This past Monday morning I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore.
It was my first lesson, and although I had a PowerPoint (PPT) prepared I was also hyper-aware of the fact that I was about to walk into a room full of engineering students studying for their PhD’s. Here I am having recently graduated with my bachelor’s degree, and I’m supposed to be teaching them how to be an effective public speaker.
Only problem: I never took a public speaking class.
As it turns out the class went really well. After all it was just a first day’s introductory talk, and I’ve seen enough professors do that to know how it goes. My students were very attentive, and some surprisingly volunteered for activities which is unusual for Chinese students. They are used to being called on, standing up to present their answer, and if they are wrong they sit back down and the next person is called. So the cycle continues, until someone says the correct answer. Good news for them, most of my activities don’t have one correct answer. At any rate, the students must have had a decent time because I was invited to dinner later that evening.
I can honestly say that the best parties I’ve been to have been in China. They toast to every one and everything. Why?
I would say the foundation of this country, rather these people, exists in relationships. During the dinner, each of them went around and introduced themselves. As they told me which province they were from, without hesitation they invited me to their hometown where they would personally escort me, house me, and feed me. In the words of Sea (second from the right), “We are your China family.” The funny thing is, they genuinely mean it.
In the Sates we joke, and sometimes get frustrated about the reality that everyone wants to be sought out, rather than be the seeker when it comes to relationships. Here it is all served on a silver platter, if only you accept the invitation.
To further illustrate what I mean, my co-workers, Christina and Marilyn, invited me to lunch after Wednesday’s lesson. When I say lunch, I don’t mean we ate sandwiches and sipped on tea. Looking back I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was determined to enjoy the moment without the presence of my phone sullying the moment. Instead of sandwiches they brought out this giant fish with vegetables roasting around it on a live burner. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life. There is a saying here in Sichuan, “food is heaven.” Slowly I’m beginning to see what they mean. Even if it isn’t exactly divine, it is definitely an art.
I always enjoy getting together with Christina because she is very open and vocal about asking me questions, as well as generous in letting me ask mine. While we were eating she mentioned something from my lesson earlier that morning: ethnocentrism.
In all honesty I was so happy I had been able to incorporate it into the lecture. We were already talking about intercultural communicative competence (in other words the ability to be aware of and attend to diverse cultural audiences when giving a speech), so I decided to take it a step further. An anthropological step.
I think ultimately I made some of my students uncomfortable upon showing this comic.
It was one that a professor of mine showed countless times in class, but it effectively drove the point home. Most Chinese people are very proud to be Chinese, from what I can tell. However, most of my students will go on to work in multicultural environments without ever having a course about culture. Hopefully this public speaking class can supplement it in some way, however small.
At any rate Christina asked me why it is that Americans have a such a negative attitude toward Chinese people, or more specifically China. Boom.
At the time, I don’t feel as though I was able to give a very good answer. Ultimately, I think the big problem is that we have a tendency to judge each other from our own perspectives (ethnocentrism); solely grounded in our personal opinion of what is appropriate, and what is not. It doesn’t matter to me so much that two political entities, two governments, have issues with each other. (Let’s face it when American media is involved, seldom is the United States the problem, the other country is usually the problem.) It doesn’t mean the people have to be against each other. As the conversation continued I came to understand that Chinese people (or at least those I’ve met) find their identity exists independent of the government. While on the other side, Americans have a tendency to characterize themselves based on political affiliation. Perhaps this is where the problem lies. When we look at each other we see Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, so naturally when we look across the globe at China, all we see are Communists. I firmly think you will find what you’re looking for.
Thus far, I’ve only found people. They look different, have different ways of seeing the world, and even speak differently, but they are people. Same as you. Same as me.
Until next time!
Here’s a little peek into my life outside of class:
Grading, learning Chinese, scrapbooking in my Chinese learning notebook, and splurging on a few Western comforts.