Tevin loves being in Chengdu and the journey has allowed him to find himself.
More and more expats are deciding to take the plunge and teach abroad in China. It's an experience that has the power and capability of truly remaking an identity. It was my great privilege to sit down with Tevin Pilgrim-Hampden, a native to Toronto, Canada, and a current teacher at Golden Apple South City Sunshine Kindergarten here in Chengdu. Tevin shared with me how even though he's only been living in China for seven months, the journey has already left a lasting effect on him.
What's it like teaching the little guys? Based off of my own experiences, not everyone is cut out to do that. It requires a lot of patience and energy. So what's it like for you?
It's harder than people think. You need patience and kind of a free-spirit attitude. You have to engage and play with the kids so that they actually understand the language.
But I love how rewarding it is to teach the kids. A few months ago, I asked the class for volunteers for an activity, everyone was so eager to participate. I chose this one girl and when she came up in front of the class and she was so happy. She was clapping her hands, stomping her feet and smiling. That is probably one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here – that I got to make that little girl so happy and others as well. It's hard for me not to want to cry when I see that. It just makes you feel good as a teacher.
Talk about how you see China now compared to that first week you arrived?
When I first got here I didn't see any other foreigners so in my head I thought I was the only foreigner here and even more, I felt like I was the only black person in China. Like what's happening? So when I saw the first black person, I was like yes! We sort of gave each other a nod. I felt so good and it reminded me that I wasn't as alone as I felt.
One thing that I still haven't gotten over is the picture taking and recording.
How do you internalize and handle strangers taking random pictures of you?
Well, its uncomfortable when you notice someone taking pictures of you and they haven't asked for permission. I don't mind if they ask me for a picture. That's ok. Good on you for asking, instead of being a creeper. Sometimes it gets to me and makes me question if I am that much of an outcast that you need to take a picture of me? And then the next thing is – what do they do with the pictures? It just feels a little inconsiderate.
There was this one time when I was walking around Tai Koo Li and I saw this lady taking pictures of me. So I decided to go up to her and just nicely ask if she wanted to take a picture with me. She was with her friend and looked so embarrassed. But she took a picture with me and It made her happy. If doing something like that makes people happy, then I feel that is something worth doing.
Nice two birds with one stone! Looking back at your adventure here, what's one of the most memorable experiences that you have had here?
During Chinese new year, I went up the mountains to Mt. Siguniangshan in the western part of Sichuan, near the town of Rilong in Aba Autonomous Prefecture. We ended up going on a horseback ride. There were lakes and snow. It was so beautiful. The sun was out and about and there were birds. Living in the city, I didn't realize how much I missed birds and blue skies. That was probably one of the most sublime and surreal experiences.
The experience itself was just so big. I literally felt so small in the reflection of what I saw. It's hard to capture in words or in a picture. Like when I was overlooking the mountains, I just marveled at all of it.
What I learned from that situation is that it's good to say yes. For me to be there, I had to say yes to coming to China, say yes to going on this trip with this girl I had just met, then to going on this excursion. It's funny the more I see myself say yes, the more I seem to uncover and experience life.
Do you feel that living abroad and living in China brings that "Yes" spirit out in a person?
I hoped you would ask that. For me, I feel like I'm such a different person from who I was back home. For example, I go to The Bookworm – they have a lot of live speaking events. Back home I would have never gone up on stage to talk. But here, I'm like a regular and have talked at least three events.
You find out so much more about yourself when you don't see yourself in the reflection of other people. After I tell my stories, people come up to me and say "Hey Tevin, I love your story. You have a great story telling ability." Coming to China was probably one of my best decisions because I feel like I have grown into a more courageous person in everything I do.
I love being here and this journey has allowed me to find myself. If you want a worldly experience, go abroad. China will change your life and it's actually easy. If you are on the fence in regards to deciding to work abroad or in China, do it. Make the plunge, it's worth it.
Smile, and smile more. Because if you are smiling, maybe Chinese people are more inclined to come up to you and feel comfortable talking to you and if they are talking to you then maybe they can see that you are friendly and so on. All in all, Chengdu is a remarkably welcoming and friendly city.
About the author: Jordan Wolff is from California, the US. He has been living in China for almost 3 years and is currently working in Chengdu. His articles and photographs have been published on the Bottom Line Newspaper and Gaucho Marks Magazine.