It’s been a little more than a week, and I don’t even know what to say. Things have been enjoyable yet confusing; rewarding yet exhausting; fun yet stressful.
I guess I’ll start with my living conditions. I’ve attached a picture of my house for you to see. My living partner Kelly and I have kind of middle-of-the-road accommodations: There are others in our team who have it better than we do, but there are also a few who have it worse. We are fortunate to have an air conditioner, wifi, a television, and a shower (though the water pressure isn’t fantastic). Our misfortune is in the realms of laundry and toilets. There is a washing machine, but we have not tried to use it because it appears that the only setting is for a 9 hour wash cycle? Maybe at some point we’ll ask about it, but for the time being, we’re washing clothes by hand. As for our toilet, it’s located in what is more or less a storage shed attached to the house (You can see the blue door at the far left of the photo). The toilet is a hole in the floor covered by a big wooden box, and there is no running water to it, so it’s a bit smelly, as you might imagine. To be honest, I don’t REALLY mind (mostly I’m just glad it’s not a squat toilet lol); what I mind most about it is that we have to go outside to get to it. So if it’s raining or it’s the middle of the night or something like that, it’s not super convenient. But I suppose it could be worse.
Our hosts are really nice though! We live with a Nainai (奶奶 grandma) and Yeye (爷爷 grandpa). They both speak with a heavy Nantong accent, which sometimes makes it hard for even Kelly (a native Chinese speaker) to understand them, but they have been very kind and hospitable to us so far. Nainai cooks dinner for us every night and never lets us help clean up, and one night last week Yeye took us out for dinner. We also have a Shushu (叔叔 uncle) and Ayi (阿姨 aunt) who have a son and a daughter, but they don’t live here with the grandparents, so we rarely see them. They’re really nice too though. Ayi is an English teacher. Shushu often offers to drive us to where we need to go if he’s there when we’re leaving.
I guess the next thing to talk about is school. I’m teaching English at a school in Nantong, Jiangsu Province called Yanbin Primary School (南通市雁滨小学). It takes about 15-20 minutes to walk there from my house. We usually arrive at school around 7:20 or 7:30am and start class about 8:00. We teach until 11:00am with breaks every hour or so and then send the kids home, but they can come back for office hours between 1:00 and 3:00pm if they want to. The school’s principal (校长) is really kind and generous and seems really enthusiastic about hosting us. When we first arrived, he and some other people (who I’m assuming are on the staff at the school?) personally drove us all to our host families’ homes. They also drove us to a supermarket and let us use their memberships to get in, and then waited for us while we did our shopping. Every morning, the school’s staff prepares a good breakfast for us, and they make lunch for us in the afternoon after classes are over. We have access to the teachers’ office, where we can relax, store our teaching materials, and use the desks, computers, and wifi to plan lessons. Nevertheless, our resources are a little limited. Only one classroom in the school has a projector, so it is difficult to show powerpoints, movies, and photos. We also have no access to Google, which can make it hard to search for pictures or for ideas for lessons and games. Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, is available of course, but it doesn’t always yield the most ideal results.
Anyway, my teaching partner Chauncy and I have a class of 20 rising fifth-graders. Our original class list had only 15 students (12 girls and 3 boys!), but three students from the original list haven’t come at all, and we’ve gotten a few new students who weren’t on the original list (so now we have 13 girls and 7 boys). On the first day of class, we gave each student an English name and had them make name tags with their English name on one side and their Chinese name on the other side. Sometimes the hardest thing about teaching them is that I don’t know what they’ve learned already and what they haven’t, and even if they have learned it before, can they just read the words, or can they actually use them? But we’re doing our best to teach them as much as possible while keeping them engaged. It’s fun but really exhausting; I’m rarely around kids, so I forgot how much energy they have and I don’t always know what they will and won’t like. They’re cute though, and they seem to like Chauncy and me (some of the girls are particularly fascinated by my hair). This week, we’re going to speak English more and try to translate less. Even though they’re young, I think they’re capable of more English than they want to admit, and I want to push them and encourage them so they can build confidence and continue learning successfully after I leave.