to realize that even if I couldn't share everything I had or all my experiences, I could share myself and by extension, the way of thinking and understanding that came from these experiences. It sounds like bragging and it feels like bragging to me but it's a better stance than the previous guilt or denial I used to encounter in discussions around privilege.
- Europe made me see all the ways in which I am very American. Especially as the only one who wandered in Lugano wearing jeans and a t-shirt. China has left me asking questions again, though perhaps not in the overwhelming way it felt when I was in college and I found so many things that opened my eyes and made me think differently. It's in all the little things I see and hear. The nonverbal cues I pick up and the gestures I use. The importance of relationships and the way that these relationships weave themselves into how things work here in China. At times, it makes it hard to separate myself from the observations other volunteers make when they talk about Chinese people. I always have to remember that I am different from the Chinese people who have lived here their whole lives whenever I hear the things others say while simultaneously catching myself nodding my head like my colleagues as a natural response to hearing others speak. And sometimes it's me feeling that I've come away with an incredible prize because 30 yuan here gets me a whole duck (head to feet), pancakes, sauce, and three or four onion sticks while I sometimes run into foreigners saying "It's better not to ask which part of the animal this is".
I am where I need to be now I suppose though.