The End of Training, The Beginning of Peace Corps Service!

from 8/21 – 8/27

I’ve now graduated from Peace Corps Trainee, to Peace Corps Volunteer! This past week was a busy one- I moved out of my host family’s apartment, but not before witnessing China’s female volleyball team win gold in Rio against Serbia (lots of screaming and celebrations in the house, which delayed my packing, so all my clothing was shoved into random pockets of empty space in my suitcases)

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Mr and Mrs Ma! Goodbye, for now!

We had a cheerful goodbye and I was dropped off at one of the swankier hotels in Chengdu for a final, exhausting four days of training. We sat through a parade of sessions on security, how to use a water distiller, further language training, various policies regarding travel and leave, and other related courses.

The highlight came the final evening, when we were sworn in as one giant group of PEACE CORPS CHINA 22 VOLUNTEERS! The American Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, came to make a heartfelt graduation speech of sorts, in English. Later, Khyle (From my advanced language class) got up and made an excellent speech in Chinese. Luke (from the beginner language class) also got up and.. uhh… said a few words, in what sounded like Chinese but I’m not 100% sure what I heard 🙂  加油, Luke!!!

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Peace Corps China 22

It was our last chance to bond with friends we made over the summer, some of whom I’m sad to part from, others less so. Just kidding. Loved them all. I doubt any of the PCVs will ever read this blog, but here are my highlights and shout-outs from two months of training:

Advanced Chinese Class: 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, 10 weeks. We spent way too much time together and know way too much about each other 🙂

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Khyle, Brian, Henry, Zach, Katie – best of the best

Site Manager Cheng Yu and Language Trainers Guo 老师 and Dora: sorry for drawing Pokemon, and then pretending to draw Digimon (who were actually still Pokemon) instead, when I was told not to draw Pokemon in class. And sorry for never turning anything in on time, to the point where multiple, angry Bubble Pup emojis were sent my way before I began work on the assignments. And sorry that my host mom did most of my homework for me.

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my program manager and 2 of the 4 language teachers that had to put up with me all summer 🙂

Paley: WANG PEI!! PEI PEI! The man and legend, the most kick ass surrogate host brother we never knew we needed but couldn’t live without. Hope you continue showing American volunteers the good life, through Peace Corps China 50.

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the only photo we took in daylight. lol

And finally, my 绿茶友: Iliana, Jess, Greg. Thank you for a wild summer- neither words nor selfies could paint a worthy picture of our misadventures in Chengdu. Its so rare to find good company these days, the type that you can share endless moments of inexplicable/ nearly irrational joy and laughter with, night after night. On our escapades I felt alive and carefree, as if I were 17 again (but this time around, I’m finally the cool kid, comfortable in his skin!! Being 17 is SO much more fun when you’ve had an extra decade to learn to love everything about yourself). Miss you all and wish you the absolute best for the next 24 months

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okay, just one selfie! love you guys

PEACE CORPS TRAINING IS OVER… BUT PEACE CORPS SERVICE IS JUST ABOUT TO BEGIN!!!!!

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on being irrelevant (getting schooled in model school)

Irrelevant

adjective

  1. not connected with or relevant to something.

“an irrelevant comment”

synonyms: beside the point, immaterial, not pertinent, not germane, off the subject, neither here nor there, unconnected, unrelated, tangential

I was supposed to teach my students a course on persuasion, on convincing others to take your side of the argument. Instead, they basically taught me what it means to be irrelevant (to the point where I wrote IRRELEVANT on the board in all caps), in the sense that my questions and examples were so far removed from their day to day life that it was laughable at how little I know about my Chinese students and their lives

Example 1: your friend Nancy scored poorly in all her classes for the past year, so after 9th grade she has dropped out and become a cashier at Dicos (a local fast food chain) PERSUADE her to come back to class!

Lance: no way! Why would you drop out? This would never happen, her parents wont allow it. Impossible. She would just buxi (self study, extra study, etc) more after school and on weekends until her grades were respectable!

Example 2: your father has found a higher paying job in Harbin and will have to relocate from Chengdu to take the opportunity. How will you PERSUADE him to stay in Chengdu?

Lisa: what? We have no control over this, if he has a new job we will just leave with him. Our parents wouldn’t ask for our opinion if this happened! Why would they want our input?

Example 3: your favorite course in high school, art class, has been cancelled due to budget purposes. CONVINCE your principle that this is an important class to you and it is worth keeping in the curriculum

Jason: but art class was already canceled! None of us have had an art class since middle school, its not in our curriculum for high school.

