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Home Living in China Foreigners in China Foreigners in China First Impressions 对中国的最初印象
First Impressions 对中国的最初印象
Foreigners in China

I've heard a saying that went something like, if you stay in a country for three weeks you can write a book, three months a postcard, and three years nothing! I am now faced with this problem. Having lived in
China for about five years, I am totally used to daily life here. That shouldnt be something to complain about, right? Adapting to a different society and culture is something to be satisfied with, is it not? Usually it would be. However, it makes writing a column about my impressions of China a lot more difficult.

Luckily for me two friends from my country, Ireland, came to visit me during the summer. It was their first time in China and it was through their eyes that I rediscovered the pleasure of experiencing a foreign culture for the first time again.

At first I found their remarks and reactions to the sights of daily Beijing life puzzling. They were fascinated by every little detail. Details that I barely noticed. Why did they want to take a photograph of a man selling you tiao? What was so interesting about a line of waiters standing outside a restaurant? Why was a group of elderly people exercising in the evening so enthralling?

I started to recall that scenes like these once fascinated me too. In Ireland you just dont see them. It was then that memories of my first month in China came flooding back to me. When I first came to this country I worked as an English teacher in Wuhan. Thinking back it was the students I met in that first year and Chinese university life in general that gave me the deepest impression.

In the west, student life is a combination of study and socializing with a heavy emphasis placed on the socializing part!

During my first week as an English teacher in China I was invited to a student party. Having only recently graduated from university myself I still very much enjoyed student parties and gladly accepted the invitation.

On the evening of the party I was accompanied to a building on campus by two students. I was led to a room and entered expecting to see people dancing, drinking, eating and chatting. Instead, I found myself facing an auditorium of about two hundred students applauding me. I was handed a microphone and asked to speak. About what? I asked with a fright. Anything came the reply! After I got over my initial stage fright I found that it really didnt matter what I talked about. My audience were happy to have the opportunity to listen to a native English speaker. They simply wanted to practice their English.

In the course of the following year I encountered many such situations. I was genuinely impressed by the dedication and motivation of Chinese students. When I was a student I would rarely give up my spare time to any activity connected with study. Unless exams were approaching my weekends were devoted to having fun or perhaps a part-time job. My Chinese students, on the other hand, seemed to spend their entire waking hours studying. I understand that competition in Chinese universities is extremely intense. Nonetheless, their energy and drive put me to shame.

As a foreign teacher I was mainly responsible for helping the students to improve their spoken English skills. To most people that sounds really easy. All you have to do is turn up for class and chat with your students. Thats all very well but what if your students are too shy to respond? Most of the students could read and write English very well but getting them to talk was like drawing blood from a stone. They were experts at replying to questions with one-word answers.

Alcohol is the cause of and solution to many of lifes problems! Bearing this in mind I organized several parties and plied my students with booze. Once tipsy, they lost their shyness and the English flowed like water. This slightly unorthodox method effectively broke the ice and our speaking classes became a lot noisier. In a classroom noise is good, as long as it is the noise of activity.

It may be true that rote learning is over-emphasized in Chinese education. Nonetheless, I found that this does not reflect the natural character of Chinese students. Given the appropriate classroom atmosphere and a chance to warm up the students I met were naturally spontaneous and instinctively enjoyed drama. In some of the role-plays we acted out, certain students became so involved in their parts that they were bordering on an identity crisis!

My first year in China was also my first year as a teacher. If I said that it was all easy I would be a liar. It was both challenging and rewarding. I hope that my students actually improved their English or at least felt more interested in it by the end of the year. One thing I know for certain is that my year in Wuhan changed me for the better. Thanks to the politeness and warmth of Chinese students I conquered my fear of speaking in public and became more self-confident. Most importantly, I met dozens of fine decent people and made numerous excellent friends.










  也许,中国的教育体制确实是过于注重死记硬背的学习方法。尽管如此,我却发现这并没有反映出中国学生的天性。我遇到的这些学生只要拥有一个适当的课堂氛围、获得一个进行热身练习的机会, 就会很自然地进行互动,而且不由自主地享受着表演的乐趣。在我们进行一些角色扮演的活动时,有些学生就过于投入他们的角色,以至于他们都快分不清演戏和现实的界限了!





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