Hannah Filley: I’m going to China, I’m going to China, I’m here!

This is the third in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Shanghai, China: Second Language Acquisition in China and the USA program this summer with Professor Lydia McDermott. Hannah Filley ’19  is an English major.

When our plane landed at the Shanghai–Pudong International Airport, I woke up from my dazed and completely restless not-actually-asleep-dream-state with a start. Twelve or so hours had passed since leaving Seattle and my body was going on hour thirty of being awake. Stir crazy and completely exhausted, I managed through two hours of customs clearance and baggage claiming, essentially unconscious as I wobbled through crowds of people and onto a bus that would take us an hour into the city. My fellow Whitties and I would later float off the bus and zombie our way through narrow sidewalks, strange faces, and odd smells until we would at last find our hotel—and temporary home—for the month of June

A view from our daily walk through East China Normal University Campus

All I could think the whole time was I’m going to China. I’m going to CHINA. And eventually: I’m in CHINA. CHINA!—in attempt to believe that my pretty impulsive choice to participate in a month-long study abroad course in Shanghai was coming to fruition. As you can likely gather from my nervous anticipation, my experiences traveling had yet to compare to something as new as this. My discomfort, though, was exactly what I had set out to achieve when I applied to participate. I was here for the same reasons most students study abroad: to push the boundaries of my comfortability, increase my global awareness, take advantage of the opportunities Whitman creates for students that aren’t quite so easy to come across in the “real world”, yadayadayada. It feels silly to even attempt putting this experience into words. After all, I’ve only been in Shanghai for a week. Yet, somehow, maybe because of the constant noise and busy nature of our days here, I feel like I’ve been here much longer. I know that gushing about how much this past week has made me fall in love with home anew and appreciate—to some degree—how deeply isolating it feels to be submerged in a sometimes unrecognizable culture with no language skills is all, without a doubt, overly self-congratulatory. But, I also feel pretty cool for diving in.

Our program is focused on second language learning and educational practices in China and the U.S.A. The catch: only one member of our ten person class/adventure group speaks Chinese. One of the many things we’ll be doing during our weeks here besides attending classes, seeing sights, and doing our best not to get lost, is teach English. So, only a couple days after my delirious arrival to this beautiful, strange city I walked into a room teeming with pure curiosity and elation. It looked a little like this:

After stumbling through a few simple games with these second graders, I soon realized I had definitely overestimated myself and vastly underestimated the group of brilliant kiddos. Their English vocabularies loomed far beyond what my two co-teachers and I had anticipated. We had to think on our feet to make things more challenging, all while struggling to maintain control of a classroom in which we did not speak the dominant language. I don’t know if I taught them very much English during the hour I had with them, but I was excited to take what they had taught me to the next classroom I would teach the following week. The best part? When we said goodbye to the room full of students, one ran up to the front of the classroom, handed each of us a bright colored piece of paper, and said “thank you teacher”. One by one the rest of the students looked at each other and, in varying levels of hurried excitement, fumbled through their desks searching for colored papers of their own to do the same. We each left the building with a hefty stack of colorful “gifts”, smiling ear to ear. Seeing first-hand the kinds of enthusiasm and respect students have for teachers, and learning for that matter, in a culture where teachers are generally valued and celebrated far more than what I’m accustomed to was a gift in and of itself. 

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