Practicing Resilience in Beijing - Chapter 1: The First Day
I know, I know -- it's been exactly three weeks since I've started my internship. Trust me, I've been wanting to update y'all but it's been reaaally busy. Buuut here I am :)
Let me start from the beginning though - from my first day there:
The Night Before
The first day was rough. Well, the first few days -- but the first day especially.
...I basically did not sleep. It felt like I got maybe an hour and a half at some point, but in all honesty, I rolled around that bed more than I would have ever wanted to. It wasn't the bed though; I usually fall asleep so quick and so deep, no matter where I sleep. No - it was mosquitos. That was what I meant by 'sleeping situation' in my last update :P
Since I was young, I've always attracted mosquitoes. I would count upwards of 75 bites after a day trip outside, I think I got to 120 once (I'm not even kidding - this was after a day at the 'Window of the World' in Shenzhen; oof, that was a rough mosquito day). Usually it doesn't really bother me tooooo too much, I've gotten good at not scratching their bites, and to be honest I was kind of proud of those 'battle scars' that stayed for months on my legs. The only time that gets me though, is sleeping.
That night before I started my internship, I couldn't protect all of me at the same time, which was why I couldn't be calm enough to sleep. LOL, it sounds so silly to say that, but it's true! The blanket wasn't big enough to fully 'tuck' me in vertically - I couldn't protect my feet and my face together! And if I fully did protect my face by curling myself up (I tried that for a while after I felt like three swollen bumps on my eyebrow), there was no fresh air 😔 I felt quite trapped! I would usually lift the blanket to cover my face and leave a little hole for air, but I still felt like the mosquitoes could get in - so in short....nothing worked. If I could breathe fresh air, I felt too exposed. If I felt protected, I couldn't breathe freely, and got too warm. So, I tried desperately to just sleep (if only it worked like that), and swore to figure something else out for the next night, because this was not going to work.
The First Day (October 10th)
The next morning, I got up at 6:45am. I groggily got ready, but I was also pretty excited for my first day, so that definitely helped! I left exactly at 7:30am, and it took me just about 1 hour and 20 minutes to get to my workplace.
When I got there at 8:47am, the principal came to greet me and get breakfast with me. Then at 9am, we went up to the 10th floor, my workplace. The first hour and a bit was just a chat with the school principals to get to know me, introduce what the institute's current initiatives are, and give an overview of what I could be doing. When I was explaining what I was interested in learning, it was hard to express myself fully, there are so many words that I wanted to say but couldn't fully explain (knowledge mobilization and knowledge-transfer, community engagement, community building, just even the word community, social anything, inspire, values, positive, soo. many. things. lol.), but I think they got the gist (XP).
A little side note: About the Zhongguancun Institute for Innovation (中关村创新研修学院)
(What even is my placement?)
中关村 ( Zhōng guān cūn) = the area; also known as "China's Silicon Valley" (!!!) because of its thriving, concentrated high-technology and STEM-related research and development
创新 (chuàng xīn ) = innovation (literally 'create new')
研修 (yán xīu) = training
学院 (xué yuàn) = institute/college/school/academy
What do they do?
LOL, I guess I should explain a little -- it's actually such cool stuff, and their vision has many aspects similar to what I want to do!! The Zhongguancun Institute for Innovation has two main departments. For one, they act as a bridge between the government and many of Beijing's sectors, especially the education sector, the health sector, and the high-technology career field. They perform evaluations for schools, for hospitals, for different enterprises -- and write reports for the government and policymakers on current situations and future needs and recommendations. They help the government understand the successes and failures of their policies and implementations, and also help communicate the sectors' needs to the government. Secondly, they carry out courses for professional training and development according to the demands of various professional skills in society, and are involved in the process from the beginning (skill and course identification, course and curriculum development, recruitment of teachers and students) to end (when it comes to actually delivering the course). Currently, they are heavily focused on high-technological skills, namely ones pertaining to artificial intelligence (AI) and integrated circuits (IC). This is because the Chinese government is putting a lot of resources into developing our AI sector, and has commissioned our institute to help them develop an implementation plan, and to train to-be and existing employees in fields related to AI to encourage them to enter the AI workforce.
