Several weeks ago on my way back from the men’s room during break, I was AMBUSHED in the hallway by one of my sophomore students, Amy. She is a sweet but super shy student and never speaks during class, but handed me a piece of paper, folded into a small square. In very neat handwriting she wrote something along the lines of “my english is poor… but I want to invite you to a party to welcome the freshman, at the end of September.” I couldn’t say No at this point, and I figured it was a one-time event, so I told her I would love to attend and we would follow up through text on QQ.
We confirmed it was on Wednesday, and although I was quite tired from a two hour English Corner the night before, I told her I would make it. So on Wednesday night, at 7 PM I biked back to school and went to the designated room.
The room was full of at least 80 freshman students, with many bodies running around and hands busy hanging up balloons and party streamers on the walls. I look on the chalkboard and see the words “CRAZY ENGLISH CLUB!” – what the hell, another English club?! WHY!??! But before I had a chance to say anything, the Dean of the English Department walks in with a big smile, wearing his evening tracksuit. I stand up and shake his hand and the two of us are ushered to take a seat in the front of the class, and are poured cups of pepsi and orange soda.
The students spend an uncomfortably long time fussing over the decorations of the room, and finally the club president begins his powerpoint for Crazy English Club. It is entirely in Chinese. He talks (in Chinese) about the vision of the club and runs through slides for the dozen or so club leaders and their various responsibilities. At this point I begin to suspect Crazy English Club was concocted out of a need for students to pad their resumes with leadership roles (I know this because I was once a college student too, and a club of this nature only requires three or four ‘leaders’ at most… and THERE’S ALREADY AN ENGLISH CORNER EVERY TUESDAY NIGHT!)
After each club leader stands up and bows to loud applause, it is finally Amy’s turn to speak. She gets up and talks about the two C’s to learning English: CONFIDENCE and COURAGE. This statement likely makes Amy one of the biggest hypocrites in Lanzhou and maybe even the entire province of Gansu, since she has barely uttered a word of English in my class after five weeks of teaching, and the few words she has whispered (when I directly ask her for an opinion) are always “I don’t know…”
A few slides later, the presentation is finished. I smile and tell Amy the slides were beautiful and look great. Amy laughs nervously and says that they are just okay. Dean Jiang whispers in my ear and explains that her response was very Chinese; she’s trying to sound humble and talk down on any compliments she gets for her work. I didn’t say it, but I wanted to tell him that my words for her were very American; always telling people they are the best, the brightest, that their work is amazing and incredible… when in reality the individuals could be completely forgettable and their work mediocre.
A couple minutes later, Crazy English Club turns into Marginally Talented Talent Show. A couple guys come up and sing off key Chinese karaoke songs. A female student does a dance to a K-pop song, the chorus lyrics are “sexy, sexy, sexy, sexy, sexy” She caresses her body, flips her hair, and gets low to the floor, doing her dance interpretation of sexy, sexy, sexy, sexy. I try to focus my attention on the blackboard or else I would burst out laughing, and I didn’t dare look at the Dean to see his face. But I can tell he is getting annoyed that an hour and a half into Crazy English Club, no one has spoken English yet. He speaks angrily to some of the (many) student leaders about the situation, about wasting money on decorations, and the talent show is cut short.
Dean Jiang voluntells me to help revamp the club into something that is actually oral English related. We quickly take a group photo with the swarm of club leaders and I head out, still in disbelief over how the entire night played out at “Freshman Welcome Party”
When I arrive home I get a very Chinese style text message from poor Amy:
Thank you very much and sorry that you waste a lot of time
I sent her a very American style text in response
Don’t worry about it!! Thank you SO MUCH for inviting me!!! I had a lot of fun!!!!!
Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any outside organization, including but not limited to the United States Government and the Peace Corps.