February 1st, 2010
This Saturday evening was my first class. I was told I would be working Friday night and it wasn’t until I arrived on Saturday that I had any idea what I was doing. However, it was great to start working and to finally feel like I had a purpose in being here. The class has about 15 students and is broken into three smaller groups, each one having a teaching assistant. For the first class I ran through some simple questions like “where are you from” and “what are your hobbies” in an attempt to get them talking.
The students are bright eyed and curious. In the small conversational groups I found them very forthcoming. They are not as shy as I had expected and tell me about their families and their hopes and dreams.
It’s funny the number of them that want to study accounting or finance. I even talked to one bright eyed sixteen year old girl who told me she dreamed of going to Calgary and working in oil exploration. Strange dream I thought. It seems she might have gotten this dream somewhere else, I can see two stern faced parents looming in the background. I realize now though that I will never be able to understand the sense of pressure these only children feel in an intensely competitive country. Book stores are jam packed full of study guides rather than novels. And kids and their parents clamber to buy the newest edition that will give their kids the competitive edge. And English classes are much the same. Studying is about survival rather than enjoyment. Students here work incredibly long days, starting early at 8 in the morning and not returning until late in the evening, some as late as 9 o’clock. For the wealthier students, all free time is crammed full of extra English classes at New Oriental. It seems like madness to me, but with so many Chinese there are never enough places in the universities not to mention the best universities.
I can’t imagine growing up with that incredible sense of anxiety. Thinking about it I feel so guilty. My life was handed to me on a silver platter and I complained because I didn’t think it was polished enough. The worst is when I meet Chinese who ask me if I have ever traveled. They themselves have never left China and dream of visiting just one Western country. I feel gluttonous and cringe as I tell them I’ve been to almost thirty countries. Before I let that sink in, I quickly tell them that many of the countries I visited had smaller populations than the city of Wuhan. And I believe that it would take a lifetime of travel to see all the interesting spots in China. And that lifetime begins today.