If You Teach Me, I’ll Teach You

I desperately want to understand!

Putting your “normal” life aside, and plunging yourself into a separate society is not enough. If you really want to learn a different language and culture, you need to eat, sleep, and drink like the natives. In other words, “入乡随俗 (rù xiāng suí sú) !” When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Or better yet, when in Shanghai, does as the Shanghaies do…But of course, easier said than done.

In a city where Western culture bears influence on nearly every aspect of contemporary living, we have been virtually catered to the moment we got off the plane. From our modern apartment styled dorms, to the delivery service of McDonald’s, there are a plethora of Western token items everywhere. Not that I am complaining! I have definitely indulged in my fair share of late night Chicken Nuggets and shopping trips to H&M. Despite these luxury accommodations, a subconscious concern intensifies: with readily available conveniences at my fingertips, am I truly embracing all the gems the culture and language has to offer?

Sure I have made some adjustments to better suit the Shanghai lifestyle: drinking tea without sugar; line drying my clothes; not being annoyed when people push and shove; being an assertive pedestrian; trying various cuisines…the list goes on, but I am not convinced. Have I fully developed an appreciation of what it’s really like to live in Shanghai? Probably not.

To add to the disappointment, I have officially “lived” in Shanghai for a month, and yet my listening comprehension and speaking skills may have improved by ten percent…Ugh.

This is unacceptable! I REFUSE to go back to Davidson without some type of improvement! Time for a reassessment…

To avoid being like the typical obnoxious 老外(lăo wài= foreigner) who comes more to “YOLO”[i] in Shanghai rather than to engage in the community, I’ve accepted the challenge to not only to teach, but to be taught. In this week’s learning quest, I was granted the opportunity to make a Chinese graduate friend from Fudan, and also tutor English to a shy twelve-year-old girl. The exchange was…difficult. While it was wonderful to interact with natives, after countless hours of trying to speak as eloquently as possible, my brain was exhausted. Emily (the Fudan graduate student), Angela and Mr. Yan (the twelve year old girl and her father) took sincere interest in my learning, but I am sure they found the encounter just as incomprehensible as I did. And yet, even with the struggle of breaking down the language barrier, an implicit ladder of appreciation had developed.

Although spoken language may sustain temporary barriers, the sheer interaction with natives will gradually open up the realms to the real Shanghai experience. So make the effort! They see you trying. This might explain why whenever I go to Jiangxi’s restaurant (I am a adoring weekly customer), the waitresses greet with me “Hello!” or a “Thank you!” while I speak to them in Chinese. Even my tutoring sessions with Angela are more of a simultaneous learning experience than a student-teacher atmosphere. These types of repeated, purposefully encounters are necessary to cultivate cross-cultural understanding. So again, make the effort!

If you teach me, I’ll teach you!


[i] For the older generation: “YOLO” –Idiomatic Phrase: You Only Live Once

Disclaimer: this is not a reference to those trying new things, but rather to the despicable “students” who take advantage of the availability of alcohol and party Monday thru Saturday