It has been almost a full week since I started teaching the students of Beijing Kaiwen Academy! It has been an amazing week for both myself and Calvin, learning the campus and our schedules! We have almost perfected our walks home from school and have discovered grocery stores and a bakery on the way! Korey and I are also really figuring out out routines and getting to know our new roles. It took a few weeks but we are starting to get a sense of normalcy. Now that we are finally in the swing of things, I can safely say that I have never been happier.
A little bit about our new home, Beijing Kaiwen Academy! The school was founded in 2016 and has just begun their fourth school year. The school has grown from a tiny campus of 200 to an overwhelming 900 students and is already rated #2 in Beijing! This isn’t some light title either, the Haidian District where we live is known for education. The students at Kaiwen are K-12, with a brand new building for kindergarten currently being built. While it is a private boarding school, it seems to me that only a portion of their students live on campus.
Our first day was so amazing! I had the opportunity to meet a lot of my 6th and 7th graders and even got to know them a little bit. Calvin has 8 classes a day and is often telling us how much he loves his teachers and classmates! He is placed in Chinese History and Chinese Language Arts, but they pull him out for that time to give him and the other international kids Chinese lessons. He was so excited to come home and tell me what he could order from McDonalds (in Mandarin). He has quickly made friends with a bunch of local boys and is always seen running around with them on campus. I have been approached by both teachers and administrators to tell me that he is doing great and they love having him. He even has a new best friend that yells bye to us from the classroom windows as we leave for the day.
Originally, Calvin was supposed to be going to the sixth grade camp that occured the week before school. However, after suggestions from administration, he didn’t attend the week-long military camp. I was not familiar with this ‘military camp’ concept as we do not have this in America. My local friend explained that all kids in China (with a few exceptions) have to attend this military camp in the beginning of their middle and high school years. It requires marching, exercising, and dressing in full military garb! They were also completely in Mandarin and Calvin would not have been able to understand a word of it. So I stood for a little while and watched these kids get whipped into shape. Honestly though, it seemed that the physical stuff didn’t last more than a hour or two. The kids I saw were smiling so I don’t think it was too grueling.
Our daily routine every morning involves us leaving the house by 7am to make it to school by 7:30am. Sometimes we walk there and other times we pay $2 to take a DiDi. Didi is the exact same as Uber, just the Chinese version (in fact they bought out Uber China). We have been driven to school in everything from Mercedes’ to Toyotas. After a few days of eating breakfast together, Calvin now eats on the first floor of the dining hall with the other kids while I eat on the third floor with the rest of the staff. We are there until Calvin’s last class ends at 4:30pm and then begin the walk home! We often stop by the grocery store on the way back from school because there are so few stores near our apartment. Darn suburbs. But we just found a bakery that makes amazing garlic bread so I am content! Anyways, it is about a 25 minute walk (one way) and we usually get home just in time for dinner. However, such long hours make it super difficult to FaceTime with family and friends back home. We have a 15 hour difference between us and Arizona right now and we are limited to weekend video chat dates. We are fortunate that our family has time for us on the weekends!
We are both still getting used to the big campus, but they have some amazing facilities here! The school has a huge olympic-size pool with a moderately sized staff gym looking over it. The Manchester Football Sports Academy is a partner and located on the same campus. They have a giant gym and a golf range all right there! The football/baseball fields are gigantic and gorgeous. I haven’t been on the tennis or basketball courts yet but they are more impressive than anything we have back home! Even though I am not sporty, I can’t deny that this school has me stoked for outdoor activities.
If you are concerned that there isn’t a huge art presence, don’t be. The classroom hallways are plastered with amazing artwork that the students have created themselves. I haven’t even told you about the art and music building yet! There are so many options it is incredible. I didn’t have these many options when I went to UNIVERSITY. They have entire rooms designated for fashion design, pottery, dance studio, calligraphy, choir, band, private drum/piano rooms, painting room, 3D printing, visual arts, and the list goes on. Calvin is going to be in heaven when he finally has electives and can take some of this stuff! Not only that, but the art and music teachers are so experienced and have a ton of resources to use with their students. It is so amazing and I have never been to another school like it!
Finally, the best part so far of Beijing Kaiwen Academy is the faculty and administration. I know it sounds corny, but I have never felt so fully supported by my supervisors and HR. Of course, I have never had a school find me an apartment before (but whatever). Every time I thought there was a disaster or something going wrong, it was handled with the click of a WeChat message. I have made a ton of friends amongst both the local and international staff and it was so easy to do. Everyone is in the same boat I am, far from home and family. How fortunate we are all comfortable enough to become each other’s family! My phone is constantly going off at night with messages from group WeChats. It sounds annoying but honestly it is great. We also do Friday nights out and went to an amazing BBQ place called Home Plate in downtown Beijing. Afterwards, we went to a comic book store where all the comics were in English! I am excited to see where other nights out will lead us.
Not to be forgotten, my class schedule is AMAZING. In Arizona I taught from the first bell to the last. Here, my schedule differs everyday! Sometime I have five class in a row, sometimes I will only see 2 classes the entire day! With class periods being only 45 minutes, the workload isn’t bogging me down nearly as much as I thought it would. I have so much prep time that I can prep AT SCHOOL. I don’t have to lesson plan late into the night anymore. Grading? Well with my biggest class being 21, I think I can make it. Overall, I am so lucky that Kaiwen asked me to be apart of their team and I know they won’t regret it!