As we made our final decent, my eyes gazed past the wing of the plane and down upon the dry, brown dunes and crackled mountains. As the capital city of Yinchuan drew closer, the land became more green and fertile. Rows upon rows of cookie cutter villagers lay in perfect squares with a shining mosque at the center. The sun slowly slid down the horizon and as the wheels of the plane hit the pavement, its orange orb had tucked itself behind a hazy mountain façade. We made it, I thought to myself. After months of waiting for a placement site, after weeks of training and document processing, here I was in Ningxia!
I am 1 of 8 foreign teachers at Ningxia Normal University, and despite trying to get settled into my apartment, applying for residency, and acquiring other living essentials, the start of the school year brings more pressing matters. There is a motto between the foreign teachers here regarding the month of September. This is a motto which we live by….Sleep, Eat, Pray, Teach…SEPTember. As a first year teacher and a newbie in Guyuan, this motto is a survival tool.
Sleep is often my number one priority to attaining good self-care. Having been in China for two weeks (for training and visa processing), it was a blessing to not have to deal with jetlag upon arrival in Guyuan. With busy days of cleaning, running around the city, and preparing lesson plans, exhaustion sets in fast. I am not ashamed of my early bedtime that has allowed me to get the 8-9 hours that I have needed to function within transition.
I did not eat the way I expected during my first week here, eager to begin cooking my own meals. I arrived to a nice sized apartment, well furnished, and comfortable, however, I soon found that while my refrigerator had power, it was not emitting coldness. Similarly, my stove was lacking a tank of gas. With no power to my stove and no cool space to store food, cooking was almost impossible. Since then, I have discovered the beauty of the rice cooker. 🙂 I am grateful for a street lined with produce vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs at a reasonable cost.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” -Colossians 4:2-6
Teaching, of course, is the reason why I am living here in Guyuan and where most of my time goes. I have the privilege of teaching two sections of Freshman Oral English, who meet twice a week. So throughout the week, I teach 2 lessons across 4 class periods, maintain office hours and of course, spend time at home preparing for the lessons and grading papers afterward. My job is my lifestyle but I am loving it so far!
As I expected, the students write very well, but are very shy and nervous to speak. Therefore, the goal of my course is to build their confidence in English speaking by giving maximum time to practice conversation in class.
I have been overwhelmed by the peace God has given me as I have planned and taught so far. With prayers of wisdom and strength in my heart, the Lord has provided complete calm within me. Even on the first day of class I did not feel overly nervous or excited, just ready. Ready to take this call and serve. Within this secular setting is sometimes hard to see God’s hand working, but as a fellow foreign teacher stated, “if our God changed the world with a baby, surely He can touch hearts with a vocabulary word!”
Using my background in Children’s Ministry and Theatre, I have been able to plan interactive activities in class and hold Workshops during my office hours to engage with my students. I praise the Lord for these moments where my purpose seems so clear and I pray that He will continue to show me how I can work in the lives of my students. I am reminded of Colossians 3:23, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters.”
What is not a part of the SEPT motto? L for Language. It is almost impossible to get by here without a foundational knowledge in Mandarin. Outside of the University, people in the community generally do not speak English, so with my limited knowledge of Mandarin, it has been difficult to communicate. My knowledge of numbers has allowed me to make purchases and live on a daily basis, but anything more than that requires a Mandarin speaker. I have come to appreciate menus with pictures, as I cannot read Chinese characters. With a comfortable teaching routine in place, I am eager to begin taking time to learn the language and challenge my communication abilities come October.