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Guest Blog: Deborah Enright

Hello from Zhangzhou

It’s 2pm and I’m sitting quietly in my apartment at the Liren Sino American Cooperative School in Zhangzhou City, Fujian Province, China. It has been a busy and enlightening six weeks and I’ve finally found an opportunity to pause and reflect on my time in this country. Things have been a bit of a whirlwind since I arrived to begin my teaching position on December 13th and some of the events and experiences I’ve had in this short time span could not have been imagined as I waited for my work permit and visa approval over the course of several months in the U.S. 

I have traveled to quite a few places in the last 35 years, but nothing can be compared to the life I am experiencing in China. Fujian province is a semi-tropical environment, similar in latitude to Key West, Florida. December can be rainy and cold. Fortunately I experienced mostly the latter. Being a New Englander, I am used to the cold.  But something that was totally unexpected was that in Zhangzhou and most towns and cities in the southeastern part of China, there is no heat in buildings or homes. Ever the adaptable and comfort-seeking American, off I went to Walmart (yes, there are Walmarts in China) with my interpreter and guide to buy a portable electric heater for my bedroom. A large enough room to set up a small living space with a desk and reading area, I quickly settled in.

The pace of life in a private Chinese school is quite different to the United States.  First of all, class sizes are much larger with an average of 60 students per room. In a way, I am very fortunate with my class size because the Sino-American, dual diploma program is brand new and not yet well known to the school population of 7,000. I have 15 sophomores who I meet with six days a week to teach all aspects of language arts, including pronunciation and English literature. Students start their day at 7am and end it at 10pm, with a two and a half hour rest break in the middle of the day. At first it seemed odd to halt the wheels of school life like this each day, but now, this too is part of my daily rhythm.

I arrived at the school gate the evening of the 13th to the warm greetings and excited faces of my students. I had conducted weekly pronunciation classes with them on Skype so I was a little familiar with their names and faces, but their presence and enthusiasm made me feel immediately welcomed, as did the staff and administration. Everyone went out of their way to make sure that I realized I was now part of the ‘school family.’ I have since come to understand and appreciate the importance the Chinese people place on the concept of family in all aspects of their daily life. Once you are a member of their community you are treated with respect, cared for and included in all important events.

And one of those important events occurred shortly after my arrival. Referred to simply as the ‘New Year’s Performance,’ I found out it was to take place in the new gymnasium/theater and I was to be part of the entertainment. I said to myself, “Oh, what the heck, why not.” Then found out I would also be addressing the entire student population of 7,000 with a New Year’s greeting in Chinese and performing alongside my students on stage over the course of two evenings. My students, being typical teenagers who love pop music, chose the songs that we would sing before I arrived. So there I was onstage, microphone in hand, choreography memorized, singing Carly Rae Jepson’s, It’s Always a Good Time. As it turned out, the performances and rehearsals were a tremendous bonding opportunity for me and my students. They saw that I wasn’t afraid to laugh at myself and to stand alongside them to be part of something very special that they cared about. And suddenly, it wasn’t so hard to get them to stand up and speak out in class. We had learned to trust each other up on that stage and that spirit has become a part of everything we do together, in class and out. 

Am I still adjusting to eating with chopsticks, avoiding the motorbikes that drive on city sidewalks and acknowledging the countless stares I get when I walk down a street? Yes. But I am also feeling like I’ve come to a very special place and am in the midst of a very special culture that has as much to teach me as I them. It was a long time coming to get here, and the administrative paperwork that needed to be completed was like nothing I had ever experienced before, but I am happy I made the decision to come to China and I know my time here will be memorable.

Deborah Enright  (En Di)

We are thrilled to welcome Deborah Enright to The Reading Room Blog. Deborah is an American teacher currently living in Fujian Province as she teaches in a dual diploma program. We will be featuring her updates as she settles into life in modern China.