Penelope and I visited a new Mandarin class Sunday afternoon. We arrived at the Emory campus and made our way from the parking garage to the class. I marveled at all I missed skipping out on the “university experience”. A place and time of learning and leisure, mortgaging future earnings in the hope of a long-term payout through satisfying and salary rich employment. Maybe Penelope will return here (or another university) in several years and pick up where my missed opportunity left off.
We entered the English department’s building and found the table of administrators and facilitators. Scattered about were fathers on smartphones and daughters on computers, teen girls racing each other down a corridor in small office chairs, and young boys leaving class. Several people glanced at Penelope and I. Some telegraphed a hint of a smile while others just stared at Penelope. I felt exposed, as if I’d forgotten to wear pants. It was the first time since we departed Guangzhou a year a half previous that I was the only white(ish) person around.
As I stated in my last entry, we don’t garner much attention. When we do it’s focused on Penelope, with Jenn and I receiving quick glances and “She’s so adorable” comments. This time I felt conscious of the attention. I didn’t “fit in” as the only non-Chinese person present. But Penelope didn’t really fit in either, since she was the only one there without a Chinese parent.
We were the first to arrive at the toddler Mandarin class. Several older students were leaving when the teacher appeared in the doorway. “I’m here to observe the class with my daughter” I said.
“Does she know any Chinese?” the teacher said.
“Yi dia-r” I said. The teacher repeated my comment, dropping the Beijing accent and repeating the phrase translated as “A little”.
“Is she around Chinese at home?” the teacher said. My response was identical to the previous question, as was her correction.
“You should sit behind her so she feels comfortable” the teacher said.
As it turned out the only spot Penelope felt comfortable was in my lap. I tried to sell the idea of sitting in the seat in front of me (“you’ll be close to everyone else”, “you can see the cartoons better”) without success. Penelope was not, nor would she be, comfortable for the duration of the class. And I don’t really know why.
I asked Penelope several times afterwards if she wanted to go back, already sure of her answer. She said class was “yucky”. She said she didn’t like “The Carrot Song”, a Chinese children’s song she loved and watched endlessly a few months ago. Comparing this class and her current Saturday morning class I saw two differences; this one was an hour longer and the kids had desks. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d like her to attend the Emory class because it cost significantly less than her existing class and the Emory class is twice as long.)
Now I’m faced with a dilemma. She will continue attending Chinese class, but which one? On one hand I can’t imagine bringing Penelope back to Emory’s class after her reaction. On the other I love the immersive nature of the class (95% of the discussion was Mandarin) and the price. I was with her the entire time and can attest to the teachers enthusiasm and attentiveness to each student. Penelope was included in the activities and questions. The feedback was positive. Yet she wanted nothing more than to leave as quickly as possible.
Any thoughts from other parents?