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Hollistonian to China and Back

by The Publishers
March 2, 2019

The author with her travel companion, Melanie Sullivan. The streets were decorated with lights for the Chinese New Year.

Note from the PublishersA month ago a friend’s text mentioned her daughter’s trip to China.  We were impressed that daughter Betsy, an elementary teacher, would be traveling to China to teach.  

Curiosity got the better of us, and we thought other Hollistonians might be equally curious about a neighbor’s travels to such an in-the-news locale.  Betsy kindly obliged, sharing her candid and intriguing view of China which we happily submit for your reading delight.

Text and Photos by Betsy Maxwell

Note from the PublishersA month ago a friend’s text mentioned her daughter’s trip to China.  We were impressed that daughter Betsy, an elementary teacher, would be traveling to China to teach.  

Curiosity got the better of us, and we thought other Hollistonians might be equally curious about a neighbor’s travels to such an in-the-news locale.  Betsy kindly obliged, sharing her candid and intriguing view of China which we happily submit for your reading delight.

Text and Photos by Betsy Maxwell

The email from my superintendent arrived at 2:45 on a Thursday in November: Looking for a few teachers to travel to our sister school in Beijing, China to teach professional development for ten days this winter.

By 2:46 my phone was ringing and my best friend Melanie was asking me to apply with her.

“China?” was my response. “Why would I want to go to China?” My idea of travel was going somewhere warm where I could sleep on a beach as I listened to the lull of the ocean. China had never been on my list of places I needed or even wanted to visit.

Luckily she and my sister, Rebecca, convinced me to apply and within two weeks Melanie and I were both approved to leave for China for ten days in January.

From the moment we landed in Beijing, to the moment we touched back down in Boston I was in complete awe of this beautiful city and all it had to offer.

I spent my mornings teaching professional development to teachers of English. They wanted to learn how to teach with more active engagement from their students. With an average class size of 40, it can be a challenge for teachers in Beijing to have students working in cooperative groups as is common here in America. The teachers were open to learning whatever I could teach them about American culture and in exchange they taught me about Chinese culture.

While the school day there is very long (8-3 up until second grade, 8-5 for grades 3-5, and then up to 8pm in high school) children are also highly respected members of the society and are treated as such. Although the government recently changed the one child only law to two children per family, most families stick with one child and devote everything they have to that child becoming successful.

Generations of families live together and it’s a given that children will grow up to take care of their parents as they age. I noticed that I never saw any homeless people on the streets and I was told that it’s very rare for anyone to become homeless due to the fact that families take such good care of each other.

When visiting any of the many malls in Beijing, we found that an entire floor was dedicated to children not only with stores but with swimming lessons, English lessons, hip hop classes and child themed restaurants.

 

These malls also contained an average of 40 full service restaurants for adults! We ate many dinners in various malls. The food was always served family style on a turntable in the middle of the table. While it was typical to take small servings and move the turntable to the next person, there were times when we’d all eat out of giant pots of food that would be shared by two or three people. Since it would be seen as rude to refuse any food offered, I found myself trying foods far out of my comfort zone such as unidentifiable meats. While I preferred the dumplings and noodles, I found myself loving the spices that coated almost everything I tried.

Teaching these teachers did lead to a couple of challenges. In China, adults are encouraged to nap whenever they feel tired. That includes in the middle of a professional development workshop. So while I thought I was highly engaging, there was more than one occasion in which I looked out to my captive audience only to find a few of my students fast asleep. The first time this happened I blushed with embarrassment. But I was quickly assured that this was the norm and that I shouldn’t take it personally. I wouldn’t say I ever fully got used to these random naps, but I stopped taking them as a sign of boring teaching.

While Facebook is against the law in China (as is Google) people communicate through an app called WeChat. Teachers felt very comfortable messaging me at all hours of the day and night and typically expected a quick reply. I had to set some limits and would turn the app off at night in order to get a sound sleep.

Another challenge was the temperature. Beijing has temperatures similar to Boston, however this January it was unseasonably warm. Most days it was in the high 50’s to low 60’s which to this New Englander means short sleeves and open windows. However my students were always freezing. Not only would they wear down winter coats to class, they liked the classroom thermostat to be set to 27 degrees Celsius! (That’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit.) By day four I took charge and turned off the heat. I received many cross looks that day but it was worth it. I could finally teach without sweating!

On the final day of classes the teachers presented what they had learned from us. The presentations were hilarious as the teachers imitated me down to my turning down of the heat. When they gave speeches about how much I had affected them, tears flowed freely from my eyes. My only regret was that I never got to see these teachers teach in their home schools.

View from 14th watchtower

In the afternoons we were taken around Beijing as tourists. I went to the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Ho Hei, and last but not least, The Great Wall of China. I had of course heard about and seen pictures of the Great Wall. But seeing it in person was entirely different. As I stood looking out from the 14th watchtower, I felt so overjoyed with all that I had experienced over the course of the week. I felt like I could have stayed up there, looking out at the beautiful view for hours. But it was time to walk down to the 6th watchtower and climb aboard a bobsled to travel down the rest of the wall at a high speed. Yet again, something I never thought I would do.

As I flew home after hugging my amazing caretakers goodbye, I was certain of one thing. I would be applying to go back as soon as possible.

 

 

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Comments (3)

A truly awesome experience! Thanks for sharing Betsy!

- Stacey Raffi | 3/2/19 8:51 PM

Betsy, so glad you shared this experience! Loved your insights. Glad you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone for these memories!

- Abigail Furey | 3/2/19 11:22 AM

Very interesting article, great experience. No wonder the US has fallen to 33rd in learning, look at the time spent on learning in China.

- Jackie Dellicker | 3/2/19 10:44 AM

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