My First Day of Class at Zhejiang Agriculture & Forestry University, Lin’an, China

I was really nervous about meeting my classes here at Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University for the first time, and not everything went as I would have hoped.  My first day of the teaching week is Tuesday, a long day although my freshmen afternoon group has military practice for two weeks, so I had three two-hour classes instead of four.  The 90 degree heat makes everything more challenging.  Although the room for my 8-10 am class has fans, the students are so stuffed in the desks, it is hard for them to move around and do groups.  The 10-noon class has no fans!  But the students are eager.

So I met three of my classes: two sophomore level 20 year olds and one class of minors (which doesn’t mean what we mean when we say minors).  It does mean that many of them didn’t have dictionaries with them and a lot didn’t have English names, so I felt like I was getting to name children:  Jesse, Mike, Kate, Emily, Lily, Christine, Sara, Ann, ….    Because all the classes are oral English, my goal is to get them to speak as much English as possible in our two-hour class.  They may be used to straight lecture classes and rote drill practice, but the classes respond well to the opportunity to talk and interact.  (They don’t want to volunteer, but that isn’t unusual in Maui either).  Each of them got to speak to the whole class twice.  As an ice-breaker, we did “Who Am I?” where they write down a sentence about themselves on a card that I redistributed.  They needed to go around the room asking, “Are you the person who wrote, ‘I have a dog named Pua'” or whatever.  Later each wrote a biography poem after groups came up with possible words for each line.  They had fun (me too) and all spent most of the two hours thinking and speaking in English.  Each class meets only once a week, which isn’t ideal for language learning, but I hope to get them to think critically as well as improve their English speaking.  It should be fun.

The big drama of my first day was my night class that began at 7.  I had left our cell phone with Barry since I’d be in class while he would be out walking around and could easily get lost.  Anyway, I had checked out Building 5 for my night class.  ZAFU has an intelligent system of numbering each building to facilitate everyone being where they should be.  All my other classes are in Building 3.  I saw that Building 5 is behind Building 4, which is next to Building 3.  But when I got to Building 5 that night in the dark about 15 minutes before class, the room was locked and no one was in the entire building. In my earlier classes, some students were already at their desks when I arrived, so I thought it was really strange.  But I waited.  It got to be 7 and darker and still there were no students.  Leaving a note on the door, I was about to bike home to get to a phone to see if class had been cancelled or something when a Chinese guy showed up.

I can’t say much more than “Ni hao”and he didn’t know much English, but when I showed him my schedule, he started pointing and explaining.  I had no idea what he was saying.  So he put his stuff in his office and indicated I was to follow him.  He zipped me across campus on his moped (with me in my straight-skirted dress) and delivered me to another building.  There seem to be two Building 5’s. ZAFU’s organization may not be quite as organized as I thought, or if I could read Mandarin, I could have understood the difference.  I loved the ride.  All I could say was “xie xie.”  I was about 15 minutes late, but my students were waiting, and we went on to have a good class.

When I left after 9, there was another little challenge since I didn’t really know where I was on this huge campus, but I followed Barry’s advice just to follow the majority of the students.  I did that and made it back to our apartment where Barry wanted to know where I’d been.  He’d spent much of the two hours walking around looking for me.  When I hadn’t been in class at 7, one of the students had called the head of the English Department.  She figured out that I must have gone to the wrong Building 5 and so dismissed the class, but then I showed up and none of the students said anything about the call to the department.  So Barry and some of the foreign teachers had been looking for me for two hours.  I don’t know why no one looked in Building 5 (#2).  But I was back.  I just had Barry walk with me back to Building 5 (#1) to get my bicycle.  It was about 10:30 when we really got back to the apartment and then too late for dinner, so I had a trusty p&j sandwich.  And that ended my first class day adventure. I think I will really like the students and the challenge of being at ZAFU—especially now when I know where to find my classrooms.

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “My First Day of Class at Zhejiang Agriculture & Forestry University, Lin’an, China”

  1. Patricia Rouse says :

    HI Renee, Just starting my day getting caught up with your postings. Since I last heard you were not doing the blog I hadn’t even checked. Good detail in the theif story and the building 5 mishap for first eveing class. Makes for good bolgging but stress: not so good.
    You wouldn’t want it to be easy would you?
    One of my last gym participants put up the active now website finally as payment for the program. She started months ago and although it needs some changes still, we are finally on the net at http://www.activenow.org.

    Waiting for books to come in from the library I am with Paul Theroux in Turkministan and places I never will visit or want to visit, for that matter, on his Ghost Train to the Eastern Star book you loaned me. Half way through he popular Jonathan Franzen Freedom novel, I’m not too impressed with the depth of the story but it was written as a snapsot of a middle class american family so should I be expecting depth?

    I stay busy during the week with a few patients and 1-2 swims in the ocean /week. all is well here, no rain, one flood from upcountry closing kams I and II for a day for muddy overflow water. You are not missing any big changes here so far since youve started your adventure.. All the excitement is where you are now. Love, Pat

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Pat: A significant part of traveling is some level of stress, so some mishaps are to be expected. I think one reason why I usually love travelling is because it makes me pay attention and be in the moment. Barry and I made it into Hangzhou and back on our own yesterday although we met up with Satina and Gregg with their much better Mandarin while we were in the city. They are teaching English at a university in Changzhou, which is about 90 minutes by train north of Shanghai. I had met Satina when we were in Chengdu in Sichuān Province back in 2003. Her boyfriend, Gregg, graduated from Horton Watkins High School in Ladue, Missouri, four years after I graduated from there. It’s a small world!
      I checked out your Active Now website; it looks professional. I like the research you include that supports the need for all of us to be active. I did look for your picture and finally found it. Good luck with this important service.
      As for books, I agree that Theroux’s vivid and well-written descriptions don’t make me want to visit Africa especially the way he did it. I just finished The Help, which was my Maui book club choice for last month. I love having my Kindle.
      Your patients and a few swims in the ocean and reading books seem like a nice balanced schedule. Enjoy the water for me. “Hi” to our little group. Aloha, Renee

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