So there I was, writing my second draft for a college application essay. I knew that it had a 1000 character maximum (CHARACTER, not word), and that I was re-writing the essay because I had created an 800-word monstrosity about my time in the Air Force. But as sometimes happens, I got a little carried away and ended up writing 711 words, or 3507 characters. Sigh.
On the plus side, in my meandering essay about my job here in Tianjin, I sort of figured out what I want to achieve by teaching here. That’s kind of a big deal.
I’m inserting what I wrote here, not because I’m trying to be pretentious. It just really came as a light bulb moment and I’m excited about it, OK? OK. Note that it is somewhat edited to take out the boring introductory bit and anything that might imply I’ve broken any part of my contract here in China. I understand if you feel like this is all tl;dr. I’ll be posting some more pictures of Beijing next time 🙂
Since I had already visited China a few months earlier, the initial adjustment to life here was relatively simple. I already knew how to push my way onto the bus and how to navigate squat toilets. I’ve found that the most difficulty came a couple of months later, when homesickness started to settle in and I just really wanted a Chipotle burrito. Still, if my biggest complaint about daily life is the unfortunate lack of Mexican food, things are going well.
Initially, I found my work at the university to be overwhelming. I didn’t receive any direction from the English department, and the textbooks for my classes were next to useless. The first few weeks were rough, as I figured out my teaching style and the best places to find classroom resources. In my business reading class, I avoided using the textbook and instead printed off news articles from the internet. I thought that these not only have higher-level English vocabulary dealing with the economy and business, but it was an opportunity for my students to learn about the world (and not from a Chinese government-controlled news source).
My oral English topics have covered the mundane and the more serious, from shopping and movies to the 2012 presidential election and gun control. I’ve learned that Star Wars never quite made it to China, that girls here share the same inexplicable fascination with Twilight, and that death metal isn’t music to young Chinese ears. It’s been a lot of fun sharing slang, popular Youtube videos, and how exactly to use all those swear words they hear in the movies.
However, as I learned early on in one of my classes, certain “sensitive” topics are best avoided–talking about the recent controversy over the Diaoyu Islands with my students led to the class leader politely, and then more forcibly, suggesting we find a new topic of discussion. Tibet is only a tourist destination, the One Child Policy is for the greater good, and internet censorship is nothing to worry about.
I don’t think it’s my job to fill in holes in my students’ history education. I’m also not here to look down on their culture or lord my knowledge over them. But I do want my students to understand that they see the world through a red prism–that their access to information is limited, and that the balance of personal freedom and the collective good isn’t as simple as their government portrays. In short, I want my students to learn how to think for themselves, to question, and to always strive for more.
I’m not an especially political person. I usually avoid heated political debates, because the discussion invariably turns into an argument, complete with finger-pointing, truth-bending, and neither side willing to compromise. But living in a Communist country has made me realize how honest, cooperative discussion aimed at collaboration is invaluable and the key to lasting political progress. Although this type of discussion is rare in America, it is altogether absent in China.
So if my students learn one thing from my year teaching here in Tianjin, I hope they learn to be more open-minded and aware. While I understand that China has serious limitations on free speech, this doesn’t negate peoples’ freedom to think. The government may control their expression, but it’s incapable of controlling their spirit to learn and grow. If over the course of this year my students become slightly more tolerant, discerning, and ambitious young adults, my job here is done.
That’s all. Thanks for reading if you made it this far.