The very first reaction we got from the students as soon as we walked in the door with Tom, who is my friend and an ESL teacher at Southwest University of Finance and Economy in Chengdu. Tom has been teaching English to university students for six months. While I was staying with him in Chengdu, he invited me and Stephen to speak to his students about our travels in China. So we did, to 150 Chinese college students about travel, in English.
Three classes, ninety minutes each; we talked about our stories in China. I entered Hong Kong in December 6th, and have been traveling in and out of China for four months now including my times in Laos and Macau. So we started talking simply narrating where we’ve been in China.
They were too shy to talk with us but very easy to please. Most of them don’t have any idea about traveling and backpacking. Surprise, envious, admiration, and sometimes boredom; we exchanged a lot of emotions. They were fascinated by our sleeper bus experience; they looked at us with ‘no you didn’t!’ look when we were talking about 18 hours bus ride. The fact that we went to hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, went to the famous Li River in Yangshuo, and visited the exotic Xishuangbanna impressed them. There was a lot of ‘wow-‘ and ‘whoa-‘ in those 90 minutes. The funniest thing was, 50 of them in each class, tried to fix our Chinese pronunciations everytime we said anything in Chinese.
Juno: “We are going to Leshan next week.”
Juno: “We are going to see the pandas tomorrow. Tashangmao, is it?”
Students: “Da Xiong Mao!”
We explained how we can continuously travel and showed them the pictures and the videos we made on the road.
It was good to talk about travel and share the experience with local people. For over two months we’ve been traveling in China, we hardly met any Chinese people who were willing to talk to us. But now we actually talk to people, ask them questions and listen their opinion about their own country. It was really a refreshing experience. Also we learned one thing; the most popular tourist attraction to Chinese students is Tibet, because it’s a magical place. And they were really proud of their hometown; several students offered me to email me about their hometown.
For me, it was a pretty special moment because not only I talked about travel, but also I talked to them in English, whole time. Well, it was ESL class after all. I knew their English is not good enough to understand everything we said for 90 minutes, but I saw their envious look on their faces. It wasn’t a motivational speech or anything, but I could feel that I made them feel something. When Tom asked me about the class, I wanted to do it for two reasons, a) it would be nice to talk about travel and share the experience, and b) I wanted to be an inspirational figure to Asian students who are learning English. To show them people from Asia can speak English good enough to travel the world. Maybe the latter reason was bigger.
Because of the cultural background, Asians often think they ‘can’t’ do anything out of ordinary. That’s how I felt, and I know that’s very common. I’m sure Chinese people are the same way. If some random girl from Korea can travel the world, they can do it.
At the end of the last class, one girl came up to me and asked how come I speak English so well. So I gave her the best advice I could give: travel, and don’t be embarrassed by the mistakes.
That felt good.
They wrote down our websites, and took our business cards. They wanted to be a fan of our facebook page, and follow our journey through rest of the China. Some were questioning me why I don’t go their hometown. Maybe next time! Hopefully they are reading this post at this moment.