(Editor’s Note: Over the next months Olivia Wolf will be sending dispatches from China about her adventures as an expat in the Princeton in Asia program)
I’ve only been living in Jishou, China for two weeks, but it feels like half a lifetime since I was steaming macchiatos in Portland, Oregon. (I know, what a cliche!)
Though I am still waiting to begin my new position as an English teacher, my co-fellow’s students were kind enough to wish me a Happy Teachers’ Day on Monday.
I have to say, I am so lucky to have Anna as my wonderful colleague and guide to all things Jishou. As a second-year PiAer (Princeton in Asia), Anna has returned with a wealth of experience to pass down.
To begin with, she invited me to several of her classes to observe lessons and get a feel for the school’s environment.
What’s funny is that before I arrived here, I felt an underlying desire to be a “better” teacher than past fellows. However, after a few days of staring at my blank outline for the semester, I began to realize how little I knew about running a class. Moreover, after seeing how well Anna structured her lessons and engaged with students, I began to realize how much I truly have to learn from her.
Outside of class, I have also been attempting to involve myself in the school community. Eating dinner with students and faculty, wandering into a piano building reminiscent of The Secret Garden, and signing up for yoga club have all been helpful ways to branch out of my comfort zone (my first-year Chinese teacher who also happened to do PiA has advised me to “be bold” during my time here).
Apart from work, Anna and I have also ventured to the Ancient City, to scenic hiking trails in the surrounding mountains, and to top-notch hot pot restaurants.
Last Saturday, on one of my favorite excursions, we joined one of her friends for a barbecue on the water. Though I felt a little strange at first because we were crashing her friend’s work party, everyone was very welcoming–especially after a few beers. We played a drinking game called “Ling Ling Qi” (007) and ended the evening with rounds of baijiu (a Chinese liquor that no one seemed to like the taste of).
Besides that work party and the time when I was lost for a few hours by the park, Jishou has been relatively easy to navigate. I walked downtown the other night to KFC for a chicken sandwich and mango-vanilla soft serve (Chinese KFC > American KFC). Then today, I walked just a couple blocks from campus for a piano lesson.
One thing that I both love and continuously complain to Anna about is that our living quarters have hosted generations of PiA fellows. The lived-in feel of the apartment was comforting at first, and it’s interesting to look through past lesson plans and students’ work (some of their poetry is outstanding). However, I also arrived to half-filled cups of Coca-Cola, clogged shower drains, and toilets that hadn’t been cleaned all summer. I’ve begun a slow, deep cleaning process, which has actually been quite satisfying.
I am relieved to say that my former feelings of dread have now passed. If anything, I feel slightly anxious about my first day of teaching. I also have a newfound sympathy for those first-time teachers in high school who were obviously in tears by the end of class.
But for now, I’m looking forward to enjoying this last unstructured week of summer.
My personal goals are as follows: swim at a waterfall, hike Zhangjiajie, eat barbecue by the river.
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