|30 December 2002||20021230|
The top piece of advice for those coming to live and work in China seems to be: leave all your expectations and preconceptions about China at home.
In fact, this is good advice for almost any new situation at home or abroad. So many things are outside our control, and we must simply learn to cope with them. But what we do choose is our attitude, and that's a lot more complicated than the proverbial half full/half empty glass.
With my departure less than 2 months away, I have been ravenously reading about other people's experiences in China (see my links page). I find myself suddenly interested in the minutiae of daily life for a foreign teacher in China. There are many parallels in the situations that these individuals encounter, but their accounts vary. These are not just different writing styles, but different personalities each with a different approach to the culture they are immersed in. Some are wide-eyed and fascinated, others cynical. Some flaunt their exoticness, others are embarrassed by the gap of language and culture.
The attitude I take with me to China will influence the way I experience life there. My personal goals will too. These are things that I have the opportunity to think about before I even arrive in the country. Should I look for the differences and similarities between Chinese and Australian culture, or should I try to avoid making early comparisons? Should I be trusting of new acquaintances, or wary? Should I explore my new city independently, or prefer the company of colleagues and students? How much time outside class hours should I devote to duties related to teaching? Do I want to go travelling and sight-seeing while I'm in China?
Should I seek out Chinese acquaintances, or spend time comparing notes with other foreigners instead? Other foreign teachers are probably the people that I have the most in common with, and I'm keen to pick up any tips I can about teaching, and China. But I would like to maximise my opportunities to speak Chinese and experience the culture first hand. It takes a lot of courage and effort to step outside your comfort zone like this. Actually, the best example of this attitude that I know of does not come from the journals I have been reading on the internet, but from my Japanese friend Satomi.
I will be leaving Australia shortly after my 24th birthday. China is a big red-wrapped birthday present! I can't choose what's inside, so there's no point guessing. But whatever it turns out to be, the way I react to it is entirely up to me. And that's the way you choose your adventure.