So for the past three weeks or so I have been really awful at keeping my blog updated. Perhaps it is because I have truly settled into my life here. I have my routines down, I am no longer really making new friends but developing the friendship I have, and classes have become somewhat predictable. Nothing much exciting has happened for me in Qufu since I returned from Shanghai; yet, I still notice differences in culture each day. I will have to make more of an effort to get my observations down each day.
This past week I have been reading and grading "Autobiographies" from my junior sections. Though many of them are the same, and the same cliched language is use throughout, it has been fascinating to get a look into the life of a typical Chinese student. How they spend their childhood and adolescence is so remarkably different from not only how I spent my own but also how the majority of Americans spend theirs. For my students scores and ranks among their class have been a part of their life since the age of 7 or so. Their schooling is not so much a means to develop an independent and creative individual but someone who will continue to past tests so as to make it to college. The pressure to advance in education here is so strong that often it seems as if children really miss out on a childhood. Nearly all of my students have included vignettes of a playful youth who had to push her innocence aside as a result of a bad test score. So many of my students have regard their time in middle and senior high school as the worst time in their life.
It is strange for me to look back my own experience as a teenager and remember anything other than inspiring teachers, supportive friends, and parents who encouraged me to believe that the possibilities for my future were endless. I am not so naive as to believe that my experiences are the same as every other American--I know that I have been blessed in my family, friends and education--but I to look at our teenage years as whole life altering in how depressed is something very different from the culture that I have grown up in.
It is strange, too, how many of the autobiographies I have read that have included losing a parent by illness or accident. Having only read through a third of my students' papers, or about thirty autobiographies, at least five have experience the painful loss of a loved one. Again, this is a characteristic of their lives that I find very different from Americans'.
Their stories are not with out inspiration though. Many write beautiful descriptions of their love for their parents and their gratitude for all that they have given up in order to provide them an education. For many of my students, they are the first of their family to study in college or even graduate from high school. They recognized the opportunities that education will afford them and their motivation is inspiring. Though only about 40 percent of students graduating will be able to find jobs in the fields and at the levels they have studied, they are all hopeful for a prosperous and fulfilling future.
I think what has been most rewarding about reading these autobiographies is not simply hearing their stories but seeing the work and effort my students put into them and the enjoyment they have taken from writing. When I told my students that they would be writing autobiographies, or at least parts of an autobiography, many responded with a look of doubt on their faces, saying, "But we haven't done anything. Our lives are not important." I told them that people write autobiographies, not because they are important but because there are people, places and events that are important to them. In that way, their stories have value. I like to think that in assigning them each to write an autobiography, I have helped them see themselves and their lives as meaningful because they have happened. Perhaps I have, in some small part, moved them out of the "group" for a moment and allowed them to see themselves as worthy of a story.