An American Teacher’s Take on Changsha

October 15, 2015
china, china featured
An American Teacher's Take on Changsha

This year, I will be working as an English teacher at Liuyang Tianjiabing Middle School in China. Although I will be an English teacher, the truth is, I am simply a native and colloquial English-speaking college graduate with no higher degree or certificate specializing in the English language.  Through WorldTeach, I have undergone intensive training that has crammed in as much useful information as possible during our three-week orientation and practicum.

But, why China? Why teach? Why now? I have a passion for traveling and exposing myself to the unfamiliar. During my first few weeks in Changsha, China, here’s what has stood out to me:

No Culture Shock

Though China is dramatically different from the United States, I have not found it terribly difficult to adapt to living here. Perhaps my past travel experiences have made me aware and prepared for the unexpected. Or, perhaps I have not been here long enough for the culture shock to set in.

There are a few differences though that will take some getting used to. For instance, in China pedestrians do not have the right away. Pedestrians must wait for cars, and trust me, cars will not wait for pedestrians. Another noticeable difference is that young children will openly pee in the street. In fact, they will often wear a one-piece outfit with an opening in the crotch area so that they can just squat or stand, and go. Efficient? Possibly. Clean? Not so much.

Extremely Kind People

So far I have found the Chinese people to be very kind. Their kindness may be amplified by the fact that I am a foreigner and there are few foreigners in Changsha, the city where I am currently training.

It has been a challenge to not be able to speak Chinese. I am taking Chinese lessons, but it is a difficult language to learn and I am only able to say very basic things, such as “How much does it cost?” or  “Duo shuo quien?” Part of what makes Chinese such a difficult language to learn is that Chinese words have tones. There may be five different meanings for the word shui, but the only way to differentiate between the five words is by using different tones when pronouncing shui. Chinese is a musical language.

In addition to my poor Chinese, few people over the age 20 are able to speak English here. Despite these hindrances, locals do not act frustrated or impatient when I struggle to spit out the few Chinese words that I am able to say. Rather they seem impressed with the effort and smile encouragingly.

Incredibly Spicy Food

The weather is extremely hot and humid this time of year, so the people of Changsha eat and cook very spicy foods to trigger their sweat glands and cool off. I have gotten used to the spice for the most part now, but I still stay away from red peppers. I’ve eaten lots of cooked vegetables, cooked pork, beef, chicken, tofu, rice, dumplings, and some other things that I am unable to identify. So far, I really like about 75% of the foods I’ve tried. I do miss desserts and junk food from the U.S. The dessert selection here is limited, but that is probably for the better.

Teenagers Act Like Children

Something interesting that I’ve noticed about the students here is that for 16 year-olds, they act very young. There is no doubt that they are extremely intelligent and with the rigorous courses that they endure, it is no wonder why they are so clever. Maturity-wise though, a 16 year-old here acts similar to a 12-year-old in the United States. It is kind of humorous. I don’t mind this though, because rather than feeling only six years older than my students, I feel about 10 years older.

And another bonus? Our students treat us like celebrities, complimenting us, asking to take pictures with us, giving us little gifts, and even asking for our signatures–no exaggeration. So, if you want to build your self-esteem, take a trip to China.

Photo credit: Jakob Montrasio

About Kirsten Bates

AvatarKirsten is currently keeping a blog on the site WordPress of her experiences in China. She graduated from the College of St. Benedict this past December with a major in Biology and a minor in Communication. She worked seven months at an Architect/Engineering firm in Minnesota before joining the program WorldTeach. She has past experience traveling as she studied abroad in Italy and Greece. She also traveled to many other countries in Europe. This is her first time traveling in China. For her, the experience is different, to say the least.

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