In early spring (aka “the last dregs of winter that just won’t go away”) I met a few other foreigners from a couple different African countries who were studying at a nearby university. And since these people are undeniably awesome, they agreed to come talk to my students, who had never before even seen a foreigner from outside the USA, let alone spoken with one.
I spent a couple weeks teaching a pretty basic human geography lesson to my classes to get them geared up and thinking about the people who live around the world, instead of just a location on a map (which, if you’re a teacher and interested, I can definitely send you the materials). We looked at pictures of food and art and toys, listened to music, and watched videos of traditional dances. It was great fun!
When I told the students that some foreigners would be coming, they got very excited. When I told them that some Africans were coming, some of the students flat out did not believe me. A memorable couple of students even tried to call me on my supposed bs:
“Teacher, there are no Africans here [nearby].”
“Will they fly here from Africa to see our school?”
“Do you mean French people?”
Despite their disbelief, four lovely (and very accommodating) women and men from Africa did come to school that Sunday. They spoke panel-discussion-style at English Club, and answered questions from a packed room of wide-eyed kids.
While I had prepared the students for the visit by giving them enough information to ask intelligent, insightful questions–of which there were many–there were also a few well-meaning but hilariously not thought through questions. Like this tidbit of a conversation between one of the foreign visitors and a high school student :
Student: “How did you get to China?”
Foreigner: “I flew.”
Student: “Oh. Are there airports in your country?”
I take it as evidence that they can at least hold a conversation and improvise without checking a dictionary. Small victories they may be, but victories all the same.
And students weren’t the only ones to show up!
A few of the grandparents living on campus wandered by to take in the extremely unusual sight of more than two foreigners in town at the same time. And, of course, all the kids just had to see if Africans can play ping-pong as well as the Chinese. It’s an issue of national pride, ya know?
After a couple hours, however, the students had to head back to class for their evening review and homework sessions. We took one last picture before they had to go.
And that, my dears, is how you change a young person’s worldview in a single afternoon. Just show them that a small town doesn’t necessarily mean a small world, and that to some “cool, awesome foreigners”, they–the young, poor, or shy Chinese school students–are the cool, awesome foreigners.