At the airport, I think back to two years ago. At that time, I was wearing a blue blazer, tie, and brown leather shoes while boarding the airplane that took my cohort from San Francisco direct to Chengdu, China. The nervous energy pumped through me. I’d never been on an aircraft so big. I sat down in the middle section of the two-lane plane, surrounded by eighty-some Peace Corps volunteers who would work in universities similar to mine all around western China. We were in four provinces to be exact: Gansu, Sichuan, Guizhou, and Chongqing. In theory, Peace Corps volunteers should teach in schools that lack foreign exposure or access to foreign teachers, or lower-performing English majors. Oftentimes, our English-major students had tested lower on their college entrance examinations, on average. Some of those students had no choice but to attend the school that recruited them, and many had no say in their major. Either English was the only specialization they qualified for, or it was the one their family expected them to study.
My school seemed to be an exception in some ways. It was in the capital city of Sichuan, proximate to urban life and well known for its meteorology department. The year before I arrived, the school changed from a “college” to a “university,” and its rise in prestige seemed to be matched by an increase in funds, oversight, and paperwork. The Peace Corps has held a good relationship with the school for at least a decade, and it seemed the English majors did have lower scores. During my two year service, I tried to make lasting positive impressions on students, faculty and community members, and I also tried to teach English. I feel like I did a pretty darn good job. They say it takes at least three years to stop being a bad teacher; I suppose one can hope for the best.
Now I’m wearing Chinese tennis shoes, Hong Xing Er Ke, a button shirt and shorts. While waiting to board, I overhear a Chinese woman speaking about her travel plans. I feel relaxed and assured knowing that integrating into a new community ought to be smoother the second time around. This year, I’m teaching English writing at a top high school in Chengdu. It’s my third year teaching, so finger crossed.