I’m very lucky to have a partner who listens to my political rants and discusses them. He faces that burden alone however.
As my university circle is long gone and they’re all thousands of miles away, as my other expat friends are leaving the country one by one and the main interactions I have left are the ones I share with my innocent teen students (whom I love dearly!)… It’s easy to get frustrated. At a point in China I felt mostly depressed and powerless, always thinking I would be more politically active if I were somewhere else. I mostly face a language barrier here which prevents from going into out-of-the-ordinary conversations.
I am completely unproductive beating myself up however, so I have thought out a few commandments:
- To boost morale
- A reminder that being here is NOT meaningless
- To strike a balance between what can and what cannot be done.
Here it goes.
- Don’t consume the press like there is no tomorrow. Beyond three hours a day it only breeds pain, especially at the moment.
- Liking, reacting and sharing on social media is only satisfying to a certain point. You’re interacting in your usual circle of friends and relatives, something that has its own value, but if you’re looking to have a tangible impact you have to go to another level or reach out of that circle.
- Record your personal efforts. Habits are difficult to implement and you should be proud of what you accomplish. Small life changes take a long time and a lot of people to gain significance, but they are never vain, at the following condition that you…
- …share your tips with others enthusiastically without giving directives or being judgmental, and hear out their own ideas. You will slowly influence people around you if your actions make sense to them and if you listen to them as well.
- If volunteering opportunities are accessible (and legal), dive into them. Animal rescue groups are the easiest to find, along with independent wellness/environmental awareness centers.
In your job:
- Stay within your limits. Don’t criticize anything sensitive or let your opinion show but encourage kids to think critically. You’re not trying to affect opinions but a mindset.
- Choose thought-provoking topics. My 7th and 8th graders are usually eager to learn about multiculturalism, environmental problems, animal treatment and diets around the world for example.
- Introduce the notions of nuance and diversity, something that can prove difficult. Ningbo is pretty homogeneous: all my students are Han Chinese and they very seldom have friends from another ethnic group. As a consequence of not being “exposed” to difference, they’ll tend to rely on some clichés when confronted to people who look or act different. I’ve unfortunately heard the most ignorant stereotypes (not worth repeating) from some of my kids and it usually takes me an entire class to make them comprehend why such things are unacceptable. That is something you can try to act upon. It’s definitely not your place to influence the adults, but they’re paying you to educate their children in an “international environment” for a couple of hours a week, so do your job as you see fit.
- I choose to give students hardly any homework. Most of them are already burdened with three to five hours of extra work after school once they’ve reached 6th grade. Every now and then I’ll have them undergo some research on a topic.
- And finally, my favorite medicine: because your students will often have pressure overload, seize any chance you have to laugh with them. That’s usually all it takes to make my day.
Friends, expats and ex-expats from China, how do you do it?