a long-standing interest in the Far East and its fast-changing cities,
I jumped at the opportunity of teaching in Chongqing, allegedly
the fastest-growing urban centre on earth. And yet the district
where we were based was far from cosmopolitan; finding ourselves
to be the only 'foreigners' there made for a challenging experience
that taught me a lot about life in contemporary China.
What I enjoyed the most about my experience teaching at university
in Chongqing was the opportunity to meet so many young Chinese.
Some turned out to be extremely active, enthusiastic, and curious
about life in the West, while others were initially a bit shy or
intimidated. Some of them had never met a 'foreigner in the flesh'
before. In time, though, we warmed up to each other and I ended
up spending a lot of my spare time with students, some of them only
a couple of years younger than myself, making friends that I'm already
starting to miss. Over countless spicy meals and endless games of
mahjong, my friends taught me a lot about their language and culture,
making me experience what life is like for young people in China
But being in China does not only teach you a lot about Chinese
people. As the only 'authorities' on Western culture, the pressure
was on us to think carefully and either confirm or set straight
generally held views about the West. This made me question my own
identity in a very healthy way, teaching me to be wary of generalizations
about people of any ethnic background. I would recommend the experience
of teaching English in China to people of all ages with an open
mind and an interest in experiencing life in a different country
among generally very welcoming and hospitable people.