Church in Changsha


welcome word cloudThis Sunday afternoon, I managed to get out of my apartment and find my way to a church that I’d heard about from another foreigner (who’s been living in Changsha for a couple years now). I was a little unsure if I was in the right place at first, so I just kind of  hung around for a bit until I started to see a bunch of other foreign people going in the building. Then I just followed them.

The church is called Changsha International Christian Fellowship. Now to
answer the question(s) that I’m sure is sitting on the edge of your tongues: Is it an underground church?  Are you going to be arrested?? No. We’re on the 27th floor of a large international building near the center of the city. There are a few Chinese people there, but since the services are bilingually run in French and English (more on this later), and most Chinese here don’t speak either of those languages well enough to follow the service, nor do they have much interest in religion…I’m going to guess that’s why they don’t typically attend.

The church is called Changsha International Christian Fellowship. I loved the service and this welcoming, energetic, enthusiastic group of Christians. The service really is a compilation of denominational styles–which is actually why I love it so much. There’s enough Pentecostalism to keep things moving and fun, but there’s also a fair bit of liturgy in there. Since I’ve spent most of my time in rather liturgical churches, I really appreciate that.

And then here’s my favorite part: the majority of the service is bilingual in French and English. For those of you who might not have a good picture in your mind of what a bilingual church looks like–they say a sentence in English and then someone is standing next to them in translate it into French. I experienced this in Hillsong Paris and I fell in love with it there. It takes some getting used to the repetition and language switching, but once you do adjust, it’s nice to have the extra processing time to really focus on the message being said. And since translation is never exact – you actually get the message in two different ways, so you can kind of choose the translation that makes more sense. Or if you didn’t hear the first line, you can go off the second line. There are so many benefits to this, so I love it.

So while the majority of the service was in French and English, there was also some other languages that popped up. In worship time, there was an…African language (sorry I couldn’t tell which one…) that made a debut. And then Communion was bilingual in Chinese and English  (Chinese first, then English). I also heard in the short meeting for newcomers after the service, that there’s some Portuguese and Spanish speaking members as well.

One of my favorite things is when believers from around the world gather together and our faith unites us despite our cultural, linguistic, and physical differences.

 

 

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Welcome to Stage 2


Well, it’s been about two weeks since I landed in Changsha, and in general, I’ve liked China pretty well. Sure, the internet censorship is frustrating, the hard beds take some getting used to, and the painfully spicy food makes you dread mealtimes sometimes…but at the end of the day, those things aren’t so bad. Certainly a shock to the newcomer, but not unbearable.20151128_150958.jpg It’s easily evened out by the awe of the Chinese characters everywhere, the dragon arch in front of my apartment complex, and the general joy of being back in a city with public transportation.

All that’s fine and dandy until stage 2 of culture shock starts to hit. The reality that I’ve really moved here has set in; I finally finished unpacking my belongings and my apartment feels a little more like home. The magic and awe of the Chinese characters has worn off and it’s frustrating to be completely clueless about how to read and write -to have no way to read bus routes, menus, etc. 20151130_074845.jpgI’ve begun to notice that going to the grocery store is at least a 3-4 (sometimes even 5) hour ordeal and almost always leaves me feeling frustrated and incompetent. The joy of being in a city is dampened by the realization that the buses shut down at 9 or 10pm (even on weekends), followed by the panic that I don’t know how to tell a taxi driver where my apartment is located.

In my psych classes at college, we learned about egocentrism and the imaginary audience that plagues the teenage years. It’s not imaginary here. Every time I step out of my apartment, people turn and stare at me. Kids point and ask their mothers questions about me on the bus. Random people in the supermarket ask how much money I make, what I do, and where I’m from. Every move I make is monitored and watched; I’m the representation of my culture. Sometimes that feels like a lot of responsibility.

20151201_091153That said, China is still a great experience and I’m not regretting a thing (except for maybe the whole ‘preschool’ part of the deal). Since nobody really speaks English, it’s forcing me to get on the ball about really buckling down and studying Chinese or look like an incompetent American. 20151128_125848.jpgSince I don’t want to resort to McDonald’s for every meal on every weekend, I might actually have to learn to cook (and get over my fear of speaking to my fellow Changsharén). If I want to buy something, I’m going to have to learn to negotiate for the price I want to pay.

