My orientation week in Yangshuo was heaven.

Beautiful scenery all around (that’s the view from laying on my bed in our dormitory), great friends I instantly fell in love with, good food and good times, fantastic adventures…. Obviously, this would be the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock. Oh how I miss it.

Compared to the dream that first week was, my real life here at my teaching school has been a nightmare. Okay, maybe it’s a bit dramatic to call it “hell” but I am having a hard time accepting it after my expectations were pumped up so high at orientation.

Perhaps I am entering into that difficult phase of culture shock of anxiety, regret, and depression, but it’s not even the typical things you might expect that bother me. I really don’t mind squatter toilets or bizarre food! Really!

Please allow me to bitch and moan for a moment: I was led to believe my school would be in Suzhou, one of the “two heavens of China”, the “Venice of China”, and a place famous for gardens, when in reality that place is about 30 minutes away. I haven’t had a ton of time to explore, but this town seems pretty grimy and unremarkable and all around lacking in personality or charm. My room was grungy with lots of little broken down things and extremely dusty, my kitchen is a room across the hall with no oven or stove, only a hot plate, the school hasn’t really done much to make me feel welcome and taken care of, and my schedule is hectic and insane.

I was spoiled by the order and routine of Buckland during orientation, and although I was warned about the Chinese cultural difference regarding time and preparation, being thrown into it like this has been as shocking as being thrown into a pool of ice water. Everything is changing down to the last minute and plans are almost never set in stone. It results in an eternal feeling of chaos and rush rush rush (which anyone who knows me is aware I can’t STAND to be rushed around!!!). We were given our school schedules the night before our first day of teaching and it was more work than we were told to expect and for me, a much more diverse group of ages. Today I taught “primary” (grades 1-3), the oldest kids so far, and was given the books they are learning from a mere hour before I was supposed to teach. They were hellions and I was crap.

I love my Kindergartners, though!! Their cuteness makes it all a little easier to bare. I also have tiny babies 3-4 years old; they are also sweet enough to ice a cake with, but I was not adequetly prepared to deal with this age group. I’ve done a lot of learning on my feet. This week, a lot of my lessons have been busts: often too advanced or met with blank stares; my chinese teaching aids have said things like “Oh just play games with them!” but I have no idea how to entertain tiny children for 40 minutes nor how to organize a game with people who can’t understand instructions that go further than gestures. Hiding behind the black board and popping up and yelling “hello” and ducking behind again and yelling “goodbye” and variations seem successful with the babies, but even I can’t focus on a task for 40 minutes…. imagine if I were 3 years old! Good advice I’ve received: go simple, and it seems to work. I am amazed at what they laugh their heads off at: switching from yells to whispers, pretending to fall asleep on the floor and wake up suddenly shouting “GOOD MORNING,” and tucking in a Snoopy doll whispering “goodnight” to it keeps them entertained for long stretches.

I guess I’m frustrated because I think my strength lies with the kindergartners (ages 6-7) and I want to stick with what I’d do a good job at; my lessons have been by far the most successful with them, and I dunno, I just *connect* to their amazing adorable little brains. Even when they’re a bit rowdy, it’s like this joyful bubbling over with life kind of rowdy that I can get down with.

So maybe I should focus on some bright sides:

Extreme cuteness, some not so terrible lessons (that was one on faces where at the end, I had them take turns coming to the board and drawing different facial features), some good meals and good conversations with my two other Western teachers, and then not pictured is the promise of some adventures to come! One of the guys here has a motor scooter that we’ve gone to the store a few times on and that’s pretty fun, and tomorrow I’ll get to see the Suzhou I’ve been dreaming about. I’m also getting into Tai Chi and hopefully will have some Chinese lessons before too long. Also, today I made friends with some of the teaching aids, humbly begged their tutelage, got some valuable pointers, and hope to be much improved by next week.

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