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六月有奖征文:Coworkers become Friends become Family in China

作者:Jo Anna Kolbe | 来源:无锡新区国际学校

 When I first came to China, I never thought that I would make a life-long friend who would become my Chinese jiejie and I her American meimei!

For many foreign tourists, China is a place full of wonder and adventure.  They come for a few days or a few weeks and have an amazing time learning about Chinese culture, but are rather shallow in their experience of interacting with Chinese people. I have found that deeper understanding of any culture, but especially Chinese culture, requires building relationships with local people and their families. Although I am not an expert in Chinese culture, I have had and will continue to have a deeper appreciation for my host culture than most visitors to China due to my connection with its’ citizens.

My first trip to China was for a short internship at the International School of Qingdao.  During those two months of learning about being a teacher of international students, I also took the time to learn survival Chinese and to meet with some of the Chinese staff after school. I visited many tourist attractions during that time, went shopping, explored the beaches and parks, and visited some historical buildings.  This was the amazing experience of a tourist, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  However, the experiences I cherished most during those eight weeks were when I connected with Chinese people over dinner and visits to their homes.

Teaching is a job that travels.Unlike other teenagers, from an early age, I felt called to teach outside of my passport country.  Before my internship, I did not have any particular country in mind in which to begin my career and it was through unplanned circumstances that I happened to intern in Qingdao. Even though it was a dream of mine to become a teacher, my favorite part about the internship actually was not my time in the classroom. What drew me back to China were the relationships I had built with the Chinese teachers and staff members with whom I interacted.Although I could have worked anywhere in the world, I only applied for a teaching position in China due to the deeper connection I had formed with the Chinese culture through my new relationships with Chinese people.

During my first year of teaching second grade at the International School of Wuxi, I not only needed the help of my teaching assistant in the classroom but also with basic life skills such as setting up my cell phone, purchasing household items, and navigating the city transportation system. Jiang Chang was not only the first Chinese person I met during my second trip to China nor just my close coworker/ professional assistant, but she became my China life-coach.  Through this daily coworker relationship, I was able to get to know more about her and her family and she shared with me about her culture.  During our first shopping trip, she taught me how to bargain with vendors and even from the first day in the classroom, she shared with me the Chinese delicacy of chicken feet!

My relationship with Jiang Chang and my knowledge of Chinese culture grew exponentially throughout the three years we shared a classroom and worked together to co-teach the second grade students. Partly this was because of our daily interactions in the classroom but also because Jiang Chang and I built upon experiences outside of school time.  She invited me to her home for dinner, we visited parks, volunteered at the orphanage, drank coffee together, and we talked about life.

Our strong relationship also developed during our trip to SiChuan after the 2008 earthquake.  During this two-and-a-half week-long trip, we went out to a small village and helped put together a tent school where the local children could spend the day studying math, Chinese, English, and physical education. Since this was the summer after my first year teaching, I did not have a lot of Chinese language skills and because I was the only native English speaker in the village, I did not have a wide variety of people to choose from for conversation. So, Jiang Chang became my conversation companion and we were able to learn a lot from each other. By the end of this trip, we had become great friends rather than only colleagues.

During my second year of teaching, Jiang Chang became my one-on-one Chinese language tutor.  It is regrettable that I was not a very good student of Chinese because I would often find the need to shorten or skip lessons in order to work on a classroom project or grade some tests. However, Jiang Chang tried her best teach me to recognize the strokes and write the characters. Due to my authority over her as her supervisor and because of our growing friendship, I think she did not push me in my language learning as she may have pushed others and I did not push myself in language learning as much as I should have.  Although she is no longer my Chinese tutor, she continually encourages me to continue learning and growing in my language skills.

After that, I gained a deeper appreciation for Chinese culture through Chinese cuisine, especially Hunan style dishes as Jiang Chang’s parents moved to Wuxi.  Once her parents moved to Wuxi, her mother would cook dinner for me at least once and week and I would enjoy many dishes of which Hunan hotpot was my favorite.  Jiang Chang’s mother helped me to build up a liking for spicy foods through adding a little extra spice to the dishes every time I ate at their house.  Through these interactions and a visit to her parent’s home town in Hunan Province, I also maintained a deep relationship with her parents.

One summer, I was able to reciprocate the visit to her home by bringing her to my parents’ home in the United States.  We enjoyed several weeks of summer vacation together traveling around the country visiting my relatives and New York City.  By the end of her trip, Jiang Chang was accepted as one of the family and she even joined in our family photos that year.  At that time, she became my Chinese older sister and I her American younger sister.

After our third year teaching together in the same classroom, Jiang Chang received a promotion to become a full-time Chinese teacher still in the same school. Since we would no longer see each other on a daily basis, Jiang Chang and I had to become more intentional with our relationship upkeep by making sure we did a fun activity or spent time together outside of school. When her parents moved back to Hunan, we went together to visit them during the Christmas holiday and I started to think of them as my Chinese parents and they treated me like their own daughter. Jiang Chang and I went out to eat, watched movies, played games, and also shared about our dreams and plans for the future.

After my seventh year teaching in Wuxi, both Jiang Chang and I received promotions as she became the Lead Teacher of the Chinese Language Department and I became the divisional principal of the early childhood center and elementary grade levels. As our work duties caused us to become even busier, we had to work even harder at making time to get together and further develop our friendship.We planned and took several trips around China through which I learned even more about Chinese history and culture.  Also, last Christmas, Jiang Chang was also able to visit the United States again and reconnected with my family.

So far, this is my tenth year in Wuxi and it has been the hardest in which to find time to devote to our friendship because I am now the Head Principal of the International School of Wuxi.  Saturdays are a great time for us to meet because every-other week, Jiang Chang will join me at the Wuxi Children’s Welfare Institute to work with a small group of children there who have disabilities. Even though years of practice have helped my Chinese language skills to improve in order to interact with the children, it is always helpful to have a Jiang Chang help out in leading the activities as well!

Even through the trials and stress of busyness, our bond is stronger than most foreigner and Chinese relationships as we are family and will continue to be life-long friends no matter how many weeks we may have to go without seeing each other or spending time together. We started out as coworkers and then became friends, but now we are, and will continue to be, sisters.

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