I still remember walking into my classroom on the first day, the first week, the first month, and not having any idea what I’d gotten myself into. These children, I mean they had absolutely no knowledge of English. Most of them couldn’t even say hello. I would ask them their name and they would look at me like I was an alien speaking a foreign language… because, really, I was. How am I going to teach them English when half of them don’t talk and the ones who do only repeat what I ask them? This is absolutely impossible. It just makes no sense. This material is not appropriate for their level. How will they do this work when they can’t read? How?
But as time went on, they learned. I built a connection with them. I did my best from my heart through all the trials and tests from admin and beyond. All the people who doubted me; everyone who thought that my personality was not a good fit for an English teacher in a school that was fake.
It was always real to me though. Every day; every single time I walked into that classroom and looked on the faces of those children, confused yet so eager to learn and so willing to try. Children who at six and seven and eight years old didn’t go home at night but instead stayed at school and slept in dorms that even I hated, and I only stayed there for a week. A barren, college-style dorm that I didn’t even have to see until I was 18 years old. This was to be their home for the next 10 months. They slept alone. No one eagerly waiting outside of the classroom to give them a hug or ask how their day went. No one to tuck them in or read them a story or help them with their homework or tell them to bathe or brush their teeth.
Turns out, I had signed up to be not only a circus monkey, but also a parent to children who spoke a different language.
I could spend a lot of time talking to you about all the reasons why China has turned out to be nothing like I expected. Nothing like the stereotypes and thoughts about them being this great fantastic advanced super intelligent people. And maybe it would all be worthwhile if nothing else to give you some perspective. But the real tragedy, the real discovery worth talking about, the real victims of this place .. are the children. Having these children in my classroom meant knowing that more than anything what they needed from me was love every single day. And giving them that and then some, to seeing them now at the end of the school year not only being able to have conversations with me but also read books and unscramble sentences and find words in a word search has been an inexplicable high.
Now I’m no celebrity or anybody special. I’m not on here to sell dreams or waist trainers or tea or a faux glamorous lifestyle. I’m just a daughter of The Most Highs without a tonne of followers here to impress. But I’ll tell you what … every day I got to look into the eyes of these children, I felt like a superhero.
Walking away from this is not just leaving a job for another one or finding a new adventure in another country. It’s not just some frivolous can’t-stay-put decision based entirely on the desire to keep moving. It has been tough. I have thought about it every day for months. I’ve weighed all my options and I still feel ambivalent. It’s terrifying that I’m leaving the children behind with no idea in whose hands I have left them or what kind of future they will have as a result. It’s painful. Under different circumstances, I would be running out of here like a child on the last day of school. I’ve been looking forward to leaving China since I got here. But as the time wound up, I found myself questioning if I made the right decision; waking up every day asking myself: do I choose me, or do I choose them?
Should I have chosen them?