10 Things I Learnt from my Trip to China
When my husband dropped me off at Auckland Airport on New Years Eve, my anxiety levels were sky high. With a heavy suitcase and a tummy full of nerves, I headed into the airport unsure of what lay ahead of me. Two months prior, I had agreed to go on an excursion with another New Zealander and two Chinese agents, to promote and teach New Zealand Education in the Hubei Province of China. We had at least 6 meetings leading up to the departure gate and the days of travel ahead were going to be full of engagements, business lunches, meetings and teaching.
It was very unlike me to say yes to something so adventurous, but at the time my intuition was nudging me to go for it. At the time I was looking for opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and expand, so I thought "What the heck! I'm going for it!"
As it turned out, I had an incredible adventure. 15 days of exploring new places left me in awe. I met with educators and business partners, ate the most exotic foods, made connections with people who are now good friends, and learnt about a different culture. The two Chinese agents I went with were delightful and took the most amazing care of me.
I made sure I journaled every special moment so that I could reflect upon it later. It was such an exciting trip full of new experiences.
As a reflective person, I wanted to share some of my key insights from the trip...
1. It's okay to not be in control of everything
This trip was a huge lesson for me in 'letting go'. In my life - work and personal, I take care of almost everything. If I'm not doing it, I'm delegating someone to do it. With this trip I was a passenger, even right down to someone else checking me in at the airport and choosing my seat on the plane. Initially I felt uncomfortable with the lack of control, but I gradually got very used to it. I realised that when I was not trying to manage everything, I could actually relax and enjoy myself. I liked who I became when I didn't have to think about every small detail and be CEO of the world!
2. Children are the same all over the world!
I taught nine lessons to young children aged between 5-10 years. I read to them, talked with them, sung with them and worked side by side with them. Some of them were so darn cute I could have tucked them into my suitcase to bring home. There were the studious ones, the mischievous ones and the ones that caused distractions by calling out and generally being a little bit naughty. They got bored if you kept them on the mat for too long, and the boys got silly when we did action songs. I chuckled to myself a number of times thinking I could be in any NZ class. They also loved a thumbs up, a broad smile and a gold sticker. Yes, I concluded, kids are the same all over the world.
3. Bless that I live in a country with some equality
My experience as a woman in China was an eye opener for me. In China men sit in the front seat of cars, they enter through the door first, they are greeted and introduced first. They seemed more revered and respected than women. It brought out the real feminist in me as I observed it daily. Initially it really annoyed me and I could feel my anger rising each time, but over the course of the trip I became more interested in just observing it, and said a silent prayer of thanks that I was raised by a strong feminist mother in a country where I feel valued as a woman (most of the time).
4. Language is critical for connection
Because I was travelling through a province where few tourists travel ( My kiwi travel companion was the only European face I saw in 15 days) there was minimal English spoken. Alex (one of the agents) was my translator the entire time. There were many occasions when I wanted to have a meaningful conversation with a leader about leadership, or with a teacher about teaching, and going through a translator proved challenging and disjointed. The opportunities to truly connect were sometimes lost in translation. The words we use, they way we deliver them and the way we look at someone when we talk are all ingredients for a soulful connection.
5. My integrity as a New Zealand Educator is strong
When I delivered presentations about a typical day in a NZ school I felt a really strong passion and love for teaching that I hadn't accessed in a long time. I was unwilling to compromise a good lesson by cutting it short or taking short cuts, as was suggested to me a couple of times. I could hear myself saying to organisers more than once, "It is very important that these children have a positive experience and a valuable lesson". I wasn't prepared to compromise my own integrity or that of the teaching. I held strong to my values as a New Zealand teacher.
6. Stepping out of your comfort zone is the space where growth happens
As scary as it was to embark on the trip to China, I wouldn't have given it up for anything. I made life long friends, learnt so much about China, the Chinese people, and myself. I felt brave and I hadn't felt that in a long time. It has without a doubt, opened the door for more opportunities to break out of the routine of life and work, and to try new things.
7. I love helping people
I had many conversations with parents and teachers about education, sharing every ounce of knowledge I had (via a translator) and I loved it. It filled up my 'giving to others' tank, in a way that nothing else could.
8. Give 100%+ - always
I made a phone call to my husband a few days short of coming home and told him I was exhausted from all of the work. He reminded me about my purpose for going to China in the first place and also reminded me that I had one shot to give it everything I had right to the very end. It was the boost of motivation I needed. I got up the next day and gave my teaching and presentations everything I had. Now that I'm home, I have absolutely no regrets about anything. In my heart I know that I gave 100% of myself professionally and I feel proud that I could dig deep when it mattered, even when I was feeling tired and a little homesick.
9. Meet New People
It was a new experience to travel with people who were not in the Education sector, and with people I barely knew. Travelling and working with business people and agents taught me a lot about how other sectors operate and work. It also showed me how people outside of the Education sector view teaching and educators.
10. Travel light!
Last but not least, travel with light luggage. I have traveled the world over the last 25 years so you'd think I would have known better. I usually pride myself on traveling light, but for some reason I took the biggest suitcase we owned and filled it to the brim. It was a big mistake and I scolded myself for being so thoughtless each time I hauled it onto a security belt, into a taxi, onto a train and into a hotel. We stayed in 5 hotels, traveled on four planes, 4 high speed rails and in too many taxis to count. It was a dead weight, physically and emotionally.
I made a promise to myself during the trip that when I got home I would buy a small, light suitcase and that would be the only thing I would take with me next time.
In fact my disappointment in myself for making such a poor decision has ignited a frenzy of minimilising and de-cluttering in my home on my return. I was shocked at how much stuff I took and how much stuff I own.
So there you have it, 10 things I learnt from my trip to China. My life is definitely richer for the experience and I'm primed for more travels this year.