Not Home For the Holidays

Time just keeps flying by here in the east. Christmas has passed. My younger sister who still attends Flagler came and visited for 3 weeks of the winter vacation. We had a great time traveling, visiting Shanghai for Christmas and Nanjing to see friends from my grad school. We climbed mountains, sat by the West Lake, visited the Japanese Aggression museum and the Shanghai Museum of Art. We ate noodles on Christmas and sat around my apartment drinking milk tea when it was to cold to go outside.

I was so thankful to have her here, even though it was the busiest time of the semester for me as I was preparing final exams for my 200 students and finishing my own final exams in my online classes. She was a good reminder of where I come from, that I do have a home and people who will always love me, even though I forget that sometimes.

We had a blast co-teaching my classes and my students loved her! She brought candy canes for all of my students and taught them how to make paper snowflakes. We sang Taylor Swift Christmas songs and printed out the words to Jingle Bells for everyone to sing along with. It was a great way to end the semester because all of my students have such an intense and demanding exam schedule, full of pressures and competition. I wanted my class to be a reprieve, a break from their stressful lives where they could just be happy.

Giving exams is such a difficult thing and I now have a million times more respect for every college professor I ever had. This is hard work! Especially in a subjective class like English speaking where there is no “real” grade. I crunched numbers for hours and slaved over my grade books, finally turning them in and closing the chapter on my first semester as a “real” teacher.

It’s interesting to look back and see how much can happen in such a short period of time. I’ve only been here four months but it feels simultaneously like a flash of lightning and a lifetime. I feel like I just got here and also that I have been here forever.

I hit a “four month slump” a few weeks ago and have been slowly climbing out of it. For a week all I wanted was a Chik-fil-A sandwich, an hour in a Target store, for people to stop staring at me, and to be able to actually read what is around me. I wanted taxi drivers to stop honking their horns and for babies not to cry when they see me. I wondered what could possibly have been the driving force in my decision to move around the world alone.

But then my students invited me to their dorm an hour away for dumplings. It is customary in China for families to eat dumplings over the Spring Festival for luck (or something, not too sure). I arrived to their dorm thinking I would find only the two girls who had invited me, but instead I found dozens of my students chopping vegetables, folding dumplings, and scurrying about. We boiled, fried, and folded over 500 dumplings in 5 hours, listening to music and speaking in a patient mixture of Chinese and English.

And I felt loved. And appreciated. And necessary. Three things that were lacking in my mind as I was wallowing about wishing I was in America. My students yet again saved me from self-pity and reminded me that I made the choice to come here because there is so much to learn and so much to be thankful for no matter what continent you call your homeland. My emotions are like a roller coaster, but when I find a glimpse of perspective, I find that things here are really quite good.

I now have five weeks off of work for the Chinese New Year celebration called Spring Festival. In a few days I leave on a two-week backpacking trip with some of my classmates and I am so excited to explore this interesting country some more.

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