I weaved my way effortlessly through customs and found a nervous-looking young lady holding a piece of printer paper with my name on it. “You look not same,” she told me, pulling out the enlarged photo of me she had hidden behind my name. “You look um, fat here,” she said, pointing at the picture.
“I’m Jessica,” I said with a smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“But you no now,” she offered as a sort of. I thanked her and laughed, knowing I hadn’t lost any weight since the photo (maybe the camera really does add ten pounds?) and thinking of my days in Thailand where I will always be fat, despite my 130-pound frame.
Welcome home, I whispered to myself and followed Maxine (her chosen English name) to a private car the school had provided us. I held nothing against her, she was very sweet and helpful and within hours of my arrival she had shown me my new apartment and a detailed tour of Peizheng (pronounced, I finally learned, pay-jung) College.
I live directly on campus, in a one-bedroom apartment complete with a balcony (where my own washing machine sits!!) and a view of the trees and water, as well as the neighbors’ drying laundry. I even have a small kitchen equipped with a tabletop stove so I can attempt to cook something better than the whole fish (head, skin and all) that was so kindly given to me as a welcome dinner.
The College is beautiful. I like it just as much, if not more, than my recent visit to Colorado State University (where I hope to be this time next year). A little farther from thethan I expected (about an hour), the college is complete with everything needed to run a small, efficient town (grocery store, food stands and restaurants, cell phone company, computer store etc.) with a reservoir running through the lush hills surrounding it.
It’s quiet, despite the hoards of freshmen students that were racing around on my first day, signing up for classes and checking into their dorms (which sleep 4-6 in a room the size of a typical 2-person dorm in the U.S.). It’s a suburb of, and peaceful retreat from, the bustling metropolis that is Guangzhou (pronounced “gwong-jo”), China’s third largest city, teeming with over 12 million people.
The library is huge – and I’ve heard the English section is quite impressive. I already got a card, which serves also as my free entrance to the school’s Olympic sized swimming pool, should I ever run across a full body swimsuit to purchase.
I’ve already been invited to join the swim team for competition and the volleyball and tennis squads as well (Maxine invited me. Maybe I should take a hint?). The fancy red track and football (soccer, folks) field sits right at my doorstep, plus there are paved paths around the water, which provide for a scenic jog.
I will be teaching freshmen students, and therefore I don’t actually start until September 17th. I signed up for Chinese lessons twice a week (that should be interesting!) and I’ll be attending meetings and trainings for these first two weeks while the freshmen endure a mandatory military boot camp, which will give me some time to get acquainted with my co-workers and learn my way around the rather large campus before I have to find my way to class.
Overall, I feel pretty set up. I have a landline, a cell phone and an address (so you can post me things!), all of which was either already set up or ridiculously easy – not because the local business people speak English, because that’s certainly not the case, but because there are nearly 70 foreign teachers and some very helpful Chinese staff members, including Maxine, who know the ropes and are very willing to help out.
All of the students I’ve met so far are lovely, and I’m really excited to start teaching. It’s quite possible I’m going to love it here.