Today I was testing my students for their final oral examination.I had planned various different ways to do this,but in the end I settled for the tried and true method of a little personal chat.I warned students not to deliver a prepared speech,as I didn’t want to be besieged with the well-worn passages they have learnt by heart in the past,My Hometown,My family and the Food of Fujian Province.In these the students trot out phrases taught to them by their Chinese English teachers which often sound stilted and unnatural-”My mother is very kind,my father is very hard-working and the food in Fujian is very delicious”.I wanted them to just chat naturally to me and so I just asked them simple questions to start them off,such as What is your dream? Funnily enough this method seems to have produced more natural,relaxed dialogue,and gave students a chance to really open up,something they never seem to do in class.
To my surprise they opened up far more than I could ever have expected.One student told me she has had a hard time recently since she broke up with her boyfriend who is in the same class and who started dating another classmate.I tried the platitudes such as “Plenty more fish in the sea: and “Time will heal” etc but she suddenly turned the tables on me and asked if I had ever been in a similar situation and how I had coped with my own breakups! Kudos to her,right?
Next after I had asked a student about the meaning of her name,a girl told me that she had been adopted as her real parents had abandoned her on the road because she is a girl.She said that her adopted parents are wonderful,and work very hard to send her to college.She said she worries about her father because he is a farmer and he is now over 75. She said she hopes she can repay them for the way they have brought her up and that she loves them very much.There was a lot of emotion in her voice as she spoke.
Then another girl told me she wanted to confide a secret.She told me that she will be dropping out of college next semester,as she is getting married because she is pregnant and returning home but she hopes to return to college later on.She said only two of her roommates know this.I was pretty surprised of course,and wished her all the best.I asked if she is happy with this situation and she said not really.I was rather at a loss to comfort her but tried to reassure her.
I had several students who told me they don’t like their majors and that their dream is to study something different,to open a shop,to run a coffee bar and so on.Another girl told me she wanted to draw and had been good at art as a child but her mother didn’t encourage it,as it is not a way to make a good living in China.
Finally I had a boy who had always seemed rather taciturn and sullen in class but who told me his dream was to be a dancer.He is learning how to do Breakdance and he told me that this kind of dance is really limited in China as it is not really approved of.He asked me about Breakdance in my country (I have no clue!) and said he would like to develop it in the future but of course since his Major is International Business it would have to remain a hobby not a career.
I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that many of these kids have no chance to pursue their dream,and most of them seem to be have been pushed into majors they don’t like,by parents who are motivated only by material concerns.I remember doing similar interviews at the end of the school year in Israel,and I always wished I had done it at the beginning of the school year to get to know the students more,but I never felt the same kind of frustration.The kids here really don’t seem to have much say in their lives at all.
On another note,on Saturday we went on a day trip with some friends to a park just outside Xiamen,and on the way back we visited a new suburb of Xiamen called Haicang.We had hired a minivan and driver to take us to the park and on the way back there was a huge argument (in Chinese) about how much we would pay him to take us to Haicang and then to Xiamen University where we wanted to have dinner at a Korean restaurant.At first he told us he was too hungry to take us there as he had not had lunch,then he said it was too far,then he said it was not enough money.Finally we (actually our friend Jennifer) persuaded him we would give him some more money and also let him go and eat while we were in Haicang before continuing on to Xiamen Uni.The park was not that exciting but Haicang had a very nice promenade along the beach with some modern sculptures and we had a really fun day out.