Your Turn!

Interested in spending a year traveling, teaching abroad, and getting international work experience? Let’s chat!

I have some great connections who are starting to hire for the fall. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have and set you up with the right people.

Still on the fence? Have any doubts, fears, or uncertainties?

I’m happy to talk with you more about exactly what you need to know, expect, and prepare for before coming to teach in China. I’m willing to share all the advice I wish I knew before I came so that your transition is much smoother than mine.

This year has truly been transformative for me, and I hope anyone else considering it takes advantage of this life-changing opportunity.

Hope to chat soon!

E-mail: franksmacri@gmail.com
Skype: franksmacri

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Home Stretch

Hello world! I realize it’s been a while since I’ve last updated, but it’s all been for good reasons. Now that I’m in the home stretch, I’ve begun doing some more reflecting on my life in China.

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On January 8th, I packed one bag and head out for a 40-day trek throughout southeast Asia. I was fortunate enough to have an extended holiday for the Chinese New Year, so I made sure to travel from the moment it started to midnight of the day it ended. My trip included visits to five countries – Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore. The journey exposed me to a slice of the world I never imagined seeing before leaving the US. I had a ton of fun partaking in the typical backpacker adventures – petting tigers, riding elephants, hiking volcanoes, feeding monkeys, eating scorpion, chasing waterfalls, exploring temples, riding tuk-tuks, etc.

But what meant the most to me was meeting locals in each nation. Whether it was a quick conversation or a candid heart-to-heart, I was moved by every interaction I had in one way or another. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to see how people live on this side of the globe.

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Since returning, the most surprising realization I’ve had is how my social circle has changed. I now spend more time hanging out with my Chinese friends than I do with my American friends here. It feels incredible that I’m able to relate to natives despite language barriers and cultural differences. Whether eating hot pot, singing at KTV or exploring China, I cherish all the quality time I spend with my friends here and enjoy having connections on this part of the world.

I’ve also begun to have a newfound appreciation for my home in Shenzhen. A Chinese friend of mine explained to me that many consider Shenzhen the most open-minded city in China. This shocked me, as I would think Shanghai or Hong Kong would easily snag that title. He further explained that since Shenzhen is a “new” city, most of its inhabitants have migrated here from all different parts of China.

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This inadvertently caused there to be a blend of all different backgrounds and lifestyles. Also, unlike other Chinese cities, Shenzhen lacks a deeply engrained elder generation to enforce traditional values and beliefs. So, while Shenzhen is typecast as the “city with no culture,” there is actually an emerging culture here of tolerance and diversity.

It seems like Shenzhen is to China as to what America was to European colonists. In the colonial era, settlers flocked to the “New World” in America in hopes of new opportunities and freedom. In many regards, Shenzhen can be viewed the same way. Cool, right?

Overall, I see the world and my position in it much differently than I did seven short months ago. While nothing is fully planned for what life after China will bring, I can say this with certainty: I’m ecstatic to explore new opportunities to travel and serve others beyond this year in China. For now, I will continue making the most of these last three months.

REBIRTH.

As I was getting ready for bed tonight, I began scrolling through messages from friends and family back home.

“Things aren’t the same without you here.”
“I miss you so much.”
“Really wish you were here.”

It’s incredibly comforting to know people care about me. I am very grateful for that. But I can’t help but notice that the heartfelt words carry such a somber undertone. If reading these out of context, you would think I’m dead.

… Yet, at the same time, I feel so alive right now. These past few months been an awakening for me. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world we live in.

So, how does one go about explaining the coexistence of life and death?

Though traveling is very much about what you directly experience abroad, it’s also about what you leave back home. When I moved across the globe, I also moved away from the assumptions of what life is supposed to be. I put myself in a situation where experimentation and exploration is not only encouraged – it’s unavoidable. Growth is a natural byproduct of travel.

Maybe a part of me has “died” in coming to China. Maybe I am becoming a new person. Or, better yet, maybe I have done both – perhaps I’m experiencing a rebirth.

It’s possible the sentiments in the messages from my loved ones are indirectly symbolic of my personal development. If so, I’m liking the “new” me. By the time I return home, hopefully I’ll be a changed person on an even better path.

Do you ever feel like you go through rebirths at different points in life?

100 DAYS.

Today marks the 100th day since I left First Class, stepped foot in Shanghai, and began my year in China.

Wow.

My initial perception and impressions of China have certainly evolved. For the first time, I’m beginning to feel adapted to the culture and desensitized to some behaviors that originally made me uneasy. I want to say  things here have stabilized, but I think in actuality it’s me who’s become more stable. Finally, it has become much easier to look past certain negatives and instead focus on ways to appreciate daily life.

With that said, I thought I would re-answer and update my highlights and lowlights from my one month reflection.

