Can I Borrow Your Crayon? – Making New Friends in Rural China

fulbright yongfeng

During our ACC sponsored 5 day field trip to Xi’an, we spent a day at a rural elementary school named Yongfeng Primary School. Prior to our visit, we were all assigned buddies and wrote them a letter introducing ourselves. My buddy’s English name was Abe, but that was as much as I knew about him before actually meeting. We all brought little gifts for our buddies. Without much instruction on what kind of gift to bring and with my little understanding of elementary age boys, I ended up buying Abe a “poker” set. I think it was just a set of cards.

On the day of our visit, we rode the bus an hour outside of the city to a rural town. We walked to the school while many townspeople looked on. We were quickly ushered to the side of the road to witness what can only be described as a memorable cultural event. Truck after truck filled with townspeople dressed in traditional garb and beating on drums drove by, followed a group of dancing ladies, and rounded off by people on horses wearing extremely interesting costumes and face paint. I am still not completely sure of the parade purpose, but from what I could gather, every month a party goes to the temple on the side of the mountain to pray to the gods. The people on the horses represented the gods. I really enjoyed watching this parade.

One of the "gods" from the parade

One of the “gods” from the parade (photo by ACC classmate Andrew Castillo)

After the parade, we went back to the elementary school to have a question and answer session with the foreign teachers at the school. The school has a fellowship for which foreign teachers can come teach English and start enrichment programs with the rural school.  I appreciated hearing more about opportunities for foreigners in China. After the Q&A session, we attended class. I attended 4th grade art class. One of the foreigner teachers teaches the class, and focuses each lesson a different country’s art style. Today’s lesson was on mosaics from Spain. Another Georgetown student, Enrique Granados, used this opportunity to become “Gao Laoshi” and teach the children some Spanish to go along with the lesson. The students used the mosaic style to make the Chinese flag. The kids insisted we help them, and I spent part of the class drawing stars for kids to cut out. The students were so exact with their folding and cutting, no one was even close to finishing their flag by the end of the class.

Our next class was physical education. PE was never really my forte, so I was a little wary, especially when they said the first activity was jogging. Fortunately they just meant relay races across the basketball court. A clique of girls chose me for their group, so there was a lot of pressure to perform. I don’t think I was the worst, so they kept me for the next activity: hackey sack. I was horrible at hackey sack and they eventually gave up to play a game where we intertwine legs and hop in a circle. Seeing how I didn’t understand their spoken instructions, I was quite surprised when they began hopping and I was being dragged along with them. After that activity, I really felt like one of the girls.

After PE, we met up with our buddies! Abe was really nice and conversational. I gave him his gift and he seemed really confused as to what it was (I did see him showing it off to his friends later). He had a worksheet of questions to ask me. We talked about my hometown in Florida, what kind of food I liked, and what I thought about China. He was very patient with the language barrier, and after completing the worksheet, we had a nice conversation our shared interests. I learned that he wanted to be a police officer when he grows up, just like his father. He also seemed to love movies, telling me all about the different American films he has seen. It seemed like he had seen even more than me! He also taught me how to perform “the cup song” popularized by the American movie Pitch Perfect. Of all the ACC-Yongfen pengyou pairs, we ended up talking the longest.

At the end of the day, I was sad to leave my new friends. I really enjoyed witnessing life outside the city and meeting the children. This activity brought diversity to my experiences in China and enlightened me to some of the differences and difficulties in rural life compared to urban life. Many of these students come from migrant families whose parents live in other cities to work. The students live with extended families, family friends, or in group homes for migrant children. In addition to their difficult family situations, they also face the adversity of rural life. While visiting the school, I learned that China has a serious education inequality problem. Lack of funding and qualified teachers has created an imbalance between education standards in rural and urban schools. Despite these disadvantages, these kids seem just like any other kids. They love to play and learn. It was refreshing to see kids so enthusiastic to play outdoors while witnessing the growing trend of American kids only playing with technology. Hopefully with the additional funding and dedication from the teaching fellows, these kids will grow up with all the opportunities offered to  their peers in the city.

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Selfie with my Yongfeng Pengyou, Abe

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