(this is all simply from my own understanding)
What I outlined above are quite solidly aspects of knowledge mobilization -- the bridge between policy and implementation; between creating knowledge and actually using it; between different organizations and institutes to share and apply knowledge. So coool!
After that chat with the principals, I was just left to complete some logistical processes with another staff -- filling out forms, sending photocopies of my passport and diploma, etc.
Pretty straightforward, but somehow...all highly intimidating, on so many levels. :(
First, to be surrounded by quiet cubicles of people I didn't know. I had nobody to talk to, nobody I could feel like I could talk to. I only got introduced to that one other staff. Everyone was immersed in their own work, nobody gave me a greeting, I just honestly felt so alone.
Second, to feel like I was unqualified, inferior, dumb. I hesitated to say hi to anyone, not just because I didn't want to disturb their work, but also because I felt that my Chinese skills weren't good enough. In all honesty though, it was more so because of the fact that I was only able to be here because of a family friend connection. I just felt a little shameful about it, and much unqualified. Plus, I wasn't assigned a role yet, which added to feeling like I had no place to be there. Adding the fact that all throughout the logistics process, I was asked to give a bunch of documentation that I didn't have. I didn't have any official skills training, I only had an undergrad (which in and of itself was focused on something completely different), I didn't have proof of residency...so many things that reminded me not only that technically I'm not qualified to be there, but also that I'm not 'official'. Everything was so serious, intimidating, and I just felt like I didn't belong.
I really questioned if I should even be there. My Chinese isn't good enough to help with any writing things. I haven't and won't be there long enough to concretely be part of a project. I realized how useless I was...
At 11:30am, I was told that the cafeteria downstairs was open. I didn't have anyone to go with though, and nobody asked me if I wanted to go with. I looked around, and nobody was actively going either. Even though I didn't have anyone, I was still content with figuring lunch out by myself - it would be an adventure still! So I picked myself up and went down to the 2nd basement floor for lunch. I got rice and a few side dishes, and used Wechat to pay. I found a table where there was only one person, and asked if I could sit. She said yes, and that she was done anyway before leaving. I felt self-conscious taking a picture of my lunch LOOL, so I just started eating. A few minutes later, someone else asked if she could sit at my table. She was also by herself. I tried to make conversation, but she wasn't too enthusiastic, ahaha. Despite that, when she finished and got up to leave, she told me that there was free soup at one of the corners of the cafeteria, which was really nice of her. I went to check it out, and sure enough -- there were two kinds of soup, that anyone can come get! I got a millet soup, and contently finished lunch. What was a little sad though was that when I got back to the workplace, one of the principals was like "let's go get lunch!", and I had to tell her that I had *just* gotten lunch. :( RIP.
The afternoon, I kind of felt more and more disheartened. I had nothing to do, nobody to talk to, nobody I knew, and I was soooo, so tired from having gotten almost-no sleep. My eyelids were so heavy, and having no assigned role really did not help. I tried to look at some of their education-related magazines (actually really cool; see below), but my Chinese was not good enough to fully understand. I sat there in my temporary cubicle, wondering if the Chinese tradition of a noon-nap was still a thing, and if I could use the rest of my lunch to take a quick nap (I could've, but I didn't know then). I couldn't even message any of my friends, because I had no friends in China, and no access to any western social media. Plus, it was past midnight in Canada, and the two friends I did message via WeChat understandably didn't reply. I then tried messaging a friend on WhatsApp, not expecting much (just two days ago, I found out that it works here!! Very barely, and my messages take anytime from seconds to hours to send sometimes, but it still works!!). By then though, it was almost 2am, so I didn't hear back either. I laid my head on my desk and wondered how these next two months would go, while I struggled to keep myself awake.
