Friday, November 28, 2008

English Anyone?

How many college students can you fit into one room? I don’t know for sure, but about seventy students crammed into this classroom last week to attend the first ever English Corner. In this particular village, there are about 2 million people, four small universities and only one (that’s right-I said one) foreigner! Can you imagine being the only non-Chinese in a city of 2 million? Mind boggling!

Anyway, another American friend and I were asked to be guest speakers there and talk about America, Thanksgiving, and what our life is like as Americans. Everything was to be done in English (great for me!) and the students were also required to speak only in English as well. Because there are no native English speakers to practice with, many students are nervous about their speaking skills. They are afraid their pronunciation or grammar will be wrong and they will sound foolish. It’s the same way I feel speaking Chinese. It’s a big risk to speak aloud in front of a lot of people knowing how awful you sound to native speakers, but they did it! I was actually pretty impressed with how well they did, considering the lack of interaction they have with any foreigners.

My friend and I talked about the history of Thanksgiving and why we are grateful for our freedoms and our lives. We talked about the Thanksgiving celebration itself, the foods and traditions we have for this holiday. We also talked about our lives in American and tried to dispel some of the myths/stereotypes that many Chinese have of Americans. Think of the movies that they see…that we all see coming out of Hollywood. It’s horrible to think that the images portrayed about America and Americans have become reality in the minds of people all over the world! For most Chinese, all Americans are rich, own guns, are violent, promiscuous, selfish and arrogant. They are wasteful, don’t study hard, and family is not that important to them. It’s very difficult to change these ideas and is definitely not going to happen as a guest speaker at one English Corner; however I am hopeful that if enough Americans working or studying overseas will live decent lives, lives that contradict the world’s stereotypes, than eventually people will have to re-examine their ideas about what Americans are really like. It’s too bad that I always feel like I’m swimming upstream in this area, but it is one way I can make a difference in China.