Friday, March 14, 2008

Young and Independent?


One of my favorite high school students is missing this semester. No one knew what happened to her until I received the following letter from her best friend:

I wanna tell you a secret! ___ and her boyfriend go to Guangzhou. A boy is 20, she is 17. But, the boy very love her! They very conjugal love. Opening a few years, ___ can get married! Let we hope her can feel happiness forever!

I want to believe the best friend's optimistic picture of my student being married and living happily ever after. I hope I'm wrong, but I envision a rather different future for this sweet, pretty girl who loved English and wore high heels to class.

I have about 15 other high school students who did not return to school this term. Some children stayed home to help their parents in the fields because their families couldn't afford the expensive school fees. Others abandoned their studies to look for jobs in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, like the girl I mentioned above.

These 16- or 17-year old kids are nothing like their American equivalents. To begin with, my students look at least five years younger than their true ages, due to poor nutrition and an unhealthy lifestyle with little exercise or opportunity for fun and relaxation. They are disarmingly innocent, easily fascinated by a handful of markers, a piece of candy or a silly joke in class. I can't imagine a class of American juniors screaming and cheering during a tense game of hangman! Next week, I'll put on an Easter egg hunt for all my students; even though they're 17 years old I know without a doubt that they'll love it.

Imagining these tiny, sweet children being trampled down and struggling to survive in a crowded, dirty, materialistic and corrupt city like Guangzhou really is heartbreaking.


This is my lovely college students' last semester of school, so many of them now have part-time jobs in Zhanjiang and will be missing most classes. At first I objected to this plan, but it seems to be the way things are done here at the Zhanjiang Finance and Trade School. Our school offers a vocational college program, which means that after just three semesters of study, the students are awarded a "diploma" and dumped outside the school gates. After a year and half of mediocre courses and teachers, students are expected to "master" English enough to get a job. Frightening. So, the last semester is not so much a time to learn as much as possible in preparation for entry into the "real world," but instead is used to find a job and begin working as soon as possible.

This semester, I hope to do my best in helping the students prepare for the vital process of finding jobs. Last week, I began reviewing interview skills with my college students. Having rehashed the "Do's and Don'ts of Interviewing" in college innumerable times myself, I walked into class expecting the girls to have covered basic interviewing at least once in other courses... after all, they are Business English majors. As it turned out, my lecture on Wednesday would be the first and only one they'd receive at this vocational school! We spent a whole 45-minute period brainstorming how to prepare for an interview, how to act with the interviewer, and how to follow up afterwards. Next, I handed out sample interview questions for practice and will probably spend a couple of weeks on refining their answers.

It seems that being a translator is a dream job for every English major, and most students aspire to pursue this career in the mega-cities of Shenzhen or Guangzhou. However, only one of my ten college students who have for all purposes left classes for good actually has a professional job in Guangzhou. The rest are forfeiting one last semester of English studies to work for a couple of dollars an hour in cell phone shops, restaurants or clothing stores right here in Zhanjiang.

Some do make it, such as Scott's former student Yummy who now loves her job working as a tour guide for English speakers in a town near Guangzhou. Outside of exceptional English students like Yummy, I worry about the students. I know from experience how it feels to graduate from school and be faced with the huge task of finding a job, but they are fighting against an entire generation of English speakers headed for the mammoth and confusing Pearl River Delta cities. Young? Yes. Independent? I hope so.

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