Thursday, July 15, 2010


My students like to say this word in order to signal an abrupt end to a speech, followed by scurrying back to their seats. I’m going to borrow it right now to wrap up the past three years and maybe this blog. I’m officially an RPCV now and have been back in the US for almost two weeks so I figured I should end one adventure before another begins tomorrow when I head back to Bolivia for an 8 day vacation with Kelley.

With my COS, I think it’s also time to reflect on my service as a volunteer. Finishing Peace Corps is a big change…coming back to the US and readjusting to life here is a struggle for some, but I think the more significant change is not being a PCV anymore. For the past three years it has been my identity and the reason for why I was where I was and why I was doing what I was doing. It was also a security blanket…interestingly enough, I am transitioning to what many consider a safe haven for not growing up (grad school) but to me there is a lot more stability in being a PCV…your time in a certain place and what you will do there is planned out for you…the stakes are high (making an impact on peoples’ lives) but low (no struggle to get a raise or promoted through excellent performance) at the same time…no worries of health insurance or making those real decisions that adults need to make. So I find that coming back to the US is a bit scary because it means taking that leap again similar to what it felt like to graduate from college…except now your peers are already three years and three steps ahead of you. It’s not that I don’t think the PC experience is valuable, it is and I would do it all again if I had to make the choice again…but in this day and age when we want it all…and when I’m headed into a grad school program focused on career advancement…I am reminded of what I missed out on.

Did PC live up to my expectations? It’s hard now to think back to what I thought PC would be when I left in 2007. I think I expected to have a transformational experience where I would gain clarity about what direction I want to go in life…but I believe the only revelation was that there would be no revelation. I didn’t discover that I want to work in international development forever (there, I said it) and I’m about 50% sure that I will end up in the public or nonprofit sectors. I do know that volunteering will always be a part of my life and what I cherish most about it is making connections with individuals. I probably wasn’t the best PCV because I lacked some of the necessary skills and passion at times but I did change a little and gain a lot (sadly I think I gained much more than I was able to give back to the people that I worked with).

So here we go with some of the ways I think I have changed as a result of my experience…
• Grew to be more environmentally conscious and less wasteful – hard not to when you’re surrounded by tree huggers and their worm bins and see littering and pollution everyday
• Gained more confidence, especially in public speaking – I tried to live “do one thing every day that scares you” and when you stand in front of a class of 40 students everyday you’ll tire yourself out if you get nervous every time you have class
• Recognized one of my flaws in my impatience when it comes to inefficient processes – trying to harness this for my future career while also learning to be more patient with people
• Realized it takes a lot more than joining Peace Corps to make a meaningful impact on someone in the developing world
• Improved my Spanish and Chinese and learned a few choice words of Sichuan dialect and Quechua
• Became more uptight and laid back at the same time when I found I had to be more assertive in order to get things done but in general lived a pretty lazy (napping) lifestyle

A blog entry about finishing PC wouldn’t be complete without a few notes about readjustment so here’s a few notes about my first few weeks back in the US:

• Unexpected anxiety when driving and dealing with all the choices when shopping in Target and the grocery store (why are there so many kinds of cheese???)
• The phenomenon of walking outside and not seeing a single person (Toto, I don’t think we’re in China anymore)
• The beauty and lush greenery of suburban America…endless well-manicured lawns and trees being the only thing I can see from my bedroom window
• Subsisting on non-stir fried foods…bagel sandwiches with turkey and cheddar, yogurt, fruit, cereal with milk, salads of avocado, fresh mozzarella, carrots with blue cheese
• Relearning to crave sweets – I lost 8 pounds in China due to the lack of snacking and absence of sweets from my diet (they just sucked so much in China that I didn’t want to eat any of them) but I did have a huge ice cream craving last night so I’m back in the saddle!

Not sure if this will be my last blog entry, but I have to leave you with some tidbits from some assignments that I had graded earlier in the semester but didn’t have a chance to blog about.

From the second installment of resumes and cover letters of my Business Writing class…

Under “Interests” my students included exciting things such as: making documents, making friends, “my favorite is chemistry experiment,” and “watching” (no, that was not followed by TV or movies…just watching).

