May is a bittersweet time for teachers at Sias. It’s when the school year starts wrapping up; people are saying their goodbyes to students and other teachers. People know who is going back to work in September and who is leaving for a different job. It makes it a good time to reflect on the past school year. Looking back, I see the amount of growth China has given me in overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers, learning how to be independent within a group society, and becoming more assured of my goals in life. In September, I’ll be going to graduate school in Washington State. It’s exciting to be continuing my education, but I will miss what made China so special. Here are the top five things I will miss about China:
1. The teachers at Sias are what makes China feel like home. There is a bond between people here that you only get when living abroad. The first day you meet people, you are already inviting them over to your apartment. The community feels like family. When I get sick, people bring over medicine, food, teas, and even drop by my classroom to see if I need anything. The teachers go out of their way to make sure every person is taken care of. I know I will miss having all my closest friends in the same apartment building together. I’ll miss being able to just drop by someone’s apartment to play games, watch movies, and swap teaching stories.
2. The students are next on my list. Whenever I’m having a bad day, my students always make it better. They get excited every time I walk into the classroom. Sometimes my students will stay after class to show me a music video, take a selfie, or invite me to an event. I can see my students working hard in class to speak up as they become more confident in their English. Their creativity never fails to make me laugh. One time I had groups of four students create their own movies. Each group had to present their movie to the class. The movies they came up with were so entertaining, and it was a great feeling to watch my students have fun together while learning a foreign language. When students here see that you care about them, they make a huge effort to please you.
3. The relaxed atmosphere here is a new experience for me as a type A, plan everything out, kind of person. I am able to enjoy my leisure time here more than in the States by taking spur-of-the-moment trips. Because all the teachers and students live on campus, it’s easy to plan trips as everyone has a similar work schedule, and you run into people constantly. I don’t feel stressed here to make all these plans in advance and to know every single detail; China doesn’t work that way. People here decide in the moment what to do and where to eat. Even just walking down the streets in Xinzheng is less stressful (yes, even with all the cars honking). People are strolling down the sidewalks; no one seems in a hurry to get anywhere. You can enjoy the slowness of it all. It’s changed my personality in a good way, where I don’t get upset if I don’t know all the details immediately. It’s good for your health to take a step back and just enjoy life as it comes!
4. The food is unbeatable. Not only is it incredibly cheap, but in all my traveling, I’ve never had vegetables taste so good! Living in China actually makes it easier to eat healthy. Vegetables are a major staple and are cooked in such a way as to make them more flavorful and complimentary with other food dishes. I’ll miss getting a big cup of tea before class for less than fifty cents. Also, the food proximity is perfect. You can walk outside your apartment and have an array of restaurants and food booths at your fingertips. The Chinese food here is not something you can get anywhere else. Not even the authentic Chinese restaurants in the States have the same quality as the food places here.
5. Traveling without breaking your bank account is very difficult to give up. I know when I get back to the States, I’ll have to wait to save up money to travel just within the country. Here, I know I could go to Thailand or South Korea for a weekend and afford it just fine. My weekends are normally booked with going somewhere I haven’t been yet for a new experience. People here are constantly going to Shanghai, Beijing, or a student’s hometown just because they can. Public transportation here makes traveling much easier.
China has been an amazing home for me the past eight months. These are just a few things that I’ll miss that make China unique and a perfect place for English teacher expats. What do you think would be your favorite part about living in China?