Chinese University students

Teaching China’s Worrywarts by Joslynn Jones McLaughlin

It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for another guest post. What do you mean there have been several Tuesdays since the last guest post?? I have no idea what you’re talking about 😉

Ideally, each Tuesday I’ll publish a story from one of my fellow travelers. Their tales will be about something they’ve learned, or something they’ve taught, while on the road. It might not be a traditional classroom setting, as often these experiences are not when we’re exposed to a new culture, but hopefully they’ll inspire you to book that plane ticket you’ve been dreaming about, or simply give you a new blog to enjoy.

This week’s post is from a fellow ESL teacher and blogger, Joslynn Jones McLaughin. She delves into the minds of her Chinese university students to tell us why so many of them worry about things such as relationships and exams, and why they’re doing nothing about it. If you’re considering teaching English in China, this essay will provide you with some good background information about your future students, and perhaps a good lesson plan idea as well!

If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, contact me here.

Meet Joslynn:


wor·ry·wart (wûr-‘e-wôrt) One who worries excessively and needlessly.

How will I provide my children the best education and life opportunities?  How will I pay for the car repair? Will we be able to retire when we want? As an American, I would categorize our greatest stress under the heading of finances. Sure, there are other ups and downs that we face over time, but the resounding issues of worry in our lives come as a result of money or the lack thereof. The continued declining economic environment in America brings money and security to the forefront of our minds more than ever. I came halfway around the world to China to leave that daily in-your-face money issue behind.

On this side of the world, however, worry may be even more prevalent among people of all ages, and for many more reasons than simply finances. And while I can honestly say that I believe financial issues are a real problem we must deal with daily in America, some of the worries on the minds of my 20-year old college students are baffling. As freshmen in college, and with the knowledge that their parents don’t want them to have boyfriends or girlfriends until they graduate and get a job, my students are daily worried about their future marriage prospects. They feel pressure, now, even when they shouldn’t be “looking,” about the fast succession of tasks they must complete over the next few years: pass professional certificate exams, graduate, find a good job, find a husband and get married, buy an apartment, start a family.

Chinese university students

Freshmen Students at Guangdong Peizheng College. Photo by Joslynn Jones McLaughlin.

This week in class, our topic discussed the greatest stresses in my students’ lives. As throughout their entire academic careers, successful testing is the forte of accomplishment. All students must pass the CET-4 (an English proficiency examination) in order to graduate college. They will begin taking this exam at the close of their freshman year, with continued opportunities every 6 months to pass the exam before graduation. But they are worried. With countless opportunities to improve their English skills at this college and with 3 years and six chances to succeed, they are worried.

The purpose of my classes are to provide an applicable life topic that will get my students talking. With years and years of English study, most of my students can read and write English, but they lack the ability or confidence to carry on a simple English conversation…This topic was successful. My students have a lot to say about their worry and, on the flipside, about their favorite ways to relax: sleeping, shopping, playing video games. So, with “improving English to pass exams” and a list of other worries that my students disclosed – money, wanting to change majors, relational issues – I asked what action any of them had taken to change the circumstances that caused them angst. Have any of you attended an after-hours English Corner? Have any of you taken on a part time job? Have you talked to an administrator about your academic options? Have you told your friend she hurt your feelings? There was resounding silence. I lost contact with all eyes. So I called a few names – Vivian? No.  Sleep? (yes that’s his name) No. ANYone? No. Not a single person had taken action to manage or relieve their greatest life stresses.

Chinese university students

Joslynn’s class at work. Photo by Joslynn Jones McLaughlin.

The most consistent observation I have made over the years about my biggest worrywart friends is they are usually those who also lack action. They spend their time worrying, or alternately, avoiding the issue altogether with distractions. While we all have our strongholds that bring us worry, some people are plagued with it, dragged down into the muck almost all the time, overthinking, overreacting, and overcomplicating. Unfortunately, this seems to be a Chinese culture standard. Worry is just part of the norm. But, particularly in classrooms like mine, filled with affluent young students, inaction is also part of that norm.

From where this inaction comes is debatable. With often overbearing parents who make most life decisions for their children well into their adulthood, maybe all these helpless young adults can do is worry, as they have no “power” to make a change themselves. Or, like much of America’s young generation, maybe these are just spoiled children who are used to parents who “buy” their children’s way, without need for their own efforts or achievements to get them there.

Through my year of teaching in China, I often find my fiery, passionate side rising up when these topics surface. I feel the need to go beyond covering a simple discussion topic, opinions averted. Today, my class was not an unbiased English chat. Today, I closed with a lecture; not an English lecture, but a life lecture… a lecture from my heart – as a teacher and a mother – a word of encouragement and motivation, wanting more for my students who have the potential but little drive to live up to it. While many people in their lives continue to tell them what they can’t do or shouldn’t do, occasionally I think they need a word of empowerment. They need a gentle reminder that they are adults and that they are ultimately responsible for their learning and their future, even if the reminder only comes from their conversational English teacher.

Take me to Joslynn in China!

Other MissAdventures

Teaching China’s Worrywarts


  1. eemusings says:

    “The most consistent observation I have made over the years about my biggest worrywart friends is they are usually those who also lack action. They spend their time worrying, or alternately, avoiding the issue altogether with distractions.”

    Ummm yup, GUILTY. Doing this right now.

    We Chinese aren’t great at discussing the emotional stuff. I imagine life for kids living IN China it is infinitely harder.

    • I took a look at your blog! You don’t sound like a woman too distracted to me! 🙂 Being on this side of the world, I’ve had a newly-kindled interest in visiting New Zealand. Have you lived there your whole life?

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