The three most amazing things about China:

  • Electric Motorbikes – These have become my favorite way of getting around town. Rather than paying a lot of money for a cab or waiting for the metro, I just find a meandering e-bike driver and hitch a ride. The drivers are usually comical and hasty, so the rides are delightfully terrifying. They’re also cheap, which leads me to my next point…
  • Bargaining – Nearly every service or item you purchase on the street or in a boutique is up for negotiation. The process of haggling is always entertaining, oftentimes drawing attention from bystanders. I love the look of surprise whenever a merchant declares a price and hears me shout Tai gui le! (too expensive!) in response. Foreigners are assumed to be rich, so vendors usually expect you to pay top dollar. However, if you play your cards right, you can knock down the number on any price tag.
  • The way Asians age – Asians seem to maintain their youth for decades longer than the rest of the world. I’ve met so many natives who look younger than me but are actually in their mid-30’s raising a child. I’m still searching for this fountain of youth in China and will let you know when I find it.

The three most tragic things about China:

  • People who cook with gutter oil and eat human babies. These horror stories are never pleasant to hear about. However, I’ve learned this culture requires strong judgment. If you get sick from eating at a questionable restaurant, it is not the restaurant who is at fault – it’s YOU for not discerning it was a bad idea to eat there in the first place. It actually feels much better taking accountability for your own actions rather than instinctively blaming others.
  • Internet censorship – I’ve talked about this already. It’s still a pain in the butt and always will be. However, it is refreshing to no longer have the urge to habitually check social media on my phone.
  • Answering phone calls – Ok, this isn’t so much tragic as it is a pet peeve of mine. In Chinese culture, you are expected to answer a phone call regardless of who you’re with or what you’re doing. For example, if your boss or friend’s phone rings while you are with them, they will immediately disregard you and acknowledge the phone call. I was once interrogated by a friend asking why I did not answer my phone when she called. While this may sound ridiculous, I think it just an example of Chinese “nowism.”

Clearly, my opinions have shifted since my first month here, ultimately for the better.

With Thanksgiving just passing, I am reminded how thankful I am for this experience thus far. Ironically, my first Thanksgiving outside the States has also been the most special. I am more grateful now than ever before for all that I have in my life. Thank you so much to friends, family and followers who have supported me on this journey these past 100 days. Bring on the next 100…

STRANGE THINGS MY SCHOOL DOES

1) Smoke bombs during fire drills
Well, this nearly traumatized me. As I explain in the video, I was woken up one morning to fire alarms, running children, and smoke billowing from the school courtyard. Apparently, it’s normal for my school to set off smoke bombs as part of the fire drill.

2) “Eye exercises”
Everyday during home room, all students have 10 minutes of eye exercises. From what I’ve been told, it is supposed to help them release tension in their face and eye muscles.

3) “Military training” exercises
Last week, the entire 7th grade did not have class because they had mandatory “military training.” While I imagined them being sent off to some kind of rigorous boot camp, they instead spent most of their time learning the choreography to this synchronized dance. When I asked my students how they felt about these “exercises,” they had mixed opinions. Some enjoy learning the dance because it gave them 活力 (huoli, energy/vitality), but others think it is boring.

LIFE IN SHENZHEN

I realize that, in my three months here, I’ve talked little about the place I call home. Here’s a glimpse into what life is like in the magical land of Shenzhen

DSC06103Shenzhen is a bustling city located in southern China, conveniently positioned north of the Hong Kong border and 40 minutes south of Guangzhou. It was designated China’s first “Special Economic Zone” in 1979, and since then has become one of the country’s financial centers.

Visually, I like to describe Shenzhen as an urban rainforest. It has the infrastructure of most large cities and is balanced with an abundance of sub-tropical plants and trees. The weather is hot and humid for most of the year, with the summer and fall known to have casual typhoons. Surprisingly, the air quality is excellent and pollution is not (yet) a concern.

IMAG3067What makes Shenzhen unique is its title of “the city without a history.” Just thirty years ago, SZ has transformed from a small fishing village to a bustling city of over 12 million people. To compare, NYC has 8.3 million and Boston has only 600,000. Despite its massive size, Shenzhen’s still considered a second-tier city in China.

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Due to its infancy, there are  not many landmarks or historic sites to see. Unfortunately, it lacks the charm that traditional Chinese cities are known to have. However, there is something intriguing about living in a city as it’s rapidly developing and experiencing its growth firsthand.

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Shenzhen is a city of change situated in a country rooted in tradition. If I were to return to Shenzhen a decade from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if it looked like an entirely different city. I guess that’s what happens when you become the second fastest growing city in the WORLD.

Shenzhen is full of energy, which can sometimes be overwhelming. In my first few weeks here, a short walk around the city would send me home with a pounding headache (introvert problems…). There’s so much going on, all the time, making daily life both exhausting yet interesting.

Would I recommend Shenzhen to a tourist as a must-see part of China? Probably not. It’s definitely a better place to live in than visit. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time in SZ thus far and look forward to learning and exploring more here in the upcoming months.

IT’S ALL IN THE NAME?

Considering I teach over 400 students, it’s no surprise there are some chosen English names that are more… imaginative than others.

