Like an outsider entering a tribe, I have spoken with them, shared stories with them – and in return I have been invited to join them.
As I wrap up my final few days here at Dingyuan County, I’ve spent most of my nights accepting invitations to numerous classrooms. Every day I sit to eat lunch, I am gradually bombarded by both old and new students struggling to put the few English words they know together in order to coordinate a sentence that I will understand.
I acknowledge and understand the courage it takes to try to speak with someone in a language that you are not very skilled in, which is why I always smile and nod as they speak, which will encourage them to try to communicate with me. It’s such an experience to have people want to speak with you so badly, but don’t know what words to use.
As I accepted perhaps my 10th invitation to speak to another class, I entered the room and was astonished when I was presented with a gift from all the students. They had all put money together and purchased a Dingyuan High School jacket uniform for me, and had written their names and a wonderful statement about me from front to back.
I had received many gifts during my stay – drinks, candy and chips – but I saw this as more than just a piece of clothing, I saw this as acceptance. I took extra time with this class, making sure to hug every single last student, and thanking them for what they had done for me.
Photos, signing English books and shirts, all this gradually came after talking in front of the class, but I will always cherish my new uniform. There is not a single postcard, magnet or coffee mug in any gift shop throughout all of China that could capture the spirit of China’s loving youth.
I had a breakthrough with one of my students. I’m obviously not going to be able to teach them all perfect English in the two weeks that I’m here, so in my last lesson I encouraged them to travel. I pushed the idea that they have their entire lives to work, and that the best education that they can ever get it by traveling to new places, getting outside their comfort zone and meeting new people. I then gave them sentences in English that they should know when traveling and tips on how to save money while traveling and what things to bring.
One student found me at lunch and was so impressed with what I had said, especially when I told them to always use a paper map. Apparently he also only uses paper maps, and has both traveled in Europe and wants to again after graduating from high school. So, we talked for about an hour, writing down advice and recommending places to visit.
He was very happy and so was I – especially when I discovered a lovely little letter from him on my bedroom door.
“You…you are always so free and happy, but you not fake, you are real! You make me believe that all is possible. You say that life is a adventure, and I believe you!”
For a boy of so few words, he said more than enough. Thank you, Seth.
I had another student approach me in the early morning and invite me out to lunch for the afternoon. Seeing as how I rarely had the opportunity to leave the school, I jumped on the offer. I had expected to take the bus or ride on one of the scooters that many of the students drove to and from campus, but was surprised when the boy had a private driver come and get us.
Noodle shops, desert cafes, and fancy bakeries was not what I anticipated, but the boy certainly made it clear that we were going to have quite a fancy outing. I am not used to having my meals paid for, and for those of you who plan to travel to China, let it be known that if you’re invited out somewhere, you will not pay for anything. It doesn’t matter how many times you offer, it is customary that they treat you, so I recommend you just enjoy it.
Despite how much fun I have had, my program is coming to an end, and I am a bit excited to be free once again. I’m very glad that I spent as much time with these students as I did, because not only was it an exciting time for these students to meet a foreigner for the first time, but it was a life changing experience for me.
You must be patient and interpret much of what they say, but you will find a way to understand one another. Perhaps the constant attention and endless students asking for photos will frustrate you, but try to understand the opportunity that you are giving them. You are leaving a permanent impression upon these young minds, so make it a joyous one that they will always bring a smile to their face when they think of you.
Many people in the SSLP program will be returning home, but I have other plans. There is a place called “Huashan Mountain” that I must go to. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to climb and I intend on putting this claim to the test. With the help of the Chinese students, I was able to book a train and hotel within the area of the mountain.
With only four days until my returning flight home and a handful of Chinese sentences written down, I will travel by myself. I miss living out of my backpack and exploring new places that none of my friends or family would dare go.
I’m not too sure where I am going, but then again, that’s what makes it an adventure, right?
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.