I am a dragon. Here in Princeton-in-Jishou we have divided the students into four different levels denoted by different mythological creatures. The dragons are the most advanced, but I couldn’t have expected how much they would know, and how curious they would be to learn. For the most part the students were incredibly outgoing and friendly, but some expressed their excitement differently.….
One girl invited me, Arianna, and Reuben to eat lunch with her and her friends after the first day of class. Let’s call her Deborah. While waiting for the food to come she began to drill me with questions. She was inquisitive and sharp, but I was very hungry. She asked me about other colleges in America and then everything changed. Beneath her smiling, pretty faced lurked a sassy attitude that I could never have anticipated. “You don’t like Harvard because you’re jealous.” She smiled devilishly and turned to her friends. “In fact, I think you should be in Jishou and I should be in Princeton.”
I was flabbergasted. She was fluent in sarcasm — a rarity in China — and she was relentless. Who was this girl? Why was she talking so much about the Vampire Diaries? Wait. Had American TV turned her into this precocious, insubordinate she-devil? The food soon arrived and my irritation and surprise subsided. After lunch ended I swallowed the truth: we were forever destined to be enemies, foreign teacher vs. troublemaking problem child.
Later that week she haunted me in English Corner, an hour session where the students talk with the foreign teachers informally to further improve their English. I must admit that I was afraid of her at first, but soon she became enraptured by Arianna’s love stories. Seeing the unblinking focus of Deborah’s face as she absorbed all of Arianna’s words was a transformative experience for me. Although she had an attitude, she had a passion for English, and I respected her for that. Ok, maybe I hate-respected her.
Another revealing experience occurred when I became suddenly aware that one of my students was way cooler than me. Let’s call her Kim. She came to class with a distinct swagger, and her clothes were fashionable, looking slightly Middles Eastern. Her mannerisms were equally chill. She nodded and smiled in class, and had an air of confidence (but not cockiness) at all times, even when she was nervous. In other words, Kim is cool without realizing how cool she is. Naturally, I wanted to become more like her.
Me: Hey Kim!
Me: So.…..How did you like class?
Kim: I enjoyed it.
Me: Ummmm.… Are you free for lunch? What I mean is, erm.…. Well, if you want to practice your English, I would be happy to spend time with you.
Kim: I’m sorry, I have to eat with my family today.
Me. OK! Cool, cool. That’s totally cool. Are you free for dinner?
Kim: Sorry, I have dance class.
Me: Yeah. Great. That makes sense.….…Ok then. *cough cough* I’ll see you tomorrow?
Kim: Yes. See you tomorrow.
Kim can’t evade me forever. One day I will achieve her swag, even if she is really busy. The students are amazing, and I can’t wait to spend more weeks with them.