It’s not going to happen in a day, but it might happen in a year.

#ayearinChangsha

 

 

 

Changshaguó


Just to clarify: I made up the word in the title. That is not an official Chinese word, though the etymology of the word means “Changsha” (my city) and country. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

There is so much going on in my head right now. I am “fresh meat” as one of the seasoned English teachers called me while we drank coffee on our afternoon break. It’s very true. So as a new American in China, I’m going to list some basic cultural differences that I’ve noticed thus far.

My primary note on Chinese culture is – what seems to me  to be – complete lack of structure and regulations. It feels like anarchy. Drivers and cyclist weave all over the road as if the lines just don’t exist. Likewise, pedestrians just walk into the street when they want and cross as space becomes available. People standing in the middle of 3 lane highways is no big deal (and the drivers just weave around you—with inches to spare!). Waiting in line isn’t a thing here, and prices are also usually negotiable. Maps and bus schedules are rare, if they even exist at all.

20151123_102901School in China is indeed year round with hardly any vacations  (so if you’re looking for the reason that the Chinese tend to be ahead of us academically—that would be at least part of it). The children at my school can already read and write in Chinese. However, let me burst the bubble that Chinese babies are inherently more well-behaved than American ones. These children do, in fact, act like little (adorable) demons several times a day. French children still have the prize so far for the most well behaved…but then again, I never worked in a French preschool!

And then some other fun/interesting observations.

  • Weather in Changsha is even more ( or at the very least, equally) variable than in New England.
  • 20151124_210121The ‘normal’ toilet in China is a squatting one.
  • All food in Changsha is extremely spicy. Whatever you think is spicy, multiply it three or four times and then you’re getting close to Changsha food. It is completely delicious, but it causes physical pain to my lips that lasts up to about 10 minutes after eating. Hopefully I can adjust to that!

Until next time!

 

你好!


Hello!

My first few days in China have been pretty scheduled with meetings with my work agency, observations in my new school, settling into my new apartment, and getting to know some of my fellow (English speaking) teachers. Everything is crazy new and I keep flipflopping between being terrified and beyond excited.

I live in Changsha, which is the capital city of the Hunan province and contains about 8-10 million people (according to my work agency). I live in  a three person apartment, but I was the first to arrive, 20151118_163514.jpgso I got the first choice of bedrooms–which was definitely nice. It also meant that I had to clean it a bit, as well as get it set up with heat and wifi. My roommates are also foreigners, and should be arriving within a week or two. More updates on that to come!

My apartment building is in a very safe neighborhood, with about three levels of security. It’s gated off and there are several guards that let you in and out. Then I have a card chip that lets me into my personal apartment building and, of course, my house key. My apartment also h20151118_162529.jpgas a security system installed–if I were to feel that necessary. I live on the 7th floor and I have a balcony in my room. The view outside isn’t great, but it’s nice anyway. There are fireworks throughout the day, and usually each evening as well.

The School.

20151120_110100I work at an international preschool called Wan(g)Ying / King International Preschool. It is also in a very “posh neighborhood” as my British friend put it. There isn’t really any heat in the school though, because it’s not fully enclosed–so everyone wears winter coats all day long. Though during the afternoon, they turn it on occasionally in the classrooms and in the nap room.

I haven’t been given my classroom assignment yet, but I have gone through a sample day schedule during my observation day. My day begins at 8:20 and ends at 5:40 (though we’re often there until 6, since the dinner for teachers is served after all the students are gone). I teach one English-explicit class for 30 minutes of the day and the rest of my day is just playing and managing preschoolers all day while I encourage use of English. There are 3-4 teachers in each classroom, with one of them being a ‘foreign’ (English) teacher.

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The nap room

I get a two hour break while kids nap (IN ACTUAL BEDS!!!). During Chinese instruction time, I get some prep time to work on lesson plans for following week or put up decorations.

 

Dear Texas


image I’ve been here for about 48 hours and, I’ve got to admit, this state is like no other place I’ve ever been. Even in the airport, I was innocently running to the bathroom while I waited for the airport to unload my luggage. Another woman walked in at the same time and just started talking to me. I replied politely, but distanced. She continued to talk to me through the walls of the stalls. Who does that?? Welcome to Texas. Anyway, so I’m just going to make a list of some of my observations…with my own commentary.

