Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Campus Newspaper

This is a university campus; of course there is a newspaper. It comes out monthly. I’ve seen copies of it floating around and have even been given copies of it. It seems to be a nice publication: red banner headline, nice pictures, and presumably great stories. Presumably, because they are all in Chinese and I’m not that good at reading Chinese yet. However, judging by the veracity that students and faculty alike display in reading it, the stories must be good. Surely they are not just looking at it for the pictures… like I do.

There are two reasons why, of late, I’ve become interested in the campus newspaper, and they are both self-aggrandizing. The first reason is that I will be featured in the next edition because of the Teacher’s Seminars I have been hosting for the past few weeks. There will be a write up and a picture, which will certainly make its way into this blog. The second reason is that I have been asked to contribute an article to this school year’s final edition. It will be translated in Chinese of course, but you don’t need that courtesy. So, without further ado, here is the article that I presented for publication in the year’s last edition of the campus newspaper:

A Year in China

China is where I wanted to be. Maybe not in Wuhan, but Wuhan was the chance presented to me and I took it. Except for the dust and the temperatures I have had no reason at all to regret my decision to come here.

It didn’t feel that way at first. Like many of the students coming to this campus for the first time I looked around and wondered what sort of situation I had gotten myself into. I had abandoned a good job in America where I had professional respect, good pay and easy work. I had abandoned my friends and my family. I had abandoned guaranteed social security. I had abandoned my comfortable life to come… here???

Many students describe our school as an ugly old woman with a beautiful heart. That might be a cruel description but in many ways it is apt. Unlike Wuhan University, people would not pay 5Yuan to tour our campus. Unlike Wuhan University for Communications we do not have a lake, a boat and new buildings. Unlike all of the other universities in Wuhan, our school has heart and soul that, sooner or later compels each person here to loyalty and love for this institution.

I had preconceived notions of what teaching in China would be like based on what I read on the Internet from other teachers. I had an idea of what living in China would be like based on what I knew of China, what I had seen in movies and by firsthand experience of visiting. None of my preconceived ideas were correct.

For example: I was not prepared for the loneliness I felt the first few months of living here. Everybody did their best to make me feel welcome and included but, being one of two foreigners in this entire campus and this entire neighborhood was a very hard burden to bear. I was not prepared for that burden to be so heavy. It nearly sent me running back to America.

I was not prepared for the confusion. As a first time teacher I had hoped for a little guidance, or some direction. Maybe even a little bit of supervision. And then I realized that the school officials trusted me to do a good job and felt that I didn’t need to be supervised so closely. It took me a long time to get used to having that level of trust, and even longer to accept this great gift.

So many things nearly sent me running back to America those first few months! Most of them were ideas that I thought were going to be true, but in the end disappointed me. Fortunately, many more things kept me here. Like…

My students: I have never met a group of people that I instantly liked and wanted to be around. I have never had the opportunity to work with such intelligent, optimistic minds who carry the weight of the future on their shoulders with such grace while living with such verve.

My fellow teachers: although it took us a while, we finally found our common ground and started enjoying our relationship. Together we have found professional respect as well as enduring friendship.

Our school administrators: until I came to this school I thought administrators such as these only exist in books and movies. Our school administrators have done everything they can and have gone beyond what is necessary to ensure my comfort, safety and happiness while working in their school. Any request I made was quickly satisfied, usually to a much greater degree than I hoped for.

The fact is that, working in this school is my dream come true. It is not the dream I thought it would be at first, but it is a much clearer, much better reality than my simple, unformed dream was. How many people actually get to live their dream?

Now, with just weeks before semester’s end I walk around campus. Here and there students shout their greetings, some even walk a ways with me. As we walk together in the evening air I feel the muted beat of our school’s beautiful heart; the beat that unites teacher and student alike in our love for our ugly old woman. I look up toward Building 2, where I held my very first class. The setting sun reflects from the window of my former classroom.

I imagine the sun’s reflection as the twinkle in our old woman’s eye.

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