Call it what you will. A desperate need for change. A longing for new adventure. A mid-life crisis. I’m calling it an opportunity that only God could provide. I know for a fact that this time last August as I sat at my desk in Orange, California exporting and importing student rosters from our SIS to various online services, while patiently waiting for a cartload of classroom iPads to sync, I would never have guessed that a year later I would be sitting in a 6th floor apartment in Jinqiao, Shanghai, China writing a blog post about my “new normal”. Yet here I am, feeling – at least for now – that this is where I am supposed to be, ready to embrace a new challenge and see how best I can use my gifts to serve the community here at Concordia International School.
So what are some of my new “normals”?
Walking to work. Okay so walking to work isn’t REALLY anything new for me. I did that almost daily in Orange, but there I always had the option to drive. Here I do not own a car. Until I buy a bike or a scooter, my Reeboks are the vehicle of choice. Oh, and here in Shanghai pedestrians do not have the right of way. Vehicles do not have to stop to turn right on red, and the hundreds of electric scooters see red lights as just a suggestion. Seriously, they’re everywhere jetting silently in and around traffic like mini stealth fighters . Want to cross a street? Look both ways. Twice.
Speaking of not having a car, here is something else worth noting. As I sat at LAX on Saturday, August 1 waiting for my 15 hour flight to Shanghai, I realized for the first time in over 40 years – I had NO KEYS. No house key. No work keys, No car key. Nothing. Sure, it felt strange, but in a way it was also a little exhilarating.
Mandarin. Guess what they speak in China? This is going to be a challenge. Not just speaking, but reading. It’s everywhere – signs, labels, text messages from my mobile provider. Many of my fellow teachers are doing a wonderful job picking it up. I’m trying, but listening and mastering the correct tones for speaking is challenging. Thankfully people here in Jinqiao speak English and are quite patient with me. I can order a grande latte at Starbucks – there are two close by – and they know exactly what I mean. Still, I need to be intentional about learning Mandarin. This little bubble of Shanghai is populated by so many ex-pats that it is quite possible to live here and never learn any of the language. I hope that will not be the case for me. I did hear a joke that hit a little close to home. What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.
The best Internet is at school. You’ve no doubt heard of the “Great Firewall of China”. Basically sites like YouTube, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and many others are blocked. Residential service, at least where I live, is much slower that it is back in the states. At school, however, they have what our IT director calls “International” or “White-listed” Internet. Basically this means that students and teachers who want to check social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, or watch YouTube, I need to do it at school. It also means that while we can access and use Google Apps at school, for students to work with Google Apps at home requires setting up a VPN. A little bit backwards compared to what we have back in the states, right?
Dependancy. Back home I considered myself to be mostly self-sufficient, and I was very comfortable with that. Moving here is a big step out of my comfort zone. It means giving up a big chunk of that self reliance to be dependent on the help of others. It’s a matter of survival, but it’s a good thing. The community here at Concordia is amazing. They are welcoming, helpful, caring, and have gone above and beyond to make sure newbies like myself don’t fall through the cracks. As a result in just three weeks time I have developed some amazing friendships. We work together, learn together, and play together. In many respects, it is similar to the type of connections I’ve made at Discovery Summer Institutes. I’ve been told by several “old timers” that this is a community unlike other international schools and I’m thankful to be a part of it.
I am quickly learning that you can’t teach at Concordia and not be a “lifelong learner”. The passion these people have for learning and teaching was evident from day one. Here you have a group of teachers at the top of their game, doing what they love, for the benefit of the students and the school community. In some respects, as a newbie here it’s a little intimidating. Am I up to the challenge? Can I live up to the expectations? At dinner last night with several other new teachers, I was able to hear one of my colleagues express the same feelings. What a relief it was to hear that! I am not alone. What a comfort it is to realize that in spite if any doubts we might have, that this is where we are meant to be. This time, in this place. It is all part of the plan. A plan that is bigger than just me.