Home > Uncategorized > Ni hao. ¿Que tal?

Ni hao. ¿Que tal?

When the first day of the new semester arrived, I was leaning against my desk talking to Nathalie, another former UCSB grad and lecturer at UIC. We may’ve been talking about International Women’s Day, or maybe the fact that we wished we could afford new jeans, but what really matters in this story is that my boss stalked into the room and said, “Can anyone here teach a Spanish class?”

No, I don’t speak Spanish,” was Nathalie’s answer, and clearly the one that my boss expected. She half turned to go as I said, “I can.”

Really!” She said. I bit back a laugh. One day we assigned Star Wars characters to everyone in the department based on their mannerisms and personality. I won’t say who, but she was assigned a long-eared CGI character from Episode 1, and it couldn’t be more fitting. I also didn’t laugh, though, but I smelled money.

After she strode out, bubbling about her ability to return to the General Education department with good news, the new smell in the room was terror.

It was ill-founded though. Teaching three hours of Spanish 1 to Chinese students doesn’t require the anxiety attacks that I offer it. My go-to teacher from Barcelona, dressed in Indian duds purchased in her husband’s homeland, manages that ironic and unsmiling European good humor that took me a about a year in Scandinavia to understand. She tells me in deadpan that we should make “I will Survive” our anthem for the quarter, and calls me “guapa”.  Her manner, though not the unfamiliar accent with which she speaks Spanish, puts me at ease.

Apparently, the Chinese woman who taught Spanish One alerted the University that she wouldn’t be returning the day she was supposed to report to work. Both of the other Spanish teachers have taken one class each (as HR only feels like paying me for three hours), and as of yet we still don’t have a course outline. The Spaniard is too busy dealing with the fact that the Chinese visa office issued her three month old baby a single-entry tourist visa.

When I’m not pouring over articles and vocabulary lists in China, I’m continuing to learn Chinese with Wendy. We might twice a week in a cafe called “Town Number One” that serves lattes and a spaghetti dish that reminds me of Chef Boyardee, where smooth jazz guitar plays covers of hits by Paul Simon and Elton John. I’m averaging an understanding of about five characters per roadside sign at this point.

For the first several weeks of the semester, Beijing Normal University, whose campus is flush with ours, was having it’s month long military training of first-years. Every day the same poorly written military march blasted across the sports fields and echoed through campus for eight hours straight per day. I swore I’d never forget the tune, but now when I try to recall it, all I can think of is the Robot Chicken Theme. As I walked to the bus stop from Town Number One I was surrounded by boys and girls in baggy green camo.

If there’s one thing more unsettling than being surrounded by hoards of people who are all the same race (not yours), all speaking a language you barely understand, its dressing them all alike.

Andy, Roey and I were walking from the bus stop to work singing along to the march and, I think, discussing the execution of a possible marching piano band when my other boss called my cell phone. I hurried ahead to his office, where I was told that I and the other girl who was considering getting certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language would be covering four of one of the professor’s English classes for the next six weeks. Money, yes. Overwhelm-age, also yes. Satisfaction, so far, also also yes.

Each of the English classes are named after different countries or cities in the Western world. My first English class of the week is called “Denmark.” If I were the sort to believe in fate, or that there’s something cosmic about coincidence, I’d take this as a sign that I’m doing the right thing right now.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. rosemary
    March 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    You’ve got soul but you’re not a soldier…

  2. Jo
    March 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    (Hello from Goodreads!) Amazing! I give you so much credit for what you’re doing out there!

  3. Patti
    March 23, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Em-
    I LOVE reading your blog posts! It’s good to know that I am not the only one in the fmaily who gives often times inappropriate nicknames to people… I like the Star Wars characters theme… That might keep me busy for at least a week if I have to rename every one of my students and coworkers with a name from one of the 6 Star Wars movies! I accept the challenge… In fact, I already know who Jaba the Hut is!!
    Take care, Em! I can’t wait to hear your latest news!

  4. Sharon
    March 24, 2010 at 1:42 am

    It sounds like you have a lot of interesting challenges in your teaching experience.

  5. March 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Ahhhh!!! I’m glad I’m not teaching Spanish to Chinese kids…English to Portuguese kids is challenging enough right now! My oh my, the places we are going, Emily. Who would have thought… 😉

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