It's been a couple months from my return from Beijing, where I taught English as a foreign language to Chinese kids and teens. The year in China has been so educational for me, and I am still processing all of the lessons about teaching kids, and outside of work my family history and culture. Many of my colleagues saw how hard-working I was, but I did come up against challenges, such as being thrown classes that were leftover from teachers who left, or parents preferring to see a Caucasian, more American-looking teacher. I also got a chance to teach our academy students in the public school building. The Chinese educational system is so different. Teachers can be very strict on their students, because that is what is expected in the Chinese school system. Parents sacrificed a lot to bring their children to our international private training academy, but their parents desperately wanted them to learn English to give a fighting chance for their kids' future.
Our school was a Western institution, but Chinese-run. We had a Canadian director of studies but we also had a Chinese center director. Half of the teachers we co-taught with were Chinese locals, (some who didn't know the English language very well). We had a close-knit dynamic at the center. Teachers were crammed in a working office, and sharing classrooms, and having various groups of students. We co-taught with the Chinese locals. It was very collaborative, and teacher meetings were so fun, yet sometimes dramatic and political. I learned through that experience that I am definitely a team-player, and that I enjoyed teaching in creative ways to kids who knew no English, because learning a language can be so fun! So can brushing up on a language (which is what I did in my spare time, with Mandarin Chinese).
I was surprised that kids in Beijing had a full schedule of dancing, piano lessons, Chinese calligraphy, etc. in addition to all their academic subjects. The emphasis on sports, arts, and music was something that I didn't really know about before. I saw parents training their 4-year-olds to ride a bike. (By the way, being a biker in Beijing was so much fun, traffic laws that we follow here are opposite...the faster transportation has the right of way.)
I noticed that so many kids had many brothers or sisters, especially if the first few children were girls. Parents are extremely traditional and I might dare to say superstitious about their family heritage. Many couples seemed to be frantically getting married and ready to have kids for the Dragon year, the lucky year to be born. Around Chinese new year, the fireworks were going off nonstop for at least 2 weeks. They call it Spring Festival, a time where people living and working in Beijing go home to see their families and give the children red envelopes. For people who didn't make very much money, this was a desperate time for them, and the weeks leading up to Spring Festival were frantic and bustling, with crafty street vendors lurking on every corner trying to lure people to pay this or that. Pick-pocketing was rampant, and mobs on the subway would set up to prey on people.
I will miss my Beijing friends, and the local Chinese people who really looked out for me, and reminded me to stay safe in the crowds of Beijing. When I left on the taxi of Beijing I felt overwhelmed with sadness as I will miss the time, but mostly the people in Beijing.