Settling In: Getting to Know a New School and Place in China

Madeleine Reeves has been in China since August. She is settling into her host community and school. Read on to learn about her new home and job in China where she will be spending the next year...

So, where have I been living since the end of August? A place called Nanya Middle School (南雅中学 nanya zhongxue). Nanya is a branch of Yali (雅礼 yali), one of the most famous and most competitive schools in the province (and also, I believe, the country). It’s a little difficult for me to get the story straight, as I’ve only been told it in Chinese, but this is what I think happened: Yale University (Yale… Yali…. get it?) came to Hunan over a hundred years ago and started a hospital. At some point this expanded and included a secondary school. Yali got so big, it eventually established a second campus, and Nanya Middle School was born!

The front of the building where all the classes are held.

Life at Nanya is pretty comfortable. I have my own two bedroom apartment, fully furnished. There is only one A/C unit, and it’s in the bedroom, but that has not proved to be a problem at all. I also get a meal card that the school puts 240 kuai on every month ($40). This may not sound like a lot but teachers have a special buffet that is only 4 kuai for lunch and dinner. Even if I eat with the students (and eat their tastier food) spending more than 8 kuai is unusual. I’m really lucky because we definitely have one of the best canteens in the province; it’s HUGE, two stories, lots of different options every day, and even some western food. And it’s all delicious.

Also, out of all the schools in China, we have a very unique setup at Nanya in terms of teaching Oral English. Class size in China averages 60-70 students, but for my class they are split up into two classes taught by two different teachers. So I teach 8 different classes twice a week, with only 35 students max at any time. So I teach 16 classes a week, and see around 260 students. Compared to pretty much any teacher in China, this is a very small number of students (because I only teach half the class at a time). I also have my own classroom, which is awesome. Generally students stay in their room and teachers come to them to teach. Having my own room is great because I get to decorate it and have plenty of setup time! The only downside is I have to clean the room myself… Which means, I need to train the students to do it!

My classroom.

The back wall of my classroom. I’ve had my students bring in anything that makes them excited about English. Some things you’ll notice: Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Harry Potter, Spiderman, Iron Man, Avril Lavigne, Kobe Bryant, Vampire Diaries… and a section about Miami, my hometown! A work in progress.

I’m kind of in a suburban area, not a whole lot to do here. I’m about an hour south of the city center. There is one huge new mall that just opened a couple months ago, called Fun City (they’re not into subtlety). It’s only a 5 minute bus ride away, and soon there will be a movie theater there! It will also have a Pizza Hut and KFC; it already has a Starbucks and H&M. It’s not like I’m obsessed with western stuff, but it gives you an idea of how affluent this area is–though there’s a joke that people in Changsha like to spend three times as much as they make, so maybe it’s really about status. Generally they do have the money but the area around here hasn’t quite caught up with them yet. For example, there is only one bar nearby that I’ve found and it just opened a few weeks ago: Canada Moose Bar! Yep, a Chinese man went to Canada, felt inspired, returned, and opened a Canadian-themed bar. We joked with him that he needs a giant stuffed moose head, but it turns out he’s already ordered one… 

Our sweet “one free drink a week” cards. Female vs. male version. Totally getting some foreigner privilege.

- Madeleine Reeve, WorldTeach China Hunan 2013-2014

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