I have one class with four boys named iPod, iPad, iTouch and iPhone. Some names are more earthy – such as Fire, Sky, Fossil, Plant, and Ice. Others like to name themselves after their favorite foods. If you don’t believe me, ask Tofu (boy), Candy, Cherry, Snack, Lemon and Bonana. I also appreciate the names that go against gender norms. Shout out my male students named Summer, Jill, KoKo, Jane, Joyce, and Rose.

And then there are other names that speak for themselves, such as:

  1. Yellow
  2. Snoopy
  3. Yif (pronounced “eef”)
  4. Suki
  5. Smile
  6. Jank
  7. Leon (girl)
  8. Bonner
  9. Merry
  10. Lavinia
  11. Jark
  12. Newton
  13. Superboy
  14. Hardy
  15. King
  16. Bod
  17. Potter
  18. Obama
  19. Shura (boy)
  20. Tiney
  21. Tank
  22. ABC (boy)
  23. China (boy)
  24. GG-Brown
  25. Hades (girl)

Personally, I love the wild and creative name choices. I never thought I’d have to say things like “Obama, sit down!” or “Hades, when is your birthday?” in my classroom. But, alas, China.

“GAY IS OK.”

The topic of superheroes came up in one of my 7th grade classes this week, and one boy jokingly pointed at another and called him “Super Gay.” Since teaching here, I’ve heard the word “gay” thrown around between students several  times in my classes. It’s one of those words (like “fuck you” and “shit”) that the kids freely say without knowing the weight it carries in actual conversation. I let the gay “joke” slide the first few times, but I didn’t want to any longer.

While most students laughed at the “Super Gay” comment, this began a chain of other students, all boys, calling each other gay. I understand this can be perceived as typical, immature middle school behavior. However, especially with Hong Kong Pride fresh on my mind, I decided it was time to address this topic.

I then wrote on the board “gay = happy,” evoking several looks of confusion. Under that, I drew stick figures of two males and two females with hearts in between them. I explained, in the simplest way, that gay can mean either happy or two guys/girls who love each other.

I asked my students if gay was OK in China, and some quickly replied with “no no no.”

I then said, “In America, gay is OK. Sometimes a boy loves a boy, a girl loves a girl, or a boy loves a girl. It is all OK. Love is the same.”

By then, the bell rang and my class left. I started reflecting over my decision to discuss this topic, and whether it may have been pushing the envelope too far. I wasn’t sure if my actions were professional or appropriate. Homosexuality is not acknowledged or accepted in Chinese culture. This may have been the first time many of them heard the words “gay” and “OK” together in the same sentence.

However, I thought about how my students are at an age where sexuality is new to them. Out of the over 400 students I teach, it is highly probable that some are gay. My mind imagines the one kid sitting silently in the corner, who feels like an outcast, reject, or failure because of his/her sexuality.

These years are also especially impressionable, a time in life when they start thinking about what is right and wrong. As a teacher and symbol of authority, allowing students to throw out gay jokes sends a negative message to the entire class.

I don’t know how their Chinese teachers react to this behavior, but they should know that, in areas of the world outside China, gay is certainly OK.

HONG KONG PRIDE

Growing up in New York State and attending college in Boston, I have always been surrounded by an environment that generally has a positive reception towards gay culture. This year is the first time I’m living somewhere in which that is not the case.

During my orientation in Shanghai, one of the speakers mentioned that homosexuality does not “exist” in China. Obviously, it exists here, but he meant it in the sense that it is not a subject that is acknowledged, discussed or celebrated. Since homosexuality is still highly stigmatized, the majority of the country has adopted a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mentality.

DSC06806China deeply values the preservation of long-lasting family lineage. As a result, it is not uncommon for homosexuals to marry someone of the opposite sex so they can pass on their family name. Essentially, they are sacrificing their identities for the sake of their family’s pride. But how much pride can you really have when you are pressuring your own child to live a lie?

Fortunately, gay rights are slowly gaining ground in Asia. While China currently lacks any LGBT parade, Hong Kong hosted its fifth Pride Parade this weekend. Since falling in love with HK during my last visit, I was excited to return and even more curious to see how this half of the world promotes LGBT rights.

The parade ended up being something completely different from what I imagined. There were no floats, no blasting music, no wild crowds. Everyone just assembled in Causeway Bay, a populated area in central Hong Kong, and listened to a few speeches. The applause was lackluster and the turnout underwhelming.

Just as I began to believe there would be nothing more than a mild rally, I found out we were the parade. We all began what became a two-mile trek down some of the most historic streets of Hong Kong. In accordance with the dress code, nearly everyone wore red, adding a sense of solidarity amongst those in attendance.

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Marching in the parade made the experience so much more meaningful. Rather than being passive bystanders, we were all activists that day. We collectively made a presence, and you could feel it happening.

IMAG3507The most touching part of the evening happened at the very end when a young Asian man proposed to his boyfriend. A perfect end to the parade and a necessary reminder that love is love – no matter who you are, who you love, or where you come from.

While the parade is still in its early stages, I have high hopes that it will continue to grow in years to come. I am grateful for having the opportunity to attend Hong Kong Pride 2013 and, most importantly, celebrate equality across the globe.