When I arrived in Longzhou there were only a few days to get settled before the semester would begin. On Friday Millie brought Kyle and me over to see the Foreign Language department, Thai and Vietnamese were also popular majors at the school. After some back and forth with the vice-dean she turned and told us that our class schedule had not been decided yet. When Millie turned back to ask about a few other things, Kyle let me know that this was pretty typical and I shouldn’t worry about it.
It was my first insight into how things really work in China, in all actuality very few things are planned ahead, and I’m sure this will be the topic of a future post.
We didn’t end up getting our schedules until late Sunday evening, it didn’t matter though, I had figured that it didn’t really matter what subject I was teaching, the first day of class is always pretty much the same. I planned on a few simple activities to help break the ice, but that was tough because I had no idea what their level of English was. It wasn’t until late Sunday night that I felt ready for the next day.
I arrived 15 minutes early to my first class. The students were still reading from their textbook in unison, this is common on every Chinese campus. I was surprised, the entire class was girls, and they stopped chanting when I walked through the door, 34 pairs of almond-shaped brown eyes were fixed on me. I moved quickly behind the podium as if it would somehow hide me from them. It was set on the middle of an ever so slightly raised cement stage, with a large dusty chalkboard behind it. The class room had rows of fixed desks, with a pair of students grinning behind each one. The class giggled nervously and erupted in whispers as I sorted out my materials and tried to brace myself for the first lesson.
I glanced at the alarm clock that I had set on the flimsy podium. Kyle had told me to bring it, since there were no other clocks in the building. I started writing on the board before the bell rang. It’s somewhat unnerving to turn your back and hear more talking, and since it was in the local dialect I couldn’t understand what it was they were saying, but I was sure it was about me.
Finally the bell rang to start class and they slammed their books shut and waited eagerly to finally hear me speak. I briefly introduced myself before I started asking them some questions. It was at that moment I realized two things. One being that their level of English was much lower than I had expected, and I needed to slow down my speech. The other being that it was going to be awkward teaching a class full of girls, whose maturity seemed to have stopped developing in middle school.
The first period went smoothly. I had written questions about myself on the board, and they were supposed to guess the answers. They thought I was from a big family, since American’s can have as many children as they want. A few of them guessed that I was 30 years old, I was 21 at the time but my patchy beard somehow made me look older to them. I also told them that I could speak Chinese but wouldn’t show it, which had the pleasant result of making them a bit uneasy.
Everything was going fine until the break…