Today was our first day of classes. I had two Chinese teachers. They both spoke more English than I would have preferred, but considering that about 1/3rd of our class has had no introduction to Chinese, I understand their pace. In traditional Chinese classrooms, the students should show the teacher utmost respect…standing when the teacher asks them a question and waiting until the teacher’s official dismissal before shuffling their books into their bags and leaving class. But in this classroom, I wasn’t sure which culture rules applied, so for the first few times when it was my turn to answer the teacher or read the Chinese tones, I stood up. However, then I remembered that in Chinese culture, it’s not always a positive quality to be different from the group. So, here I sat, confused about which cultural rule trumps the other, to stand and show respect or to be like the group? In the end, I decided to stay seated when answering questions and follow the grain of my classmates.
In my class of beginning students, we have 9 students, but we represent 7 countries: Germany, Turkey, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, America, and Canada. On my walk home, my German class-mate asked me my age. I told him he was becoming Chinese, since it is a common question and public knowledge to discuss one's age in China. When I told him my age, he looked a little surprised then so blatantly pointed out, “That’s 7 years older than me.” I think we'll be friends.