Emily Yoder-Horst, along with her husband Andy, are currently serving with MCC as English teachers in Sichuan, China. Emily grew up attending Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, and Andy attended Evanston Mennonite Church in Evanston, Illinois. They both graduated from Goshen College and most recently attended Glennon Heights Mennonite Church in Lakewood, Colorado.
We’ve been living and teaching in Sichuan, China, in the city of Zigong for a little over a year. Zigong is a “small city” of about two and a half million people. Sichuan University of Science and Engineering where we teach, has about 23,000 students.
Upon first arrival, we quickly learned that Zigong has three claims to fame: salt, light and dinosaurs. Zigong was built up around the salt drilling industry and still has some active salt wells today, so it is often referred to as “the city of salt.” The light refers to the yearly lantern festival which is held here in Zigong during the Chinese holiday of Spring Festival which happens somewhere around January or February each year (according to the Chinese calendar). And the dinosaur museum here claims to be one of the best in the world.
It always feels like a daunting task to accurately represent a country as diverse and quickly changing as China. Apart from everyday adventures navigating the language and culture, the most rewarding part of our job has been our interaction with students. Some of their stories have given us the best glimpses into people’s lives here.
Most of our students are from Sichuan, and many of those students come from the countryside. The trend now is to move to big coastal cities where jobs are more abundant. As we have gotten to know our students better, we have learned that several of them have parents who would be considered migrant workers, working in coastal cities like Guangzhou or Shenzhen and returning maybe once a year to see their families.
One of our students, Michael*, hadn’t seen his mom in six years when he went to join his parents in Shenzhen in search of a job. Tom’s mother is in the province of Yunnan, and his dad in the province of XinJiang. He grew up living with his grandma in Sichuan.
Spring Festival is a time when families travel across country to reunite with family members when possible. We discovered last year that riding a train during Spring Festival time can mean fighting your way onto the train for a standing room only experience.
Now that some of our students have graduated, we have enjoyed hearing about their job searches and their first job adventures. It is interesting to see what students can find with their English majors. Some specialize in teaching and others business, many with big dreams of moving to coastal cities to do interpretation and communication with big international companies.
Michael found a job with an electronics company communicating with international buyers, generally in English. Most recently his boss asked him to learn some Spanish as well, but he said that so far all he knows is, “besame” (kiss me).
Another student, Sinco, returned to her hometown to look for work. Through some of her uncle’s relationships, she recently got a job at a hotel, where she may encounter a foreigner every now and then.
Mar headed to Beijing to reunite with his parents and look for a job. So far, the job he has found is working in construction, which is not exactly his dream job, but a job nonetheless. Yet another student, Kevin, is now living in his parents’ home while they are working out of province. His job search has thus far been unsuccessful.
Recently, a student wouldn’t believe me when I told him that jobs are even hard to come by in the U.S. He said, “but in the U.S. there aren’t 1.3 billion people!”
Since our arrival here, Andy and I have struggled with what exactly our role is here. Why should our students in China need to learn English to succeed? Why isn’t learning a second language in the U.S. as important as it is here? I sometimes wonder though, if a listening ear and a voice from another place can be just as important or even more important than the English we are teaching.
Every time the U.S. and China have political exchanges my students push me. And every time we learn about where our students come from and where they are going, or they learn about our stories, views are inevitably altered. These exchanges and our students’ stories are our greatest joy and challenge here in China.
- Emily Yoder-Horst
*English names are used