After 13 weeks, I have finally landed back in Longzhou to begin my second year at Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities, located one hour from the Vietnam border in the small town, Longzhou.
The oppressive heat of southern China greeted both Little Flower and me with quite a jolt.
We walked into an apartment that stayed a “pleasant” 91 degrees until this week, when temps began to cool down enough for us to reach a “chilly” 84. Uhg!
This is to catch you up since the last entry on August 20th.
The arrival of the new freshmen, beginning last week on September 10, had the entire student body busy.
As is the custom in most Chinese colleges, upper classmen begin courses 2 weeks earlier than incoming students. Freshmen then arrive later, allowing the school to settle a bit and organize older students for helping to greet and meet their new classmates when they first land here.
And land they did!
Classes were canceled for 2 days so second and third years could give it their all in welcoming our new college young people. Groups with signs waited at our bus station to lead the way for those coming from long distances. On campus, they manned departmental tables, helped with heavy luggage, hustled students to the dormitories, led tours around the school, and provided water and shade under tents for everyone, including accompanying parents.
Wave after wave of students arrived, totaling about 650 for our school year.
Everyone was exhausted and ready to crash by Sunday. Yet at the new campus in Chongzuo, 1 ½ hours away, 2,500 freshmen were admitted to add to the 6,000 returning students.
I’m so thankful to be here on the old campus which currently keeps steady at about 1,400.
Many of our freshmen, straight from the countryside, looked quite lost and distraught. This was the first time for them to leave their small villages and families. Sobs and sniffles could be heard from time to time when walking by a dorm room. Farewells to Mom and Dad at the front gate were always tear jerker for those of us watching.
But there were others who excitedly embraced the day. They volunteered to help the upperclassman with the incoming freshmen or comforted those who were homesick with jokes and invites to walk the town.
Most who arrived are the first in their family to finish high school and go on to higher education. Even though we are only a 3-year college, not a more prestigious 4-year institution like the new campus university in Chongzuo, this is still a big event in their lives. Whether they arrived happy or sad, their determination to do their best here is definitely evident. Freshmen classes started last Monday and already into Day 5, my freshmen classes are proving themselves up to the task of continuing their education with pride, hard work and a cheerful spirit.
The Foreign Language Departmental Meeting
Saturday morning, the Foreign Language Department (of which I am a part) welcomed everyone with the obligatory first-year student meeting.
About 280 newcomers to our department brought their stools to the sports’ building to be addressed by our department’s deans and leaders. For those with foreign language majors, we had 40 in the Vietnamese Department, 32 in the Thai Department and about 210 in the English Department.
Upper classmen organized the group into rows and attended to the sound equipment during this opening meeting.
Our 5 speakers then gave advice about school life, explained how to study, addressed campus rules and regulations, and encouraged a good attitude.
After 2 hours, our meeting finished and we who attended were dismissed.
While it’s rather a dull address, with a lot of talk about obvious topics and parental advice, I do see the need for this. These first year students felt more wanted, cared for and more of a united body after our group meeting than when they first showed up a few days before as individuals. And seeing their head teachers and foreign teacher (myself) in front of them is always a good thing. Recognizing the smiling faces of their new instructors certainly lessens the anxiety of that first week of class, especially when it comes to me, the first foreigner they’ve ever seen or heard in person. That can be a scary experience for Chinese students, worried about their English skills and how they’ll perform in class. It’s always nice to have a face to put to the name.
Teacher’s Day was something that I came across in Taiwan when I was teaching at Wesley Girl’s High School 13 years ago.
This is a day set aside for students and schools to remember their teachers. Flowers, small gifts, cards, phone calls and emails to former teachers, thanking them for their dedication and service to students everywhere, is common during this designated "Thank you, my teacher!" day.
I was fortunate enough to have one of our new Chinese Amity staff members in Nanjing (Wendy Wu) send a short history of Teacher’s Day. Wendy explained that in 1984, Wang Zishen, former president of Beijing Normal University , suggested the country establish a remembrance day for teachers. On January 21, 1985, the ninth session of the Sixth NPC (National People’s Congress) Standing Committee formally passed a resolution to create Teacher’s Day, to be celebrated every year on September 10th.
She also went on to tell us about China’s devotion to its educators. In the long history of Chinese education, Confucius is a paragon of all teachers. He proposed the ideal teaching philosophy of “Educate all without discrimination” (in Chinese, said as 有教无类, you jiao wu lei), and carried out his idea with teaching according to the abilities of different students.
Last Friday marked the 26th Teacher’s Day in China and my students from last year made sure to remember their first foreign teacher in style.
Oh, and how well they know me!
I had lots of well-wishing cards, bags of apples delivered to my doorstep (I love apples), several cans of Diet Coke arranged in a little basket (Diet Coke is my “must” caffeine booster) and a huge, wide-brimmed hat to protect me from the hot sun when Little Flower and I go walking around the campus. The English Association presented me with a large photo album because they know I enjoy taking pictures. And I received numerous emails from former students and even my teaching colleagues, some from as far back as Taiwan, wishing me a Happy Teacher’s Day.
I can definitely say, that was a great way to start up the new semester.
Mid-Autumn Festival is Coming
Students already are anticipating our first holiday of the school year, Mid-autumn Festival, which will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 22. During this time, families all across China will be reuniting, eating mooncakes together and watching the full moon rise.
This is the 3rd year that China has designated Mid-Autumn Festival as a holiday. Before, this was just a traditional day without any fanfare of having time off.
As usual, we will be having 2 make-up days of teaching (Saturday and Sunday) for classes we will miss on Thursday and Friday. This is in preparation to create to a 3-day block being off instead of just a single day, Wednesday, in the middle of the week. Some students will remain on campus as their homes are too far away for them to return. Others who live closer will most likely venture out on long distance buses to have mooncakes with their families.
I haven’t yet decided how I will spend my 3 days, either here on campus or in Nanning.
If I do remain, I’ll be doing so in style. The repairmen have been here to fix the air-conditioner in the bedroom so it will work properly. And I have a new gas burner after the old one “Poof!”ed, sputtered and shot flames up and over my pots all last week.
Not exactly a very comforting feeling when it came to cooking dinner but all now is safe and sound.
Until next time, here’s wishing you “Ping An” (Peace) for your day!