Dear Friends and Family,
As I come up on my 6th month anniversary of living in China, I thought it would be a good time to send you an update. I hope you all are doing well. I think of you often.
Let me start off by saying, China is awesome! I love living here. The people are wonderful, the city is beautiful, and my job is amazing. I enjoy so many things about this place, even it's quirks. "What quirks?" you ask? Things like the driving- people are crazy drivers over here and yet there's this unspoken system. The clothing, especially the "western wear"- it's almost impossible to find a shirt/sweater/jacket that has English words on it that actually makes sense (which I love). The staring, mostly done by the older Chinese people- many of you have teased me about how un-Chinese I look, well, apparently the Chinese have noticed too. They full-out stare at me, do double-takes, sometimes triple takes, and watch me as I walk away. It was irritating at first, now it's just normal. Oh, there are so many other funny things about China that make it unique, the food-so flavorful, the buildings-so brightly lit up with lights, the smells- so distinct and so...smelly, the consistency of its inconsistency. It's a beautiful mix of East and West and something that falls somewhere in the middle that's mostly undefinable.
Let me go a little more in depth about a few things. The city I live in, Qingdao, is one of the most beautiful places in China. Not that I've been to many places here yet, but of the few that I have been too, we win. It's a coastal town known for its German influences and the 2008 Olympic Sailing Center. Along with the surrounding areas, it is city of almost 8 million people (one of the smaller cities in China). We are in the middle of winter right now (completely skipped fall) and it is bitterly cold most days. Coming from a place like Florida where I didn't need winter clothes (but I've heard you all had snow this year), it's been quite an adjustment. Good thing I love winter. My city is a mixture of Western looking sky-scrapers, China-town shops and European-style architecture. We have several thousand Westerners from all over the world that live here (teaching English/at an international school or here on business) and hundreds of thousands of Koreans because of our location (right across the Yellow Sea from South Korea).
The Chinese people are something of a mystery to me still. Because I know so little of the language, it's hard to get to know people. Even those that know English aren't able to carry on very in depth conversations because of vocabulary. But the people that I do come in contact with, the taxi drivers, the cart sellers, the table waiters, the shop owners, our school staff, random strangers, they are beautiful and kind and helpful and thoughtful. I am amazed by the acceptance of the Chinese, the willingness to help and serve and be inconvenienced. And though there is a language barrier, it is still possible to build relationships even if it only includes a smile at the shop owner on our corner, or a wave at the guards at our complex, or the "Zai Jian" (goodbye) in my very best Chinese to the taxi driver. I am working very hard on my Chinese as it is most vital to my life here in China. I enjoy learning the language even though it is a huge obstacle and the reward of having even a simple conversation is most definitely worth it.
My job has been my biggest challenge here and yet one of my greatest joys. I have wonderful friends, a great support team, highly intelligent students, amazing opportunities to travel, the list could go on. To remind you, I teach at an international school where I have both Western and Korean students (Chinese are not allowed to attend an international school unless they have a passport from a Western country). I am teaching two classes- AP World History and Model United Nations. My AP World History class is very intense and much like teaching a college course. It has been quite a growing experience in my teaching abilities to work with these students. Many of them are at genius levels. They are Korean and still achieving high marks in a college-level course in their second or third language (English). The other class, Model United Nations (MUN) has also been a challenge for me. Basically, my students prepare for conferences all over the world where they will model the United Nations. So, not only am I prepping them for those conferences, I also have to plan trips in China/international trips 2-3 times a semester. Last semester, we went to South Korea and Singapore. This semester we will host a conference and go to Beijing and Cairo, Egypt. It is a lot of work but so rewarding to watch and listen to students who are so passionate about changing our world. Both of the classes have stretched me in ways I didn't know I was capable. They are both full of new vocabulary and almost like learning a new language. I am working very hard to keep up with my students. I know I'll look back on this year as a time of growth and learning, not only about new subjects but also about how to be a better teacher.
The last thing I would like to update you on is the international Fellowship that I attend. I know many of you were concerned with how that would work over here. We have a Fellowship, allowed by the government, of about 300 people (depending on the time of year 100-300). It's only for foreigners (we must have some sort of identification on us that shows we are foreigner to be able to enter) and is held at a large hotel here in town. Right down the street from my apartment, VERY convenient. We cannot have a leader but we do have a group of men that rotate for speaking and a group of elders who make decisions and such. If you know me, you know that I love being involved. At the moment, I help with one worship team (we rotate every week so there are four teams) and then lead a team with a friend on another week. I am in the process of starting up a women's study group (for internationals only) and have helped with several outreaches within the community during Christmas-time. Fellowship has been a huge help in my transition over here.
I could type another 15 paragraphs but I will save that for another email. I will leave you with a few requests. I ask that you remember my job, that I would be able to build better relationships with my students (as that is the most important to me). Please remember my new friends that I have met and am working to get to know better. Also, keep in mind the new study we are starting, that we ladies would have good discussion and growth. It's so important here to feel refreshed and renewed as living and working in a foreign country can be exhausting.
Thank you so much for your love and support. I truly do miss you. Feel free to email me, I would love to hear from you.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
6 Month Update Email
Dear Friends and Family,