I recently realized that I have come to see my dorm room at Xiyuan Garden Hotel as home. This came as a slight shock to me, because I had always heard that a person should wait a year before deciding if they felt settled in a new place. But after only three months, Nanjing and Xiyuan have become both familiar territory and a place where I have put down roots.
After thinking about this feeling for a while, I realized that it partially stems from getting over culture shock. My personal culture shock was probably slightly different from the norm since I speak Chinese and visited China before coming to Nanjing. Instead of being perplexed by different food and a new language, I found myself missing turn signals and streetlamps. Walking around a city in which every person, car, bus, bike, and motorbike is constantly vying for the same chunk of concrete initially seemed like a never-ending game of Frogger. However, my annoyance at having to climb around and over bikes and cars that are parked in the middle of the sidewalk has slowly faded, and now navigating around these obstacles has become another part of my daily routine. (It also helps that I quickly became familiar with the local bus system.)
Teaching at Nandafuzhong has also challenged my preconceptions about Chinese society. Before coming to Nanjing, I assumed that my students would not be very knowledgeable about American culture. To my surprise, it was my students who introduced me to Justin Bieber and greatly expanded my knowledge of American sports stars.
I have also reevaluated my role as an English teacher in my three months in Nanjing. I had originally envisioned intensive classes that focused on vocabulary, but it quickly became apparent from my class schedule that this ideal was not realistic. Dylan and I only see each class once per week for forty minutes, so I quickly abandoned the idea of an intensive class. After some frustrating and disappointing classes, I realized that I should focus less on vocabulary and more on teaching culture and giving everyone a chance to speak at least once per class. This approach dovetails nicely with the students’ interests.
Finally, I believe that I have come to see Nanjing as “home” because of the many friends who live around me. I often work out at the gym, and on Saturdays I volunteer at the local animal shelter. Most of the dogs run up and greet me, and one tiny puppy coos whenever I hold him. I have become friends with the other volunteers, and talking with them really helps me learn Chinese.
Living in the student dorm at Xiyuan also connects me to a huge network of people my age, even if it does get noisy on the weekends when drunk exchange students scream “Chug it! Chug it!” until three a.m. Not all of the students living in the dorm are Americans; many of them are European and Korean, so there is a refreshing international flavor to dorm life. I’ve become good friends with a guy in his early thirties who just started studying Chinese and a bunch of Japanese students.
I’m pleased that I’ve settled into my new role at the middle school and my new life in Nanjing so quickly. Obviously, not everything is perfect—I still have trouble getting my students to sit down and be quiet, and having to develop a sixth sense to deal with traffic is rather annoying. But overall things are going well, and I look forward to continuing to explore Nanjing and connect with my students.