– Power. Running water. Tv and internet. ‘Nuf said.

– Not everyone has a southern accent. I have been pleasantly surprised that I can understand what people are saying.

– There are nearly no crosswalks. So in angered revenge, I just wander leisurely across the street whenever and where ever I want. Like come on Texas, catch up with the rest of the world.

– The weather is beautiful. My friend told me it was hot, but compared to Saipan, this is glorious. I can actually go for a run or a walk without coming back drowning in my own sweat. It feels like freedom for my lungs and my pores.

– So many white people. More than in MA. Definitely more than Saipan.

– Not every radio station is country or Christian. I actually kind of expected there to be at least four different genre-based Christian music radio stations. The rest of them would be country. And maybe one pop station.

– Texas has a higher sales tax than Massachusetts. I did not expect that from the most conservative state in the country.

-The alcohol here is dirt cheap.

– In Massachusetts, there are Dunkin’s on nearly every corner. Sometimes there’s even two. In Texas, I expected to see a church on every corner…maybe even two. This is not the case.
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– Texas is less vibrant than Saipan, even after it got hit by the typhoon. The sky isn’t as blue, the grass isn’t as green, and the trees feel more brown than the trees stripped of their leaves on Saipan.

Texas is an interesting place y’all.

Let me be weak


A few days before I left, someone asked what lesson God had been teaching me lately. I answered easily, “letting go of control.” After all, that was all I had been talking about–how this wasn’t my plan, that I felt like I had no control over what was happening or what would happen in the future. However, the more I thought about it, there was so much more than that. Loss of control was the top of the iceberg, but below that was the process of dealing with my animosity against vulnerability, weakness, and trust.

When the typhoon hit and our living standards plummeted to that of a developing country, it forced me to put into action the advice that a good college friend told me before I left–don’t let technology keep you from what is right in front of you. It forced me to move beyond the walls of isolation that I had built up around myself.

During those last few weeks, I could no longer spend hours watching Doctor Who reruns, playing games on my phone, or checking Facebook and messaging those from home. Instead, I was forced to do what I should have been doing from the beginning–investing in relationships and spending time with those around me. In reaching out, I built friendships, found encouragement, and learned to be more open about my imperfections, struggles, and pain. I allowed myself to be vulnerable as I confronted conflict and spoke honestly about my feelings.

In these times when I am completely out of my comfort zone, God steps in with his courage, strength, and peace. And when I allow myself to be weak and vulnerable, to trust in him, I find freedom. Because he is greater than I, his plans are higher than my own. So that’s my prayer: that I step away from comfortability, take risks, be vulnerable, and move towards trusting God completely. Lord, let me be weak, because in my weakness, you are strongest.

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My Story in Progress


One month ago, I left my friends, family, and most of my belongings to move to Saipan — a tiny island between the Pacific ocean and the Philippine sea. Never in a million years would I have predicted the events of the past month.

I had a great plan when I graduated — go to Saipan and get some experience, then come back to the United States and work my way towards getting to France. I know, I’m 22, things would change; there would be some bumps along the road.

I left for Saipan on July 20th, 2015. When I arrived, things were good and things were rough. But I was adjusting. Then 10 days after I landed, typhoon Soudelor ravaged the island (Saipan after Soudelor). I was in shock, my co-workers were in shock, the islanders were in shock. It was the worst typhoon in 30 years, people said.

The school suffered significant damage — both structurally and cosmetically — so we all pitched in to help where we could. At the end of the first week, my principal and vice principal pulled me into a classroom where we talked about a few options…such as if this was really the best time to start an ESL program.

With the knowledge that the program I had been hired to start might not happen and they would send me home, I started putting in a few applications for jobs back home and abroad. Long story short, within 1 week of that conversation, I lost my job, was offered a new one in China, failed my French MTEL, and made plans to go to Texas while I figured things out.

On July 20th, I had a ten year plan. It’s August 20th and I barely have a 1 week plan. I am emotionally drained, mentally exhausted, and physically stretched by my living conditions. Am I okay? Yes. Am I happy? Not right now. But in the midst of disaster and tragedy, when life is spiraling out of my control, God is present and in control of the future.


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