“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” ~ Misty Copeland
Sitting in the teacher’s office of English First Zenghzhou, there is the lovely blend of Chenglish, Afrikaans, English, Chinese, Australian, and Irish accents dotted with the laughter of children and running feet! My teaching team and I had just had a great conversation about the politics and experiences of everyday people in Johannesburg, South Africa along with the trade agreements between South Africa and China. I was in heaven with the heady discussion between my colleagues and was pleased to be a listener in the exchange. I don’t know anything about South Africa, or about Ireland, or about Australia and what it means to belong and be from those countries or about their experiences. All of us ‘foreign teachers’ as we’re called, come from the same ilk in wanting to experience different places and people by living among them, not as tourists. And of course a benefit of connecting with these like-minded people is learning about their countries and their experiences, as well.
One of my new colleagues from South Africa who has been in China teaching for going on three years, told me that at first we all remain steadfastly connected with our people back in our home countries. He further said that where we are from remains with us, a part of us, and we continue to identify with our nationality, but… and I love this, but… where our people are, those with whom we identify with and relate to and look to for support, were previously back home and from where we came, the more we experience the world and other cultures, our people become those people we are living with now, in the current moment. This is fascinating and wonderful and feels good and right and reassuring all at the same time.
This was further demonstrated when a couple of foreigners from ZZ were hit by a drunk driver while driving on their e-bike one evening. The drunk driver was driving a three-wheeled delivery car with a big windshield and he made an illegal turn straight into our friends. The driver of the e-bike remained firmly on the bike though the passenger was tossed from the bike after her leg was crushed in the collision. She was tossed, landing on her bottom, losing her glasses. miraculously, neither of our foreign compatriots incurred head injuries and both remained conscious and alive. Both were rushed to the hospital and our friend with the leg injury underwent MRI and x-rays and will require knee surgery and the driver of the e-bike just incurred a couple of scrapes (the drunk driver incurred a shattered windshield and no bodily injury).
The injured foreigner was placed in the hospital immediately with her leg immobilized and was scheduled for surgery the week following her hospital check-in. The Chinese hospital experience deserves its own post, so that will come at another time. What I was mostly struck by, being a total new-comer here just 2 weeks into my China experience, is that our people, our employer, the local staff, the families that attend the school, the foreigners throughout ZZ, everyone totally rallied for the injured foreigners.
By rallying I mean, our people were totally one hundred percent present and in support and help mode on every level and in every way. Word of the accident was shared through local chat circles and official circles at work. Our company responded immediately being present on the accident scene, at the hospital twenty-four-seven, round the clock for anything that might arise from concerns and insecurities about being in a foreign hospital, to loneliness, to playing cards. The local team translated and made sure that our colleague was getting the best and right treatment and that she felt safe and secure and cared for. The other foreigners were also steadfastly present to give good and valued input and to help in connecting with family back home, etc.
I went to visit about the third day after the accident following, on my e-bike ,another colleague. The hospital is quite large, and gives me the feel of a Kaiser Permanente hospital in the States. The elevators are designated certain floors from the first floor so there is rather quick access to your desired destination (brilliant really)… we rode to the nineteenth floor where our friend was hospitalized. We arrived to a couple of other visitors holding our friend in good regards. The area around our friends hospital bed was laden with beautifully smelling flowers, food stuff of all kinds, electronic games and adult coloring books. Every local visitor brought food stuff, apparently the hospital food problem is universal!
As we were visiting over the next hour or so, there was a steady stream of visitors! Everyone came with foodstuff… fruit and veg, soups, noodles! It was crazy and heartwarming! These visitors were locals, foreigners living in ZZ, work colleagues, and students and families from school!
My heart was full this night. I realized what my new friend from South Africa was telling me was true… this place we are in, that I am in, the people in this place do become our people, and they are quickly becoming my people. This sincere care and support was evident from the time I was met at Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport by Elsa and Emma with the hand painted sign created by another foreigner with my name boldly printed on it… To the great responsiveness I have had to settling in to my new digs… to my local boss finding my e-bike for me… to the cheers, imbibing, and clinking glasses at Zax BBQ, the expat pub… to bonding and meaningful banter in the teacher’s lounge at school…to the hospital room here in ZZ. My Irish colleague said it best, we’re here for each other… we all support one another… we stick together… we need each other… It’s just what we do for each other… We are, each other’s people.