Monday, 24 November 2008

Wenzhou University

This evening I was taken to Wenzhou University where I had to give a class about "How to improve English in a short time". The reason: to advertise my workplace, Web.

In the morning I still had relatively no idea what I was going to say to the students, some of whom were taking part in an English competition at the end of the week. I was also told that a lot of them would be English majors. I had no time to prepare anything yesterday due to having 6 classes, and today I noticed that my schedule had me down for three in the afternoon, preparation time would be strictly limited.

I completed my first two classes as usual, and my manager, Grace, came to have a few words with me. It was after 3 o'clock -- just over two hours until we would be leaving -- that she told me there would be about 150 students attending the class. Last week I was told it would be considerably less, this was news indeed. My heart skipped a beat and I began panicking, I had never spoken in front of so many people before.

I had no time for dinner, or to see Kimi, because I still had preparation to do. Charles, my boss, bought me a couple of pies from McDonald's to fill the gap. At 5:30 me and one of the course consultants, Cucu (pronounced Cuckoo) climbed into Charles' Audi, and we started the fairly long trip to the university.

Unlike in the UK it seems most universities in China are well outside of the city centre. They are also huge in size, almost like a small town. After a 30 minute drive, we entered the campus area. It seemed that every student owned a bike. Walking must be out of the question due to the sheer size of place. We went past a KFC, and finally entered the car park to one of the buildings.

Together, we all walked inside the complex and found the classroom where I would be giving my class. I stepped into the room, took a quick glance, "Yes, there are about 150 people here," I thought in my mind. I was suddenly jolted into confusion when everybody started to give me a round of applause. I hadn't done anything, all I did was walk through the door. It was a very odd experience, I kept asking "What did I do?" The clapping seemed to continue for quite a long time, when it stopped I felt like all eyes were on me. The nerves were certainly kicking in, which was made even worse when I saw a lot of the students taking pictures of me.

I had to play a short DVD to introduce Web to the students, it was very corny and of course made the training centre look like a brilliant environment to study English. After the video ended it was my turn to speak. I told the students I was a little nervous as I had never spoken to so many people at one time before, they responded by laughing as if I had just told the best joke ever written. They were very inviting and seemed extremely happy that I was there talking to them.

Before I began the class I was actually quite worried that the students would be very shy and wouldn't speak back to me. This is a common problem at Web, so I didn't expect it to be different at the university. I was wrong. Although there were a few shy people in the audience who didn't want to speak, most of them were extremely talkative and responded to me incredibly well. When I asked them a question I got a resounding response from a large majority of them, in unison too. I had also completely underestimated their level of English. Some of the items I had prepared would have been too easy, so I managed to change my plan and go off one of the many English corners I have done before.

In many ways I felt like a minor celebrity visiting the school for charity purposes -- or something along those lines. As I stood at the front of the classroom talking, I could see camera flashes and mobile phones pointing at me for the duration of the class. It was surreal, why was I getting all of this attention? I know the reality, the reason was just because I am a 'laowai'. One girl even told me that I was the first foreign person she had ever met, so she was quite excited. I felt flattered that someone could be excited to meet just me. I was in for another surprise at the end of the class when mayhem broke out. There were immediately dozens of people surrounding me, taking pictures of and with me, asking for my mobile number, email address, and QQ number. I was quite embarrassed really, I felt like it was all completely undeserved. My head shouldn't have been able to fit through the door on the way out.

As my boss drove us back home, I sat in the Audi feeling exhausted, relieved, and rather bemused, "What had just happened in that place?"

When we arrived back at the four star International Hotel, we entered the foyer and walked to the lifts which take us to the training centre. Near to them are some toilets. A few days ago I noticed this sign on the door of the disabled toilet:

Designed by


mabelp said...

Well done, Chris! I know it could be stressful if u give a talk without preparation.

I was surprised that loads of students there taking picture for u just because u're a Laowai. It seems Laowai is very special in Wenzhou? Sounds like u're a super star in Wenzhou now, haha!

In HK, we could c loads of Laowais everywhere and we have got used to it already. We just treat them as HK citizens ( since most of them are).

大眼睛熊 said...

Looks like u don't need to cut ur hair shorter anyway, they are seeing u as local David Beckham already!! Too
many rivals now... : )

Wayne said...

wow,as one student of wenzhou uni,i guess i should say sth,but it's really hard to find some words to describe my feeling,um,,,how about“i promise i’ll not take your pic if i were there!^_^just joking,it seemed your treatment is much better than Oleg's〔the foreign teacher from Canilx〕i suppose u know him,and last semester he also came to our uni,and it's apparently that he wasn't treated like u ^_^.and cannot believe that girl told u that u are the first foreigner she's ever met since there are plenty of foreigners in our uni.but anyway,hope u enjoy this trip.

Chris said...

Thank you for your comments again! I was also surprised by the students, I didn't expect to get that kind of treatment. It was certainly a memorable experience.

Wayne, I actually don't know Oleg. I know of the Canlix school, they advertise right across from Web. Maybe I was just lucky with the group, they were very interested in English. I was surprised that the girl hadn't spoken to a foreigner before too, there must be none in the psychology department then.

Kevin said...

Hi, I've just come across your blog. It's very interesting.

I am also in the middle of the Laowai experience and sporadically blog about it at

Chris said...

Hi Kevin, thank you very much. I will take a look at your blog now, I'm very interested to read about other laowai in this place.

Thanks for reading!