Under “Languages”…”Chinese – naive, English – poor.”

As seen in cover letters:
• “In the holiday I worked out, so I have work experience.”
• “I was a best man at a wedding.” (Yes that’s nice, I should give you a job now?)
• “In my first year, prepare to be a Communist partier. In my second year, be a real Communist partier.” (maybe I should get my student this t-shirt
• Scary misspellings of things such as their names and the city that we lived in!

And some confusion that students had (maybe resulting in plagiarism…or a gender identity crisis?)…on the same resume I saw “sex: female” (with a strikethrough) and “gender: male”….and another resume I saw “gender: female” and a sentence that began with “I am a man…”

And finally…ten points to the person who can explain what “Marital Status: Discoverture” means…

I will leave you with a response to a news article that was about the recession: “I hope the global economy will recover as soon as possible so that the Chinese economy will grow more rapidly. Then I can get a good job since I will graduate next year. God bless me, but God maybe is not effective in China.”

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Frugal Teacher Who Wears the Same Clothes Everyday

That is me. I recently found out from my Chinese teacher via the Panzhihua University rumor mill that I have a rep. Apparently students were talking, either to each other and another teacher overheard, or to the other teacher, and the other teacher asked my Chinese teacher if I was a penny-pincher because students say I wear the same clothes every day. Firstly, I can’t believe they are pots calling the kettle black because, as Jeff can vouch, our students wear the same clothes so often that we identify who they are from afar by what they are wearing. Secondly, really? Don’t students have something better to do than talk about my clothes? How about going and memorizing the English dictionary from A to Z (which they do do for exams)?

I will admit that I do find it a little embarrassing (a little 丢脸if you will) that they are talking about me in that way, but come on, I’m a Peace Corps volunteer, not a fashion model (hmm…although I wish I were?)! Aren’t PCVs supposed to be judged by their magnanimous acts and not their superficial appearances? Oh, who am I kidding. I should have figured I was in the land of frilly skirts and high heels (while mountain climbing) and taken heed. I would like to use this chance to defend myself though since I cannot do so to the rumor-mongering students!

First, although I may wear the same clothes for a week every day to class…I do wash them mid-week! I have stepped up my personal hygiene routine from my Bolivia days and shower (almost) every day and make sure I don’t smell. Second, the clothes I wear are professional and formal(ish). I don’t wear jeans to class, always dark colored pants and a semi-professional shirt (polo shirt or solid color semi-dressy short sleeve shirt)…although I will admit I have not kicked the Chacos habit. I believe this is better than many of the other teachers who wear jeans and t-shirts to class. Okay okay, so all of those that do are guys…the women mostly dress up in fancy garb and HIGH high heels (way beyond US business casual)…but hey, I have seen teachers come to class in workout clothes (like stretchy workout pants and polo shirts) including women! Therefore, I don’t think it’s so outlandish that I wear the same clothes for one week as long as I look professional and put together for class. Honestly, I will attribute part of this to the fact that I am the foreign teacher and maybe they hold me to a higher fashion standard or had lofty expectations for my fashion sense. Finally, I will attribute the wearing the same clothes every week to personal preferences and habits. I still do all my laundry by hand (in my twisted mind I consider it an upper body workout) even though I have a washer so I try to avoid getting too many things dirty. I sweat a ton here (hiking up a mountain under the blistering sun at 3 pm to teach classes in 100 degree weather without AC or a fan) so logical reasoning suggests that I should wear a semi-sweaty shirt instead of getting another one dirty that I have to wash by hand. I will also note that I would prefer to project an image of substance rather than superficiality and that my current clothing style reflects this. In conclusion, maybe I am frugal when it comes to clothes (um, I doubt anyone that knew me in HS, college or my first few post-college years would say that based on my shopping habits) but why buy clothes when you can buy 火锅,烧烤and串串with that money? (hot pot, barbeque and skewers of deliciousness boiled in broth for the Mandarin illiterate)

P.S. Mom, if you’re freaking out that I will maintain this reputation when I am back in the US, don’t worry. Just take me on a shopping spree.

