I have been receiving text messages on my cell phone, since yesterday evening, from my favorite freshman class, all wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving and thanking me for being their teacher. It's funny, I often don't think of myself as a teacher, since I am so inexperienced, but I must be doing something right. Yesterday evening, two of my freshmen invited me to dinner with them. We enjoyed a really nice meal together (I tried a pamelo for the first time...delicious), and we sat and talked for two hours.
It's another sunshiney, beautiful, Autumn-feeling day here in Qufu. On rare days like this, when we can actually see the blue of the sky, we can also see more clearly the thick, billowing clouds of black coal smoke that spew from the old-fashioned industrial chimneys. We can see the wisps of smoke dissolve into the blue, but we know that we have already inhaled the fine dust into our lungs, and it is already forming another layer of gray/black dust over everything.
I often find myself in disbelief that we have now been here for only three months. It feels like so much longer. And upon this realization, my initial reaction is that I can't believe we have another seven months to go here; it's going to drag by. But then I stop and think, wonder why I seem to be in such a hurry to return home (other than, of course, the fact that I miss my loved ones). I remind myself that this is exactly where I want to be. Last night I sat at a table, enjoying a meal with two students who were sharing with me their future dreams. We discussed the great cultural differences between China and America, specifically within the educational system. We laughed. They eagerly practiced speaking my native language, and I theirs. They thanked me genuinely and heartily for coming all the way to China to teach them. Here, I am a teacher (whether I feel like one or not). They appreciate me, respect me, and I am in awe of the things I see around me and the people I meet every day. I am in China. Not just in China, but in China--for eleven months I am a resident of this quickly developing, dusty little city; a teacher at this quickly developing, somewhat disorganized private college. I am living one of my great dreams: to be inside the bubble of a foreign place and culture, to see and know it from the inside, not just gloss over it with a camera around my neck as I hope a plane from city to city, trying to hit all the tourist hot spots. So for this, I am thankful.