A Foreign Teacher’s Life…Part one

By Charles Paquin

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Two days before the start of the semester, I get a text message from a Chinese lady whose name I forget: “Charles, your schedule is ready, please come and get it.” Thus the next day I am knocking on room 1405 of the Yi Fu building, located on the Shandong University western campus, where I am currently living and teaching English to freshmen. The smiling lady who apparently has my cell phone number hands me my schedule: I will be teaching eight classes, each lasting an hour and a half, which makes a twelve-hour working week at the University. Fair enough. That’s about all she has got to say to me, so I immediately head back to my dorm room. Tomorrow is my first day of work!

Alright now, what about the curriculum, lesson plans, or the books they provide to help us organize our classes? Well… there are no such things here. It’s almost as if they told me: “Hey! You’re a foreign English teacher? Good! Now go out there and teach!” Uhm… sure! Oh, there actually was a kind of brainstorming meeting with Wallace and the other foreign teachers in the beginning of September, but of course I missed it. Fortunately for me there is Melissa from Chicago who was kind enough to help me getting started for the semester. She might not be a Blackhawks fan but hey, at least she is nice.IMG_9776

The first couple weeks of the semester feel like a “honeymoon” period for the students and I. Everything is new, everything is nice. We introduce ourselves to each other, we do some introductory activities and a couple games to get in the mood and to check their level of written and spoken English. At first, the students are quite shy and obedient. Every student stands up each time I talk to one of them individually, and they always reply “Hi, teacher!” in unison each time I greet them! And they are so surprised to have a smiling 25-year-old French Canadian guy as their English teacher. They told me they were actually expecting something like an old disillusioned American or a strict and smuggish British lady… Some girls would timidly ask to take pictures with me, some students would give me their phone numbers and insist that we become friends. Everything is new, everything is nice!

I can hear “oooohhs” and “aaaahhs” when I tell them that my mother has four siblings, and that I have a total of ten cousins! You have to understand them: they are part of one of the last generations of the “one child policy” in China… During the “fishbowl” activity, in which we ask questions to get to know each other better, I ALWAYS get these four questions from them: “Do you like China?”, “What do you think about Chinese girls?”, “Do you have a girlfriend?” and, to top it off, “Would you like to have a Chinese girlfriend?” Those mischievous Chinese do get very curious… But when I think about it, I am pretty sure that they don’t imply the same things as we North Americans would if we were asking these questions to our 25-year-old teacher… I mean, most of them look pretty naive and are probably not as experienced as we were between seventeen and twenty years old… “How the hell can you tell, M. Pretentious Blogger?” True, I have no idea. But just look at them… The way they are, they dress, act around each other… They still look like young teenagers to me! Were they a bit overprotected compared to us, raised in a society changing at lightning speed but still keeping strongly conservative family values?

It’s still just hypotheses at this point, Watson. But stay tuned, there is plenty more to say about A Foreign Teacher’s Life.

Charles Paquin is currently participating in the CE Teach in China program

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