Overall, I’ve had a very pleasant time teaching here in Baoding. My students are pleasant, and I simply did my best to try to teach them. But there’s one experience I had a few weeks ago that will stick with me like Krazy Glue on LEGO bricks. A couple of months ago, I was at an English club event and some of the students mentioned they were raised by their grandparents because their parents went away from home to find work. During my time here in China, I did a little learning about China’s migrant workers (the link will take you to video made by Financial Times about the current Chinese economy and how it’s changing). During this conversation, I asked my students if they were the first person to attend college in their family. A handful of students quietly, bashfully raised their hands.
These young adults are the children of migrant or former migrant workers, which is an issue China is dealing with because parents are important to a child’s development. Still, one of these students (not pictured) said his grandparents taught him how to behave and act well. He’s grateful to them. One girl said for a long time she was angry with her mother for leaving her to find work; she says she and her mother have a somewhat rocky, if working, relationship now. What these two people have in common is that they have an opportunity their parents–who were likely born in the middle of, at the end, or shortly after the Cultural Revolution (which was awful for lots of reasons, one of them being the devaluing of intellectualism and the stunting of the education system) and their grandparents didn’t have access to due to social and economic turmoil caused by government mismanagement.
In China, a college education isn’t a right like it is in the US. Here, it’s more of a privilege partly thanks to the gaokao college entrance exams, which students take during high school. Their score determines–if it’s high enough–if they can go to college, what colleges they can attend, and their field of study. Form conversations I’ve had with my students, this system is bemoaned by the them, and many of them seem a little jealous that I was able to choose my field of study. In spite of these imperfections, a person can conjecture that first-generation college students feel a deep, sincere desire to do well in school and make their parents and the rest of their families proud.
After studying modern Chinese history from the fall of the Qing Dynasty up to the end of Mao era, current events, and just interacting with my students and the couple of Chinese friends I’ve met, these students’ mundane tenacity is a whispering source of inspiration that is easy to overlook .
I’m going to include some links for further reading. This article is just some of my thoughts in no real particular order, and the tl;dr version is as follows: I admire my first-generation college students who may be the children of migrant workers because they want to make their families proud.