Join us twice a month as we showcase an Educational Ambassador's or Alumnus view and thoughts on their journey in China and in other parts of the world. This week we head to Jiangshan, Quzhou, Zhejiang.

Uprooting yourself for a year to teach abroad in China promises many exciting challenges and adventures. There’s exploring a new city, making new friends, overcoming culture shock, and learning how the metro works if you are from a small town like me! While most Educational Ambassadors face these obstacles, being a Chinese American presents its own set of unique challenges.

Heather teaching introductions to her Grade 3 students

Heather teaching introductions to her Grade 3 students

As an adoptee from China, raised a Cornhusker from Nebraska, I knew that my Chinese appearance would elicit a great amount of curiosity. However, I didn’t realize the impact it would have on me. While everyone that I have met here in China has given me the warmest welcome imaginable, many also question why I look so Chinese, yet can’t fluently speak the language nor know much about the culture. In the beginning, seeing the flush of confusion on people’s faces accompanied by several curious questions about my identity was uncomfortable. I tried my best to explain my background, but with the language barrier, understanding my answers to their questions was nearly impossible. Furthermore, adoption in China is a taboo subject, therefore if we were able to communicate, they would understandably not know what to say after I disclosed my adoption.

I’ll be honest, at first, I was unsure of how I should feel about their responses. I tried my best to be proud of my identity and see the opportunities that the people in China and I were giving each other, but at times I found myself feeling incredibly discouraged and alone. I felt that I, in some ways, had disappointed my school for not being the typical American that one would think of.

Fortunately, I am lucky enough to have an incredible coordinator, Jenny. Besides helping me adjust to the school and my duties as an English teacher, she has also played a huge role in easing my transition into life in Jiangshan. Her kindness, positivity, and understanding have also helped me navigate the waters of being a Chinese American in China. Having Jenny there has reminded me that at the end of the day, everyone is excited about this school year, myself included! She has also been a great role model for what it looks like to constantly and consistently stay positive and have an open mind.

Hey Jenny, um, there’s something behind you...

Hey Jenny, um, there’s something behind you...

With Jenny’s help and my determination, I have learned to go into these difficult conversations with an open mind and see them as an opportunity to build relationships with others. I have also been reminded that sharing my background is a great way to let others get to know me on a more personal level, which has led to making several close native Chinese friends. These friendships have given me a great sense of belonging in Jiangshan. However more importantly, they have reignited the pride about my identity as an adoptee from China.

Prior to arriving here, I knew that being an Educational Ambassador was more than simply teaching students English. Being an Educational Ambassador is about building bridges with different cultures, sharing a new perspective, and completely immersing yourself in your surroundings, whether that be the classroom you are teaching in or speaking with the neighbor that lives next door to you. Sharing who I am, as well as listening to other’s stories, are just small pieces of that, and I’m so thankful that I am given the opportunity to do such things each and every day!

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Heather Wilson

Click here for a link to her personal blog. 

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