Me: ok, fine. pick a subject you love

Jason: chemistry

Me: ok, chemistry was cancelled. What will you tell your principle to keep chemistry in high school?

Jason: he would never cancel chemistry! It is a subject on the Gao Kao exam (SAT Equivalent, college entrance exam) so this conversation would never happen

Example 4: All of a sudden, American high schools have decided to shorten their summer breaks from 3 months to 2 weeks. Defend your right to have a 3 month summer break, so you wont end up with just two short weeks of summer!

Linus: actually, summer is the best time to study and prepare for the Gao Kao! If you had a three month break you will never get into college!! How can you get into Peking U or Tsinghua U (the Harvard and stanfords of china) if you only study during the school year? At my high school 57 students went to Peking and Tsinghua U this year, because we worked hard! Even a two week break is almost too long.

So there you have it. model school has come to an end, and I’ve learned that my students are hilarious, creative, innovative, and sharp little monsters. If there were ever stereotypes about Chinese students being dull or monotonous, I can assure you this upcoming generation of Chinese kids is full of energy, enthusiasm, cunning wit, and have the guts to take on whatever comes their way in life!!

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Yolanda, far left, gave me a Ferragamo fragrance on the last day of model school. it was a woman’s perfume, but i appreciate the gesture!

Peace Corps, China 22s!

And now… onto the adventure of a lifetime! The past month has been perhaps the busiest of my life- I left my job of five years in financial services, moved out of a tiny midtown west studio, said all my goodbyes, took a 10 day trip to bologna and Verona (the prosciutto and mozzarella.. heavenly!) and came home for a week and a half to the suburbs of new jersey. Then I packed all my stuff.. and now im writing a blog to fill you in on my journey to the peace corps before I board my flight tomorrow!

So, why peace corps? There are so many reasons why an adventurous American would quit his office job and be drawn to the peace corps. The chance to learn a new language, travel the world, make a meaningful impact on a low income community, and act as a cultural ambassador for the united states (to clear up some misunderstandings on who we are and what we stand for.. kind of important when donald trump might be the next president!) are some of the great benefits of volunteering with peace corps.

It’s a two year commitment and the work and responsibilities vary from country to country. The impact is long lasting and very different from the “take a selfie with a child in a developing country before spending a week on a beach/ safari” experience that people from high GDP nations tend to do these days for the sake of Instagram

Where am I going and what will I do? There are a dozen countries I’d love to spend two years living in, but ultimately I decided to serve as a university English teacher in China! It was a good fit- I am not the most qualified to work on agricultural development projects, health awareness, or social work programs – but I have a passion for teaching and interacting with students and would love to help them improve their English skills.

Three of my grandparents were born in China (the fourth from nation island/ renegade province Taiwan) so I felt comfortable returning to my roots for two years, and meeting some of the 1.3 billion people who call China home. I am fortunately fluent in Mandarin Chinese, but am hopelessly illiterate so I will make my best effort to memorize some 2,500 simplified characters (I believe that number is the minimum threshold for character recognition if one wants to claim he/ she is literate in hanzi! Roughly 4 new words a day over 2 years… not too tough, right??)

what does this say? I HAVE NO CLUE! COME BACK TO ME IN TWO YEARS
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I find china fascinating from a cultural and artistic perspective, and my secret nerdy history dream is to time travel back to the 9th century Tang dynasty, a period that most scholars consider to be the apex of the Chinese empire. I could spend all day at the Met museum walking through silk robes, ivory or jade carvings, bronze burial vessels, scroll paintings, and intricately designed vases spanning three thousand years.

China is home to 48 UNESCO world heritage sites, sandwiched between #1 Italy (51) and #3 Spain (44). I love visiting all three of those counties- the food, language, traditional dances, friends, DUENDE– keep me coming back for more, and I’m always drawn to UNESCO approved palaces, fortresses, mosques, temples, towers, cathedrals and all sorts of ruins that better explain our past and how quickly the tides of fortune change throughout history

packing:

two sketch books, ink brushes, some watercolors, a palette, silver, gold, white gel pens. lets make some magic!

also, lots of khakis, dress pants, rain boots, dress shoes, sneakers, flip flops, shorts, swim trunks, jeans, sweaters hoodies, polos, dress shirts, jackets of all sorts.. CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES .. DSLR camera, kindle, laptop, new iphone (yeah, very first world i know i know) and an electric toothbrush

packed and ready to go!!!! heading to china (specifically Chengdu for two months of training) see you on the other side!!!!!!

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Chengdu, more or less in the center of China