As the semester comes to a close, there’s a certain intangible feeling of excitement and celebration that permeates the campus. Groups of graduating students pose for pictures near the stone statue of Lady Petroleum, others amble along the bay promenade, and most perform the obligatory tossing of their caps into the air. Probably the most memorable pose I’ve seen is a group of students encircling one student who is lying on the ground with his arms crossed. The stress was just too much for him. Everyone else can only look on in sympathy. Once final exams begin, it seems that nearly everyone decides to have a giant book sale on campus. Along two side streets and one main street of campus are hundreds of books and other items liberally spread upon the sidewalk. Some students put their book collection on mats, others have an assortment of books, cosmetics, and video games, and many seem more absorbed in their card games then selling their wares. Altogether, it seems a bit frenetic and chaotic, yet a lot of students seem to sell their possessions.
After finishing my last final exam on Thursday, I expected not to see most of my students until next school year. But some of my double major students had a surprise for me on Friday night. Basically, it was a going-away party for me. Since we met in one of the classrooms, we couldn’t have an unbridled party bash, but it was still a nice get-together. Most of them gave me gifts ranging from handwritten cards and calligraphy to sunglasses and a bright red Yankees flat-rim cap. I almost felt like a genuine rapper when I wore the cap, but once I looked in the mirror, any such vain delusions quickly vanished. One of the students, Eason, demonstrated his dancing prowess on the platform in front of the class. Unfortunately, the platform was fairly small and limited his movements, but he still had some slick moves. We all clapped for him once he finished. Thankfully I wasn’t asked to dance for them or else that might have been my first and last dance.
After Eason’s performance, I chatted a little with some of my students and took plenty of pictures. First we did a couple of group pictures and then I took one with the guys and another with the girls. The guys tried to convey a tough, manly exterior with folded arms and grim stares while the girls had more amiable, endearing expressions for the group shots. After we finished the group pictures, my students sang a Chinese farewell song to me. I was touched to hear them sing together. Even though I couldn’t understand most of what they sang, I felt the sincerity and warmth from their words. I really have been blessed to have them as my students.
Shortly after the song, Carl asked me to close with some parting address. Honestly, I’ve never felt that adept at giving farewell speeches, but I did thank my students for their participation and enthusiasm throughout the semester and wished them a relaxing summer, despite an extra month of classes (such is the life of a double-major student). I admire them for their diligence throughout the semester and their eagerness to learn, despite my fumbling attempts to teach them English. Whatever I may have been able to teach them this school year, they have taught me just as much, if not more.
As I look back on the year, I thank God for his sustaining grace and strength in my life. During some weeks when I felt completely inept and incapable to teach, he gave me the strength to persevere. Frankly, I still don’t feel like a teacher, and I know there is still much for me to learn. But I am thankful for having the opportunity to teach overseas and help my students, at least in some minimal way. As with most endings, there are new beginnings. The school year ends, and the summer begins. The seniors graduate, and the juniors anticipate their final year. My spring semester ends, and my fall semester awaits. And now it’s time for me to head back home.