It was 8:00 p.m. on Thursday night when I read the text message. Inwardly, I groaned. Our volunteer organization (World Academy for Women) was asking for help again. The text said they needed someone to teach some school children about American culture on Friday—as in the next day, as in my day off. I really didn’t want to go…
But I am so thankful that I did. I am so thankful that God convinced me to go; it was exactly what Lukas and I needed.
The school was an hour and half away. I traveled with three Chinese students that I had just met only a few minutes before leaving; I was traveling to a school that I’d never before visited, and I was teaching a lesson from a PowerPoint that was emailed to me only an hour before leaving. To say I was anxious would be an understatement.
When we arrived, the teacher met us in the parking lot. It was a chilly, rainy day, but she greeted us with a warm smile and led us to the teacher’s lounge for a cup of hot water. There, she also gave Lukas a gift. His name translates to Lucky Cloud and is the logo of their school.
We visited for a few minutes, drank our water, and went to the restroom—a hallway with a concrete ditch on each side of the room. The students at this school were lucky, I was told. They had partitions to separate the “stalls”—though there were no doors. Shock and awe morphed my expressions, but all in all, it wasn’t a bad experience. I’d have taken a photo to share, but I decided it probably was inappropriate. Besides, it is best in these situations to keep the mysteries of China.
On the way back from the restroom, we saw several children—or rather, they saw me. They would gasp or squeal, “Wai guo ren” which means “foreigner”. Those with whom I was able to make eye contact stared back at me with eyes like saucers. They could not contain their excitement. Later, I was told that these children were the children of migrant workers—those who had lived in the villages but had found jobs in the city. I was probably the first white person they’d ever seen.
Soon, I was led to the front of classroom of about 60 students. 60 students to 1 teacher. I saw it, and I still have trouble imagining it. The kids, however, were quiet, probably awestruck at this wai guo ren. The lesson went well, and Lukas even helped me teach it.
I taught the kids about the American flag, what it represents. I taught them about our holidays. They particularly loved Halloween, but I think Christmas was their favorite. Afterwards, we opened the floor for questions. I got questions about American history, our holidays, and even about our supermarkets. I found out later that it is the dream of many Chinese children to move to America and open a supermarket. Then, we visited one more classroom for a photo op and to sign autographs—yeah, that part was weird. But Lukas had a blast.
On the way back, Lukas asked me, “Mom, why did you have to be their teacher today? Was their teacher sick?” I explained to him that their teacher was there. I reminded him of the time the local fire department visited his class at school and how that was a special day for him and his classmates. Then, I told him that our visit was a special day for these students; we were their special day. He smiled and looked out the window.
In the quiet that followed, I thought back to my youth. Was there ever a day in which a foreigner was invited to the classroom to teach us about their culture? I couldn’t think of one. I was deeply disappointed. Even though I grew up in a small town, I’d known several foreigners, yet what had we done, what I had done to learn from them. I could think of nothing.
Then, I remembered the students, their excited faces, and the teacher and the warm reception she gave us. All the people I have met in Xinzheng have greeted me warmly like this. They are so welcoming, so humble, and so curious. And there, in the silence, I vowed that I would be the change. Whenever I return home, I will strive to be like my Chinese hosts: warm, curious, and welcoming.