Monday, September 9, 2013

Laowai Life. Also, 1000 views!

Nimen hao pengyou min!  I'd like to start today by making an exciting announcement.  I logged in today to see that my page was at exactly 1000 views!  I know this isn't much, but it's a lot to me!  Thank you so much, and I hope you continue to follow my (mis)adventures, and maybe even tell your friends.

I might not be in college anymore, but I'm still a "student of life", to quote a mentor of mine!  So at the urging of some friends, from now on I won't just be posting cool linguistic stuff, but also interesting things that happen to me in my travels.

As I've mentioned, right now I'm an English teacher in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, PR China:

I'm pretty much living the dream now, since all I've wanted to do since high school is travel around and learn other people's languages while I teach them mine.

In high school and college I surrounded myself with books of travel and expat blogs-in particular the excellent Gaijinsmash, which I consider an enormous inspiration; the author Az's writing style had, and continues to have, a profound effect on my own.  Indeed, his experience in Japan is in many ways one of the greatest pull-factors in my own coming to Asia.  If you haven't read his work, click the link right now.  Great stuff.

So, at the first chance I got, I left the States, where the job situation for a newly graduated linguistics major could only lead to one place: in front of my old Nintendo Gamecube in my parents' basement.  Now I wander the earth in my quest to become a great linguist!*

Teaching English in China, for people like me who are new to the game, usually means working in private English training schools of varying quality/dubiosity.  The one where I'm working now is internationally recognized and relatively accountable, but that doesn't make it perfect, or in many cases even good.  Basically it's a place where rich people send their kids to get, first and foremost, experience interacting with foreigners, and secondly speak English outside of their regular classes, which are by and large abysmal in quality.  The Confucian "do-everything-as-told-when-told-and-forget-about-individual-creativity" system has its place (educating Ming Dynasty gentleman-scholars for the imperial exams, for example) but it is not, in my opinion, the language classroom.

The emphasis on "come see the foreigners, kids!" rather than quality language education means that my job is less teacher, and more somewhere in between babysitter and performing monkey.  As I've said, the kids here are all from rich families, and if the parents bought the course they all get certificates at the end regardless of whether they've actually learned anything.  In that sense we're less school and more diploma mill.  Indeed, there's less emphasis on placing a kid in a class appropriate to his level than there is on closing the deal and putting him in a class that's running.

Let it not be said, however, that I am unhappy with my lot. Quite the contrary.  I consider myself privileged to be here.  For one thing I am providing my kids with what for many of them is their first interaction with foreigners.  That's pretty special.  For another I make 3 times the average salary here.  It's like making six figures right out of college, especially when the free apartment is considered.  For another I have the opportunity to really experiment and grow as a teacher, and get experience with kids, which never were and, I think, never will be my strong suit.  I am fortunate to have a boss who is a true master in the field of education (but on the other hand has all the personality and warmth of a chess computer with Asperger's) and a supportive team of coworkers.  Please, therefore, look forward to posts about life in China!

*The very best, like no one ever was

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