China was not my first choice. In fact, it was rather low on my list of travel and teaching destinations. When I began sending my CV to countries around the world, I made a deal with myself – the first country to respond with a job offer, there was where I’d go. I threw China in as a wild card. What were the chances after all?
Pretty good, it turned out. Much to my horror, within a week I was offered a teaching position in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China. For once, I was seriously considering breaking a pre-arranged deal with myself. I have found in the past that when I break deals (with myself or others), that’s when things start going wrong. This time, though, I was sorely tempted. I’d heard such bad things about China. Did I really want to live there?
At that time, a friend who lived in China came home for a visit and on discussion asked me two life changing questions. He asked “Would it be fair if foreigners judged South Africa and her people on the bad press she receives? And if your answer is no, is it then fair for you to judge China without ever having been there?” Reflecting honestly, I was forced to answer no to both questions. Within a month, I found myself at Cape Town airport, ready to board a plane. Destination – China.
I decided that if I was going to give China a fair chance, I had to give her a whole hearted, honest chance – put all my preconceived ideas aside and immerse myself in the people and the culture, to try and understand the biggest nation in the world. Then, and only then, would I be justified in making a judgement.
With that attitude, began the most exciting, most phenomenal three years of my life.
Arriving at Aston mid-semester to urgently take over from a teacher who was leaving unexpectedly, I was thrown into the deep end, with the barest of training.
I was pre-advised that my C10 class with about fifteen students was the worst in the school and that no-one wanted to teach them. As the new teacher on the block, I was being given that honour.
I can’t say I wasn’t nervous when I stepped into that class for the first time. But I resolved to be the same in my role as a teacher, as I was as a mother to my (then) nineteen year old daughter, Aura. As a mother, I was strict, consistent and, when necessary, uncompromising. But I was also fair, kind, respectful, honest and communicative with my daughter, having proved with her that well deserved praise goes a whole lot further than reprimands and punishment.
These are the qualities I took with me into this class and within a couple of weeks I could see a big positive change in my students and I realised to my pleasurable surprise that I was actually good at this ‘teaching stuff’. This class became my favourite, and I looked forward to it each week.
The Gym and PC classes scared me a bit, as it had been years since my daughter was that young. But the unconditional love I received from my littlest students and the excitement I saw on their tiny faces made these classes hugely rewarding.
In fact, each and every one of my classes was rewarding.
Being outsourced to government schools was another great source of pleasure for me. The challenge of keeping sixty students focused, learning and having fun was to me like conducting an orchestra, the students being the instruments and the learning and fun, the song. My role, to lead the song, keep the right tempo, convey the correct interpretation and ensure that the song be played to perfection.
I have an adrenaline rush each time I walk into a class. Being a naturally quiet, introverted and somewhat reserved person, the moment I face my students, a passion and energy ignite in me and a performer emerges.
True to my goal, I interacted predominantly with Chinese people and learned much about their culture, traditions, values, and how their history had impacted socially and individually. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that almost all my pre-conceived ideas were baseless, that I thoroughly enjoyed Chinese people and culture. In Hohhot, I had a decent amount of time to develop lifelong friendships and my old judgements were unceremoniously dumped as I realised the true meaning of non-judgement.
Being promoted to Foreign Assistant Manager and then Regional Support Officer were the end results of having worked so hard and consciously to overcome my natural shyness, as I was forced to interact with strangers on a daily basis, all the while turning strangers into friends. As RSO, I visited franchise schools around the country, performing any jobs that were necessary – substituting for teachers, assisting and advising new school owners, teacher training, marketing, assessing safety and standards compliance, among other things.
I travelled to some big cities, but mostly, I visited more remote areas, often being the only foreigner for miles around. My travels, my experiences and my beautiful new friends reinforced my commitment to never pre-judge a nation or person again.
Living in China and working at Aston, I have learned much about myself. I have found my vocation and now understand that the saying is true – if you love what you do, every day is like a holiday. My journey has taught me not to believe everything I’m told, but rather to investigate for myself and form true opinions from my own experiences. I have learned that kindness and a smile can change peoples’ lives. I now know my true self worth and understand that I have the power to change my world and make it a better place. I know that one person can make a difference in the lives of many.
Wǒ ài nǐ, Aston!
Wǒ ài nǐ, Zhōngguó!