About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a letter to my future self. On the top, written in plain script was the word “Expectations” accompanied by the date: January 23, 2009. The content that followed was everything you might expect given the header: a list of all of the things I had hoped to accomplish and experience in my first year in Taigu. Almost inconceivably, that first year is quickly coming to an end, and it is at this juncture that I was given the chance to revisit those goals. Inside an airmail envelop mailed to my current residence came a single sheet of paper, which I would hardly have recognized had it not been indited in my own penmanship. It would appear that I had written it at the tail end of the TESOL Winter Term, a requirement of the Fellowship that had us applying lectures and textbook lessons about how to teach English to actual students in a classroom setting throughout the month of January. And though I still can't precisely place when and where it happened, I'm happy that this little reminder has reached me across the cosmos. Like the kitsch of a childhood time capsule, or the relief of a secretly stowed twenty dollar bill, letters like this provide a rare opportunity to see the past in a new light. Let's see how well those promises have stacked up in the last nine months:
To make a good network of friends who speak Chinese and immerse myself in the culture.: In addition to Chinese friends who have been passed down from Anne and Nick, I've made quite a few on my own (mostly my own students) who I plan to continue to be close with heading into next year. I would certainly maintain that I have immersed myself in the culture.
- To work tirelessly to become as fluent as I can in Chinese. : Though I take twice-weekly lessons and study on my own, Chinese often takes a back seat to other activities. My work ethic could certainly use some ramping up in this department.
To fall into a good and effective teaching regiment when lesson plans come relatively easily and I find good ways to assess my students' learning.: Coming up with weekly lesson plans has gotten a lot easier, and I have been able to assess my students' learning in the degree to which they can comfortably communicate with me in English. To travel and visit at least three other countries / three other Fellows.: I've visited ten Fellows already (not including the other three in Taigu), and have been to exactly three countries (if, unlike most Chinese people, you consider Hong Kong as being separate from China).
- To write approximately 10-15 pages a week
and keep up a blog that I am proud to share with friends and family.: This blog (for which I am proud to share) has remained relatively updated, but non-blog writing has taken quite a hit. I've only written a handful of poems and a couple of non-fiction pieces since last August.
- Find a balance between alone time and making friends. : As with the majority of my life up to this point, I still struggle a lot with this one. When I'm alone, I want nothing more than to be in the company of others, and in their presence, I feel guilty for not working on the things I need to be doing on my own
Try my best to get along with / live with James.: Though, like any two roommates, we still have our ups and downs, one of the unexpected upshots of the Fellowship is that James and I have really grown to become good friends and even better roommates. Become friends with the other Fellows but don't rely on them too much.: I feel very fortunate that Anne and Nick (as well as Dave and Gerald) have become incredibly close friends here. Though at the start, James and I were admittedly a little spoiled by our Senior Fellows, at this point we all have enough going on to keep ourselves busy independently from each other. To work out / exercise as much as I can.: I still exercise at least four times a week, and have been assisted greatly by our recent discovery of an actual weight room, previously only accessible to the school track team, but graciously opened up to us as foreign teachers. To try to inflict as little damage to my lungs as possible.: I haven't smoked a single cigarette despite the heavy prevalence in the culture here and I try not to exercise outdoors when the air is especially bad. Still, I can't help the place where I live. To be more patient and become more comfortable with change / the unknown / spontaneity.: Though I would estimate that most friends wouldn't exactly call me "manic," I have been known to freak out in the presence of the unknown. Living in China, and consequently having to deal with last-minute planning, everyday disappointments, and unexpected changes as simple facts of life, has made me infinitely more patient.
- To learn to cook a good number of Chinese dishes and be able to fend for myself. : This is one that I haven't made any headway on whatsoever, and will certainly be a project I take on more seriously come next year.
- To keep in touch with friends and family back home as best I can. : I can definitely do a better job in this department, despite it also being one of my newly-minted goals for the second semester. I have a stack of letters that need mailed responses and a lot of Skype dates to catch up on.
Pique my curiosity of other cultures.: This has been without a doubt one of the biggest take-aways of this experience so far. Like my study abroad bout in Osaka, living away from home has only increased my appetite to see and experience other places and other cultures around the globe.