Stories from the classroom: March Edition


The Spring semester has started, and I’m in charge of teaching Oral English to the freshman this time around. Bobby had them last semester, and I’m kind of annoyed that he gave them a list of names to choose from, without telling them not to all pick the same name! so, I now have THREE Sarahs in one class, two Alans (though interestingly, one is a boy and the other a girl), and a Jack. There is always a Jack in every class, every semester, everywhere in China. Thanks, Titanic

Still, some of the students are creative and had a name ready prior to starting college. There’s a girl named SEVEN, a Jinx, a Coco, a K-Caroline (undoubtably influenced by K-Pop) … and a guy who goes by “Jessie Pinkman


I prepared a lesson about hotels; the activity required students to take turns playing receptionists and guests at made up hotels, and they fill out an index card with information regarding Price, Check-Out Time, location of the Swimming Pool, and Wifi Password

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this is  a saltwater infinity pool- you get a view of the ocean, and you won’t smell like chlorine when you step out of the pool

The students begin to murmur and look excited, and that’s when I asked several questions and based on their responses, realized I’m horribly out of touch, in the Chelsea Clinton “I tried to care about money but couldn’t” kind of way.

  • None of my students had ever seen the ocean before. I should have known this, and quickly rectified the situation (“Close your eyes, imagine you are walking barefoot in the sand, and the cold ocean water suddenly rushes up to your knees” A lot of my students were grinning wildly with their eyes squeezed shut, at the imagined experience of being swept into the sea)
  • Most of the students had never stayed in a hotel/ inn/ motel before. For some of them, coming to college in Lanzhou was the first time they got on a train and left their home towns.
  • NONE OF MY STUDENTS KNOW HOW TO SWIM! I had this horrifically prejudiced, quaint little picture in my head that all my rural students had a pond or stream in their backyards where they frolicked in the wilderness. Realistically, they probably picked melon and potatoes every summer since the age of five. Swimming lessons- and access to a pool – are a privilege for the rich. Our school has neither an indoor gymnasium nor swimming pool- this is Gansu after all.

Despite the risk of imaginary drowning, they did well with hotel activity, and were mostly just concerned with making up a crazy wifi password for their guests


I no longer teach sophomores and was a bit sad about this, since they were my first batch of students. But I ran into a few sophomore girls around campus and invited their dorm (8 English majors living in a tiny room!!) over for dinner on the weekend. We planned to make hotpot, so the girls picked up vegetables to cook, while I got a broth ready; potatoes, tomatoes, leek, and carrots made the base.

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healthy stock
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a mini buffet of goodies for the meal. my students were extremely efficient at washing, peeling, and chopping the raw vegetables, tofu, and ham

This was supposed to be a healthy, light dinner… until Vivan unveiled her secret weapon. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the girls gleefully empty an IV of spicy oil (by volume, about a cup and a half of pure chili oil) over my vegetable stock.

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what’s wrong with this photo?
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So there was now a 1 cm deep fiery wall of red liquid and crushed peppercorn separating me from all my spinach, cabbage, tofu, and mushrooms.

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The soup has become a bright red broth. the girls also added chili sauce to their individual bowls. you can never have too much spice!

North-West Chinese eat everything with vinegar and chili oil- anything short of ‘explosively hot’ lacks flavor, according to their atrophied and withered tastebuds. I was sweating profusely during the meal, and we had all the windows open to get some cold March air in the living room.

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Nonetheless, we ate until we were full, and gossiped a lot. I found out one of these girls (seated far right) got engaged over winter break, so we now have a wedding to look forward to in the autumn!

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I’m still friends with Vivian, despite the broth debacle

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