Mosquitos. Everything and everyone is covered in mosquitos here, ha. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but certainly something that I took note of the second that I entered my dorm.
Air-conditioners had been recently installed, so the doors and windows of my dorm were wide open, inviting all insects who wish to come and relax upon the walls of my home for the next two weeks.
Word of advice: If your bed has a mosquito net provided, make sure to tuck the net under your mattress, because as you sleep, these insects have all night to find a way to crawl into bed with you. And trust me, they will find a way if you leave them the opportunity.
After awakening to what appeared to be a chickenpox pattern of bug bites all over my legs and playing an insect version of whack-a-mole, I decided to enter the cafeteria for lunch. Here at Dingyuan high school, there is a large variety of food that you can choose from. Whether it is noodled soups, hand sandwiches, beefs or vegetables, they have it all, and full plates for less and $2.
Also, yes, it tastes good.
Inside of the cafeteria there is a small convenience store that provides the essentials for students, as well as numerous snacks, drinks and school supplies. Unfortunately, the school is isolated from any neighboring towns, so unless you want to spend 30-45 minutes, you can just get what you need at school.
Many of the people in my group would get lunch before all the students would arrive, but I chose to wait until the lunch bell rang, that way I could get a better idea of who attended the school and perhaps meet new people. As the students flooded the cafeteria, my presence was quickly noticed as some students would actually stop walking and point toward me as they stared and spoke to their friends.
I sat at the at a table by myself as students would walk past me, some walking up to me, but then quickly losing confidence and turn around as they ran back to whence they came. I would smile and say hello to anyone I caught looking at me, their face would quickly shift from startled to happy as a big smile would spread across their face and say, hello, back.
Suddenly a boy, perhaps 16 years old, came up from behind me and placed a juice box next to my plate of food, nervously said hello, and then ran off to a table of other boys. It is moments like these that you need to take advantage of the opportunities that open up to you. I quickly gathered my items and walked over to join the boy and his friends at their lunch table.
As I approached, they all scooted aside, making it clear to me that they had an open seat for me. “Thank you for the drink,” I said, as I sat across from the boy who had gifted it from me. He stared at me with a struggle upon his face, as if in deep thought, but then said, “You…you are welcome. Can… speak Chinese?” I spoke very slowly to them all as their questions came, always smiling and encouraging them as they struggled to find ways to communicate with me.
My name, where I was from, why I was here, all sorts of questions were given to me. It’s an entirely different sensation of communication when most of the people don’t understand you, but they fight to find the right words to say. As I spoke with them, many other students from neighboring tables gathered around us, listening to what I had to say.
As lunch ended, I was invited to come to their class, and of course I agreed. As I entered the large building, many students on the higher floors would point and yell, “Hello!” and I would wave to them. Walking through the aisles of classes full of students, many would slam through their classroom doors to see me. Saying hi, waving at me, or asking for a photo.
It was almost overwhelming, almost as if I was a celebrity among my fans.
Once I entered the room, everyone looked at me in awe as I walked to the front of the class. The room was soon filled with students, some most likely from different classes, quickly finding seats and the room suddenly a still silence. “…Um, hi. My name is Robby.” I spoke very slowly as I stood in front of them all, not exactly sure as to what I was supposed to say or do.
This wasn’t my class and I didn’t see the teacher, but I put those thoughts aside began to talk about myself. Some students would ask about America, but only after working away their shyness. Whenever I would approach a student ,they would blush bright red.
I soon grabbed my flash-drive and showed them photos of my 6 week adventure across Europe, their eyes wide as they stared at these parts of the world that they never knew of. Norway, Italy, London, all of my favorite photos were put on display. I told them all that you can read and write for years, but traveling is the best education that I ever received, and that they should do the same.
By becoming an adventurer, you also become a storyteller and an inspiration to others.
After almost a hour and a half of talking, I decided it was time to go. As I said my farewells, I reassured them that it was okay to come talk to me if they saw me walking by, and if they wanted a photo to never be afraid to ask. This soon caused a domino affect as everyone began to request a photo with me. Individually, in groups, signing my name in their English book, or writing advice for them in their notebooks.
This was all something that I did not anticipate while coming here, and as a result, I am invited to a classroom every evening throughout the week that I have been here. As I walk to the classes that I must teach, I hear students call my name from across the basketball field, inviting me to play, and others who wish for me to join them for lunch.
It is a wonderful feeling to have so many people interested in talking to you, and I hope that by reading this, maybe you’re interested in trying this out too.
A few days into my stay I was finally given my itinerary for the classes that I was supposed to teach. Sixteen classes all together, with three different lesson plans that I must create. My lessons have varied between the students introducing themselves in English, and learning useful sentences and phrases for traveling, such as “where is the train-station?”
I found that body language has been very useful in explaining the meaning of words, for example, I had a students turn around and fall into my arms. This is how I taught them the word “trust.” You have to be expressive when talking to these students, because otherwise, they will only stare and nod at you.
While students are off playing sports during their breaks, I observed their classrooms, and I’m astonished with how much material that they must study. Books and worksheets are stacked up all around their desks. They are in their classes from 8 am to 10 pm, with only small breaks to play or eat in between. If you decide to take part in the summer service learning program (SSLP), make sure to interact with these students, to break their regimen of normality, and bring a smile to their face.
I learned that I am the first foreigner that these students have ever met, and spending time with me means a lot to them. There is a language barrier, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to laugh and communicate. The people I’ve met are very friendly, and want to learn all about you, where you come from, and what you know.
Be part of the education!
Robby Sanders Good is majoring in communication with a minor in international studies. He is travelling to China for a month this summer to teach English.