A foreign teacher’s goodbye to ECNU


Editor’s notes:
Rebecca Barry works as an oral English teacher at ECNU and a copy editor for ECNU’s English website during September, 2014-June 2015. For her students at ECNU, she was always so devoted to her work and her classes were always so interesting and enlightening. For me, she was both a good colleague and friend. Thanks for her hard work, our website is more readable. All her students and I do appreciate meeting her at ECNU, and Rebecca herself also appreciates her coming to ECNU and China.

“What, in your opinion, is the great strength of the Chinese people?”

It was my last day as a Spoken English Instructor at East China Normal University, and I had challenged my students to come prepared with questions for their American teacher. As it turns out, they were ready to challenge me.

The question is a bold one, and a thoughtful one. I could choose to talk about the great kindness of the Chinese people, or their raw toughness; their deep love for culture and country, or their dedication to family; their wonderful dreams for the future, their resilience, or their deep appreciation for the gifts life has given them…

But today, I want to talk about generosity.

For me, a young teacher from Chicago who spoke only the most basic Mandarin upon her arrival in Shanghai, nothing was more striking or heartwarming than the great generosity that was shown to me by all—by my students, who worked tirelessly and learned to laugh at my corny jokes; by my colleagues and superiors, who welcomed me to ECNU with open arms; and by the people of Shanghai, who helped me to see, over the course of 10 months, how Shanghai could be a place of warmth, beauty, and camaraderie.

Rebecca has a good way to make her classes lively and interesting.

During the months of January and February, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Beijing, Taipei, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Wuhan, and Guangdong Province. Everywhere I went, I was met by the same generous offerings of help and guidance whenever I needed it along my indescribable journey through Chinese history and culture. It truly was the trip of a lifetime, and I am extraordinarily grateful to the family who allowed me to share in their celebration of New Year. 

As a teacher of English as a Second Language, what I wanted more than anything was to live as both teacher and student: to recognize that learning is an exchange. Over the course of this past year, I have experienced just that. As my Chinese slowly improved, I received only more words of encouragement from students, and as their English improved, I saw their confidence soar. Soon, we were not conversing only about daily situations, but also about essential cultural differences between the U.S. and China, and about ways to continue to expand our worldview long into the future.

Rebecca and her boyfriend have traveled a lot in China.

Rebecca sits down for a home-cooked meal prepared by a gracious Chinese family.

There were many times that I was in dire need of help, and I look back with gratitude when I realize just how often the generosity of my Chinese friends, and even strangers, came to my aid. While my adventure in Shanghai has come to an end, I will take many precious memories with me as I begin a new teaching post in Belgium, and I will never forget the privilege I have had to be both a teacher and student in China!

P.S. I wish to say thank you to my students and colleagues, and especially to Joey, who has done a remarkable job as editor for all these articles on ECNU’s English website. I will miss you all!

Written by: Rebecca Barry


East China Normal University