The article I was reading. It was actually a really interesting article from a magazine called Moral Education China, all about the education of morals and values ((which is legit one of the things I want to doo aaah)), but I couldn't fully understand it 😭 I did get some parts though:
"It is very clear that historically and ancestrally, teaching virtues and moral growth were fundamental to education. But modern education is completely different, putting almost full effort on scientific and academic knowledge. When moral education and knowledge education clash or contradict, it is all-too-often the moral education that is "logically" sacrificed. (p.1)
Another section communicates the message along the lines of "even though the modern, knowledge-based education system is so impeccable and as individual teachers, we might feel hopeless in getting a systems-level change to include moral education, there are flickers of hope. They are the little details. The details in the day-to-day actions and attitudes, of the teachers. These little details can, in fact, bring change to a whole person." (roughly translated, p.1 &2)
The article's name is "Moral Education in the Details: The Above and Beyond in Ordinary Teachers" -- I took pictures of it because of how deeply I resonated with these passages :')
It was a bit after 2pm when somebody finally came to find me!! It was someone I was told about, who would potentially have something for me to do! I was so excited ^ ^ We chatted for about an hour -- she was really nice, and also spent two years studying her Master's in the United States, so was familiar with some english words! As we talked, it felt like I finally made a connection with someone, and I was really happy for the first time that day. :') For one of her current projects, she's doing an evaluation and analysis of the satisfaction levels (and issues) regarding English Foreign Teachers in primary schools (K-12) in the Haidian District. In China, there is no national english-teaching policy for foreign teachers, so each area sets their own policies. As of now, many schools are having difficulty finding adequate, permanent, and of-good-quality foreign teachers, as well as creating satisfactory management systems. Our institute was hired by the government (The Haidian Education Commission) to analyze the current situation for foreign teachers, look at areas that need government support (i.e. hiring, budgeting, management, etc), and write a report to the government detailing the circumstances. As for my personal role, I was to help her find and collect background information from English sources and literature, to help her understand how other countries (especially other Asian countries that have English-language teaching programs) manage, budget, and hire their foreign teachers. It was essentially a literature review, which I would then translate into Chinese and give back to them. I earnestly agreed to help, and so began my first role.
Not gonna lie, it was really hard -- the things that they looked for were not easily-accessible. First was the issue of getting access to non-Chinese sites to read English literature; the laptop they gave me didn't have VPN, so I couldn't use Google (thus, no Google Scholar either). I used Baidu, but I wasn't confident that it gave me all the possible search results. Western databases were finicky to access, and I didn't have any accounts with Chinese databases. Even when I did find articles pertaining to English Language Teaching and English Foreign Teachers, they did not provide me with these programs/schools/governments' budgets, with any hiring processes, with management policies, with their hiring channels. They talked about their successes and failures -- mostly failures and criticisms -- of their English education systems, as well as possible next steps. While I did still collect this information, I didn't feel satisfied. Thank goodness that I have VPN on my own laptop (which I'd bring from now on) and also can access journal articles using my UofG login.
At 6pm, my first workday ended. I took the two buses back, an hour and a half commute. I stopped by the grocery store too, and bought some tofu, some soy milk and sesame porridge (for breakfast), some veggies -- and of course, a much-needed overnight mosquito repellant. When I got home a bit after 8pm, I cooked some veggies and tofu for dinner, and watched some TV with Grandma Wang (she watches two episodes of a Chinese drama every night ^^). Even though I was exhausted and had to get up for 6:45am, I didn't get to sleep until after midnight. Welp -- but it's okay, I've survived off very little sleep for the past few years, it's definitely doable XD
Originally, I was going to put the first two weeks together in one post, but I figured this first day could have its own, because like I said, it was...a little rough.
I had even wanted to use VPN and reach out to my friends to chat, but my VPN was expired that day and I couldn't figure out how to pay to renew it (lol, it's complicated), so I couldn't even do that. I ended up talking a bit to my mom and my cousin, both of whom gave me encouragement, which helped 💜 I'm grateful, because somehow even though I was given a role in the end, it was still just a little disheartening, a little lonely.
But let's keep our heads up -- this new life just needs some getting used to! This is why I named this adventure 'practicing resilience'! And I can definitely do it. I am here, after all. So let's make the best of it. It can only go up now, right? So...let's gooo :')
((a little note from the future: don't you worry and get disheartened now -- it gets better. ^^))