I had the most wonderful opportunity and experience over the last month that has kept me very busy. Teaching a group of students from all over Europe and in the greatest surprise, an entire group from the People's Republic of China.
When first told that students from China would be included, I said, "You mean Taiwan, don't you?" The answer was "No--from Communist China."
Immediately, thoughts of special agents disguised as tour guides accompanying the students and watching over their shoulders as they access normally censored sections of the Internet (anything criticizing their government or talking about Falun Gong) ran through my head. However, I learned a great deal from them and about them.
In their fashionable westernized clothing, which they now wear in their daily lives (there was just something funny at first about seeing them in Sean John attire), we were able to talk openly about their lives, customs and the way they view Americans.
They all had Ipod clones and were familiar with current American music pop stars.
They spoke extraordinary English (had been studying it since early grammar school) and could communicate extremely well with me, even understanding most American sarcasm and cliches.
They love Americans and had never been taught anything negative or critical about us or our government.
Mao is past history. He's a few lines in their new textbooks and rarely mentioned otherwise. The new and improved Communist China concentrates on a modern, industrialized society. They of course don't use the word Capitalism, even though they are now making the majority of products for the United States.
All the modern conveniences, toys and consumer goods (except cars) are available to them.
However, they cannot buy the products shipped to America. Different versions are available on the Chinese market. They didn't realize just how much of the goods "Made In China" were available over here until they saw it for themselves. A teacher had once told them about it in school.
I asked them if they were going to see the new "Simpsons" movie while here, and then I said, "Oh, wait...it's probably available on DVD on streetcorners in Beijing...and you probably saw it already," to which they politely laughed.
What do they do in their spare time when not in school in China?
They go to shopping malls, play video games, play a great deal of sports, study piano and violin, eat junk food and sound like typical Americans.
There was one main difference that really surprised them.
The car culture of young Americans.
They ride bicycles or take public transportation everywhere.
Young Chinese simply do not have cars and very few adults do either.
They go on dates on bicycle and the bus.
The idea of the freedom of a personal car was the strangest culture difference to them.
They were a great group of students.
Their government made them come home a week earlier than everybody else--
it was the first time they were allowed to come to the U.S. and they were told
when to return.
Now I have some friends to visit in China.