Four seasons at Zhaoqing University
The first thing I remember when I arrived to Guangzhou is the heat. Yeeep, it was hot. So hot I couldn’t notice that the bougainvillea which, living in Poland, I’ve always thought to be flowers, were actually trees. Neither I couldn’t appreciate the fact that you can have so many shapes of green in one place. Well, all this because of the crazy weather I later had to learn how to deal with. When I got this job offer, teaching in Zhaoqing, I couldn’t even pronounce properly this name. I just checked quickly on Wikipedia what was the average temperature for every month and I said yes. I know, I should have checked the humidity too but I had never been before to tropics so I didn’t think it would be a problem. It was. Because when it’s humid, the heat is even hotter.
But the way the students received me at the University was also very warm. I had been teaching for thirteen years and nobody had ever done a “woooow” when I entered the classroom for the first lesson. Having students who actually listen during the class and do their homework were also something new and quite nice in my short teaching career.
Little by little autumn came and I could start breathing. Guangdong autumn is more like summer in Poland but it was still quite relaxing. My students were still quite interested in what we were doing, still used to have their eyes wide open when I showed them Polish song or videos with our cities, still accepting the fact that they are learning a crazy difficult language that I did my best to introduce as an easy one (I failed). Guangdong autumn and autumn teaching were just as they should be: relaxing, reassuring, interesting too. I got a routine I like: going to class, checking homework, giving homework, explaining our grammar that my people managed, for no reason, to make so tricky to complicate the life of all those innocent pupils who decide to learn it.
And when I was so happy living this life and thinking that this idyll would last forever: the winter came. I know, it’s scary but it has to be said. Winter in Guangdong is treacherous. It doesn’t look like winter: there’s no snow, no blizzards, no ice, and though, it’s winter. When you look at the temperature, it looks friendly: 14°. You think that you’re going to be fine and then you discover that your apartment doesn’t have heating. You still think you can deal with it but then you realize that the floor in your flat is made of tile (to keep you cool in summer but for winter is a terrible idea), it’s cold and your feet are frozen.
I learnt how to live with this and how to survive the winter but the winter in your class is much more difficult to cope. At some point the students have to admit that studying, having tones of extra activities, reviewing for approaching exams, trying to have a life and maybe a little rest – is not that easy. And those you know have to learn Polish which, as I’ve already said, isn’t any easy. Some people call that “being tired”, I would rather say “exhausted”. When winter gets inside your classroom, it means silence, and for a teacher silence is the worst thing that can happen. I can accept the weirdest questions, as many “I don’t understand” as you want, but not silence. And when Chinese students decide not to speak, there’s no way to make them. They might look at you, but, unfortunately, I still can’t read minds so it’s not any helpful. The silence gets inside you and it’s paralyzing, you don’t really know what to do, how to react. So you offer them a deal: please shake your heads like this if you don’t understand – still nothing. Nod, raise your hand, give me a sign – nothing.
I haven’t found any solution for the winter silence yet. I just learnt how to keep calm and wait for spring. Guangdong spring might not be the best spring ever (it’s raining every day, palm tree leaves are falling down and could cut your head off if you don’t pay attention, the wind before the storm would make car alarms crazy) but it’s very dynamic. The weather can change in one minute, clouds can cover a blue sky in a record time. All that would not matter because your students will wake up from the winter sleep. They have new questions for you, maybe they will miss the class if the rain has no sense of time and starts just before your class so they can’t leave their dormitories but they talk again. And that’s the only thing a foreign language teachers expects.
Karolina Leśniewska, female, 33 years old, Polish