Something to Laugh About Everyday

As COS draws closer and closer (only about a month until I am no longer a PCV), I have realized the thing I will miss most about China (other than the delicious MSG-laden food) is the humor that is part of daily life. A day doesn’t pass without me laughing about something I find ridiculous or random...maybe it’s because I find Chinglish more amusing than the average bear or that when I meet those 哭笑不得 (don’t know whether to cry or laugh) situations I have learned to choose the latter.

For example, last week a student presented an idiom in class as part of what M. and I have coined “The Daily Show.” The student taught his classmates what “let the cat out of the bag” meant, but I have to admit that due to his mumbling I had him repeat what he was saying several times. Finally I gave up and had him write it on the board. “Carelessly diarrhea leaked secret.” Sans diarrhea, I believe it would be a perfectly normal definition, but with diarrhea, I become confused. I need to find this online translator that he is using and write them a complaint. I did ask him why 拉肚子 was part of his definition but I didn’t manage to get much of a response since I don’t think he knew what he was saying either. Maybe while I’m at it I need to work on my teaching skills so that my students don’t present nonsense to their impressionable classmates?

Last night, I was a judge in an English drama competition and was trying to control my laughter during several performances that involved random dancers in the background. Sometimes with an umbrella, sometimes a whirling dervish that ended in a collapse on the ground, taking down and popping a string of balloons hung on the wall. I am still trying to figure out what value the interpretive dance added in their plays.

This morning during Chinese class, I was trying to figure out the phrase 传播开来 so I had lovely 魏老师look up in her handy phone dictionary phrases that contained 开来. What she did manage to come up with was 联想开来 which means (maybe somewhat inaccurately) when you start to think of something it just makes you think about it more and more. The dictionary definition? “Shower breasts.”

Yes, this is what I will miss the most.

Worst. Traveler. Ever.

Last summer I spent a whole month in Beijing and managed to not get to the Great Wall…nor the Summer Palace…nor the Forbidden City…or any other major tourist destinations. I didn’t get to the Water Cube/Bird’s Nest (although I made it to Kro’s Nest, a restaurant with Beijing’s best pizza). Surprisingly I did make it to Tiananmen Square one afternoon after class when M. dragged me there. After COS conference last week in Chengdu, I headed up to Xi’an for vacation…and managed to stay there for four days without seeing the Terracotta Warriors. Ha…I will attribute that to the fact that the tour leaving from the hostel was full and that it was a Chinese national holiday so the city and everywhere was packed. I think that will be my new travel style…go to as many big tourist destinations as possible without seeing the most important things there…

Oh well. I figured when (not a question of if) I come back to China I most likely will be going to Xi’an again so I will have an opportunity to see them then.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I'm Back?

Okay, I'm going to try to get back into blogging...after a 5 month hiatus.

Quick update:

1) 2 months left to go in Peace Corps! (and I'm ready to be DONE!)
2) Post PC plans are set: starting bschool at University of Michigan in August (GO BLUE!)
3) Plans for rest of time in China: COS conference, Xi'an, Lijiang, take HSK (hoping for a level 6), enjoy myself and try not to get too worked up about delinquent students :D
4) Back to the US in early July in time for Evie's wedding!
5) Summer plans - vacaciones a Bolivia!

But for now, back to work. 6 hours of student midterms to listen to today so I can run away for a week to COS conference and Xi'an!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Few Tidbits...

Okay, you probably are skeptical at this point that I'm actually posting something on my blog since I haven't in 4 months but I figure now is as good a time as any to get back on the wagon.

Newsflash! Pizza Hut has come to Panzhihua and that is where I'll be having Thanksgiving dinner next Friday (Thursday doesn't work well for me because I have class 8-12 on Friday and M has class until 10 pm on Thursday). Very exciting though!

