As we made our final decent, my eyes gazed past the wing of the plane and down upon the dry, brown dunes and crackled mountains. As the capital city of Yinchuan drew closer, the land became more green and fertile. Rows upon rows of cookie cutter villagers lay in perfect squares with a shining mosque at the center. The sun slowly slid down the horizon and as the wheels of the plane hit the pavement, its orange orb had tucked itself behind a hazy mountain façade. We made it, I thought to myself. After months of waiting for a placement site, after weeks of training, and document processing, here I was in Ningxia!
Walking out of the airport was a breath of fresh air — cool and dry, unlike the muggy places I have been the past few months. We were whisked away by a University representative, stuffed with dumplings, and sent to bed.
The next day we drove south to Guyuan. The same view was reflected on the 4 hour car ride…Rustic mountains, dry valleys, those cookie cutter villages … tried to count all the mosques I saw, but lost count.
Guyuan is an old, small town (according to China standards) of 50,000 residents, 100,000 in the entire prefecture made up of 6 small cities. It was originally established as a military outpost to protect China from minority tribes and lies along the original Silk Road route. 50% of the population is Hui—a Islamic minority in China. The rest are Han, or ‘traditional’ people of China.
Entering the city limits, the University of Ningxia was a shining beckon of welcome. This new campus was built just a few years ago and houses 5,400 undergraduate students as well as 13 departments. But we drove straight through the vast campus, down simple streets, to the old campus. This campus now lies abandoned but the housing is still home to most of the teachers of the University.
As I walked up to second floor of my apartment building, key in hand, I was both excited and terrified at what may be behind that locked door. But as I turned the rickety key in the lock and pulled the door open, I was not disappointed. My apartment is spacious with a living room, 2 bedrooms, small kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and study. Honestly, it is too much space for one little person like me. I have already tried to plot turning the spare bedroom into a larger kitchen, but alas! :) Simple furnishings were included as well as basic cooking utensils. Overall, it is very adequate but old. Much of my first week has been spent cleaning…scrubbing the stained bathroom floor, scraping rust off the worn windows, sweeping, sweeping, and sweeping some more! In the meantime, it is always fun to discover what works and what doesn’t! I was happy to find that all my facets emit water…even if the water pressure is close to non-existent, and I even have hot water connected to the shower! The fridge however is not cold…still trying to get that fixed. I am also waited for gas for my stovetop to be delivered. Needless to say, cooking has been close to impossible. My diet has mostly consisted of fruit, nuts, and bowls of noodles (pretty much all you can get at nearby restaurants in our neighborhood). As you can imagine, I am itching to get that gas and fridge fixed so I can settle into my kitchen!
But outside of fixing up my apartment and getting to know the area is the most important thing, preparing for the start of school! The foreign teacher team consists of 8 of us in total, double of what the University had last year. We are 8 out of about 50 professors in the department. All of the students who are majoring in English Languages have the benefit of being taught by foreign teachers. It has been an incredibly blessing to get to know these fellow teachers. While 2 out of the 6 are new to Ningxia, all 6 (minus Arnold and I) have been in China teaching at least a year and have basic if not fluent skills in Mandarin. At first this was a little intimidating, but I could not be more grateful for their advice, warm hearts, and hospitality in transition. As one GMF put it, despite the frustration of getting settled in, at least I have new friends that are willing to share internet and warm meals when I need it. :) They know how hard it is to live here and are happy to assist in anyway they can. Rest assured that there is a support network here!
In the meantime, they have also provided materials, advice, and training on how to teach here! I am in charge of teaching two classes of Oral Communication to Freshman English-majors, each meeting twice a week. So a total of 4 classes or 2 lessons a week for a total of 8 hours in the classroom. A fine amount considering the planning, prep, and grading time needed as well.
I am happy to announce that I taught my first class on Wednesday, the first day of school! The Lord brought incredible peace to me as I taught and the days of planning leading up to it. I found that I was neither overly nervous nor excited, just ready!
“Let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” –Psalm 32:6-8
Look forward to a further report on my classes next week! In the meantime, please pray for the rain to cease so my internet can be connected (apparently they can’t work in the rain), repair men to come, and swift transitioning for the students here at the University.