My First Job in China
Arriving at Campus
After my rough initiation to China, I was on the way to the university along with the driver, another American lecturer, and our company representative. We took in the view of the countryside which included some very simple farming communities. Some of the households appeared to be missing windows and were lit by candlelight.
Once we reached the city, Shaoyang, we noticed an interesting state of development. It appeared that some major roads were newly constructed right through houses and apartment buildings. This was the only place I had seen houses cut in half with families still living in them. Apartment buildings were going up everywhere among mountains of reddish earth and construction materials.
We made our way from the city to the university in the suburbs and entered the university campus through the main gate. The driver pulled up in front of an older, blackened building. My colleague and I looked at the building quizzically as we were instructed to get out of the car.
We entered the building through a rusty metal gate as chickens clucked at us from the ground level apartments. Then, we made our way up the concrete stairs to the fourth floor, following our company rep. She handed us each a key and opened the door on our side of the building. This door opened to a shared hallway area and our accommodations.
The layout was a bit unusual with our kitchen areas and bathrooms on one side of the hallway and our living rooms, offices, and bedrooms on the other. The toilets, in contrast to what was stated in our contracts and to "sample" pictures we received, were of the squat variety. Also, we noticed that there was no heating on that side of the building—and it was cold.
As we entered the living area for a quick tour of that side, workers were standing in a mess of cardboard, styrofoam, and other debris and smoking. They put out their cigarettes on the floor and left, never to be seen again. The rooms were spacious enough and there were wall-mounted heating and air conditioning units installed. The company rep told us we could take some time to get settled and that we could meet the next morning for a tour of the campus and classrooms.
With the company rep gone for the evening, my colleague and I retired to our respective living areas on the heated side. I used a discarded sheet of cardboard to scoop up the styrofoam, cigarette butts, and other debris the best I could and put it into a box that was left behind. I unpacked some of my necessities but figured I would wait until obtaining some cleaning supplies before going much further.
I looked around the apartment a bit to plan how I would organize things. Once I had surveyed the heated side of the apartment, I went back across the hall to the kitchen to take inventory there. I opened the cupboard door and it crashed down to the counter. Luckily, there were some utensils in the drawer which included a butter knife. I used the butter knife to screw the door hinges back on and made note of what else was at my disposal. There was a cutting board, a wok, a hot water kettle, rice cooker, and a meat cleaver.
Exhausted, I wanted to take a shower and get to bed. I turned on the hot water in the shower and closed the bathroom door, hoping it would warm up the room enough to make it comfortable. The water heater appeared to be large enough to handle the job. I retrieved some night clothes from my luggage and returned to take a shower. After having a nice shower in the now relatively warm room, I got dressed and shuffled across the hall and went to bed.
I slept well as the campus was quiet until sunrise. The roosters crowed and I woke before my alarm went off. I got ready and met my company rep, colleague, and the dean downstairs in front of the apartment building.
They took us by car across the bridge to where we would be teaching. The campus setting was nice with greenery and a man-made lake. They showed us the teaching buildings which were minimally equipped with some old computers, projectors, chalkboards, desks, and chairs. We took note of the lack of heating in the classrooms as well as the winter temperatures could hover around freezing.
They showed us where we could do our shopping and we stocked up on cleaning supplies, food, and some padded toilet seat folding chairs to supplement our unfamiliar squat toilets. We returned to our apartments at the conclusion of the tour and were given our class schedules. It was time to do some housekeeping and prepare for the following day of classes. Oh, and to give that special folding chair a trial run!
Time for Class
My management science classes were all around 40 students. The vast majority of the students were female, with the exception of a handful of males that usually took up the furthest back seats. The English language levels were across the board from true beginner to advanced and articulate. For the most part, the students were well behaved—though copying and cheating would be ongoing struggles. They were a fairly relaxed group and asked some interesting and engaging questions.
The students made the year contract and I enjoyed teaching them. At the end of the year. I decided I would like to spend at least another year teaching in China but would like to experience another city. My company offered me a similar placement in the city of Nanchang and I'll elaborate on that experience in another article!
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