The bane of my existence this semester has been grading homework for my English Business Communications course that I am teaching to a class of mostly disgruntled senior International Economics and Trade majors. Although it's a task that I avoid doing, I think a few good laughs always come out of it. Number one thing that makes me mad/makes me laugh is the rampant plagiarism that I come across (two students even managed to plagiarize incorrectly - they were supposed to write a dialogue where two people are negotiating the price for a product and they just happened to copy the same part of the dialogue and then hand it in thinking that they had each copied the opposite parts and then had no idea why I gave them a "low" but generous 70%). The second thing is the use of the translator. Oh boy. I don't even know where to get started with this one but I definitely enjoyed how the word "gourmet" kept on popping up in papers that had nothing to do with food or drink.

Here's some excerpts for your enjoyment (I think the people on mymomisafob should start a "mystudentisafob" website...although that doesn't work because they've never gotten on the boat but I say this stuff is just as good as the mymom and mydad stuff):

In a writing assignment to answer job interview questions:
Question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Answer: Imagine 5 years later you will see a successful trader. 10 years later, not only a successful trader but also a successful housewife you will see. I can do it.

I had asked students to answer the question "why should we hire you for this job?" and numerous (5+) students wrote on their paper "why should we fire you for this job." Ah yes, you have to understand the common Sichuan error of mixing up "h" and "f" (a la Claire - "I thought it was fupiqingjiao (for 2 years)!" in reference to "hupiqingjiao" aka tiger-skinned green pepper, a dish she would eat at least once a week). This time is was particularly clever and comical though. Also the "n" and "l" mistake..."oh lo! what fappened!" is a common chorus that M and I like to use.

A few more from job interviews...

Q: "Why should we hire you?"
A: "If you hire me you will get a machine rather than an employee." (I fail to see how that helps her case???)

Q: “What is one weakness you have?”
A: "Maybe I’m a little careless. But I will pay attention to that." (Ha, that one was a little clever humor that I don't think they intended that I got a kick out of)

Q: “Tell me about yourself.”
A: My motto is “never say die.” (I am having trouble imagining someone saying that seriously in a job interview yet that was one boy's response)

In resumes that the students wrote, I found their responses in the "Interests" section particularly enlightening and creative:

“I like to do many manual things very much.”
"My done the stars is very delicate" ($10 if someone can interpret that for me)
"Attending parties" (just what an employer wants to hear)

And in the "Interesting" section (apparently "Interests" were too plain-vanilla for this student): "playing the ping pong ball" :D

Under "Work Experience" and under the position of teacher a student noted “have tasted of teacher’s hard” (stop thinking those bad thoughts now!)

Under "Qualifications": "Have a passion for the Internet and an abundance of common sense." (what does that make you qualified for?)

I also had some fun with scripts that my sophomores turned in for their midterm plays so I will share a few excerpts from those as well:

"Such a good-shaped girl. I love your long hair, big eyes, and sex make-up. Give me reasons to conquer me." (If you can make sense of that $10 for you, I believe it was part of a play where someone was interviewing for an airline stewardess job)

"This story talks about some nature members want to have a party one day. But the party becomes a condem." (Hmm...this one was from a convoluted play about bunnies, trees, rivers and pollution)

Alrighty, hope that tides you guys over until I am inspired again in 4 months...or sooner perhaps. Happy Thanksgiving All! Gobble Gobble!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Personal Update

So I finished up my first semester of teaching a few weeks ago, handed in my grades, and sat back ready to relax and enjoy my summer. After a few weeks of saying goodbye to C., C. and L, a bit of lesson planning and relaxation, I will head to Leshan tomorrow for two weeks to teach teachers in Peace Corps’ summer project and then continue on to Beijing via Chengdu where I’ll take a TEFL certification course during the month of August (visitors welcome in Beijing anytime during the month of August!). Also, as summer progresses, deadlines for grad school (particularly MBA) applications are rapidly approaching so I’ll also be spending every spare moment filling out forms, pondering the meaning of life and how an MBA relates to that, and writing essays (suggestions welcome for tricky topics like “what matters most to you and why?”). Next semester I’ll be busy finishing up apps (hopefully followed by some interviews), teaching 4 classes of sophomore oral English and one class of English business communications for the international trade and economics department. Alright…that’s all I got for now, until more exciting things happen to me…chau!