Monday, May 24, 2010

Role Deprivation

We've been in China now for over 8 months.  You do get used to another country/culture pretty quickly and things that seemed unusual or different become normal pretty quickly.  My Chinese teacher asked me what we couldn't get in China that we liked in the USA.  I couldn't think of much-decent skin lotion is a big one and we just had a friend bring some in from Hong Kong.  Elisabeth misses Reese's peanut butter cups.  We have heard that you can get them at Jenny Lou's in Beijing so we might need to head down there for a few days next summer.  With the fast train, it's only four hours away.
We also miss access to books.  We've ordered some online but they haven't always arrived.  Beijing also has a foreign bookstore so we might need to stock up a little.  We have a decent school library here and also many friends with books.  But there is something about a bookstore that is really satisfying.
We both have jobs in the states that are really satisfying and a significant part of our identity.  I am a teacher by vocation and calling.  I love to teach.  I love the light bulb moment, the discovery of something new.  I love curriculum and conferences and new ideas about teaching.  I taught Montessori pre-school and kindergarten for many years and still believe in the prepared environment, absorbent mind and didactic materials.  About 11 years ago, I started teaching English as a Second Language in a community program in St. Louis.  ESL is the perfect field for me-it combines everything that I love!  I love language, international people and teaching.  I finished a master's degree in TESOL a few years ago and it just enhanced my love of all those things.
I've taught refugees and immigrants, exchange students and graduate students.  I've taught students trying to get into an American university and homesick spouses who were in the USA because of the work or study of their husband/wives.
Some of the most satisfying years of my life were spent teaching survival English to refugees. These were people from Burundi, Congo, Burma, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Liberia.  They had unbelievable stories of survival and suffering.  Most had lost children to preventable illness.  Many were illiterate.  Many had high dreams that were quickly dashed by the realities of living in a new country where they didn't know the language or culture.  I think of Simon, a sweet young man from Burundi who desperately wanted to go to school.  The reality for him is that he is now a window washer.  His father was too old and illiterate to really learn English and someone needed to support the family.
I've also taught the extremely privileged.   I've taught young men from the places like Dubai who owned many cars, lived a life of luxury and were truly some of the sweetest young men I've known.  For many years I have had students keep journals and been privileged to read about their lives in the country and in the US.
I've taught the fanatically religious,the truly pious and the non-religious.I've taught the veiled and the mini-skirted.  I've taught people who had the right paperwork to be in the US and those who didn't.  I've taught students who came to ESL for a hobby and those who came to class after working all day or even after working all night.
On a job satisfaction scale, I would rate my job satisfaction pretty high.  Sure, there were hard things.  I don't enjoy grading.  I would just like to tell everyone "Good job."  I don't enjoy writing or giving tests. I don't enjoy seeing students drop out because they need to work. Some of my academic students cheated or plagiarized.  But the job as a whole is wonderful and valuable.
So- role deprivation.  I feel it.  Paul feels it.  We love and loved our jobs.  When we first came to China, we had a vague sense of lostness.  In January, a dear friend gave us the term "role deprivation" and the light bulb went on for us.  That's what we were feeling!  The loss of defined roles is  a real loss when your life situation changes. Naming it helped us to deal with it.
Right now we are very much in full time language study.  This is crucial for our success in China.  But we've had more opportunities lately to use some of our gifts.  I've taught a few English classes for a friend.  This summer, we will go up to an English camp and teach for two weeks.  I tutor ESL at the International School once a week.  Paul has had some good opportunities to use his public speaking and teaching skills in both foreigner and Chinese settings.  These opportunities remind us of what we love and maybe a little of who we are.

It wouldn't be a China post with out at least one picture.  Sorry this is so blurry.  It was taken at the Liaoning Provincial Museum.  It says "The Reception for Audience Complaints."


India said...

I'd like to take advantage of your teaching knowledge! A new class starts in about a week for me, and I could use any advice or suggestions you care to send my way.

Walking to China said...

Okay! I'll get your e-mail from your mom.

Brian, Susan, Brittany and Molly Johnson said...

I could so relate to your discontent. We struggled (and still do) with role deprivation. A friend sent me an email with some words of encouragement that reminded me to just "be." Not to focus on being something or someone but just to be in Christ. And so I've tried to remember this time of just being with no other expectation for this season of language learning. May you embrace this new state of "be"ing for right now!