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Miss Paiva Goes to China

April 27, 2018

As part of Saint Raphael Academy’s new partnership with the Qingdao International School in China, teacher and alum Erika Paiva ’00 is traveling to China for six weeks as an international liaison to the school. She shares her experiences in a weekly blog …

The city of Qingdao, China.

April 14-20, 2018
I have never really been a great writer or even liked to write. I believe myself to be an extrovert and someone who communicates better verbally, so I am looking forward to seeing how I do with the idea of blogging my thoughts. Perhaps someone will read this and find it funny or humorous, interesting and helpful, or perhaps just plain old boring. We shall see…

Saturday, April 14, started off like any other Saturday, besides the fact that I had to unpack and re-pack for my adventure leaving for China for 6½ weeks. No biggie. I thought it was a good idea to eat a little Burger King before leaving for Logan, which was probably a very good decision due to the stress and length of my adventure to the Far East.

The whole process of checking your bags “internationally” can be very stressful, especially when you are not familiar with the weight limit you are allowed. I will admit, I over-packed … big time! When checking into Hainan Airlines, the nice lady behind the counter told me that if I checked my two suitcases, it would cost close to $200 a bag. I almost choked on my passport, but she explained to me that if I bought a bag at the “bag store” it would save me a lot of money, and I would only have to pay for the one additional bag and be charged $200. Bingo! Thank you, sweet lady at the Hainan Airlines ticket counter for saving me a lot of money.

Everything went smoothly while boarding the plane. I found my seat quickly and “set up shop” for the next 14½ hours … or so I thought. We took off without incident. (Side note: this was the biggest plane I had ever seen in my entire life. I kept questioning whether this plane would actually lift off the ground due the massive amounts of luggage--namely from myself--and the amount of people that were on that “sturdy bird!”) Roughly 90 minutes into the flight, the pilot came on the overhead speaker informing us that we were turning back to Logan due to an “issue with the engine.” We landed without incident and then remained on the side of the terminal (not at a gate) for close to 5 hours. I was impressed because not one person got up and asked what was going on. Everyone just sat quietly in their seats and waited … and waited … and waited some more.

Throughout all this waiting, I felt an obligation to reach out to my family and friends, including Mr. Richard, as well as the very nice people of ThreeW. Unfortunately for Simon, who is the Chinese representative of ThreeW and was assigned to pick me up from the Shanghai Airport, no one told him that we had returned to Boston. When he called Hainan Airlines, they only said that we were delayed due to mechanical troubles. The poor man waited at the airport for 15 hours for me! Simon is amazing and he soon became my best friend; he brought me around the first four days of my stay in Qingdao and made them amazing and extremely comforting. Simon has been so great in helping me organize, figure out bussing, set up my payment card for lunch and introduce me to many different foods. So far, I am not a fan of cow tongue or jellyfish! I am forcing myself to try a lot of different foods and flavors.  

Aside from the horrendous jet lag, my first week here has been pretty awesome. I absolutely love China—the food, the people, the hustle and bustle, the culture, the smells—they are all intense. I feel an immediate connection and respect for not only the people, but for their culture. They are a very hard-working group of people, and I cannot believe that most work 15-hour days, 7 days a week to provide for their families, especially their children, who they dream and hope will have a better life then they did.

Hopefully, I am going to start taking Chinese lessons from a woman that some of my colleagues at school go to. I am hoping to come back with not only a little Chinese under my belt, but also to eventually take classes at CCRI to continue my fluency with the language. 

That was my first week in China. I loved every second I am here and am looking forward to starting another week in Qingdao!

April 23-30, 2018
I made myself try three different restaurants for dinner this week, while ordering something from the menu that I had never tried before. What’s amazing about living in China is how inexpensive everything is. I had lunch the other day at a “Hot Pot” spot in the mall down the street from work for under $3.00 (American).

If you who are not familiar with what “Hot Pot” is, you sit down at a little electric stove placemat in front of a conveyor belt. You are given a bowl of broth, and various dishes pass in front of you where you take whatever you want to put into your soup (noodles, veggies, meat, eel, shellfish, tofu, spices, etc.)

Every morning, I have breakfast at The Grand School. It is a simple breakfast, but absolutely delicious. Every meal is served with soup as well as a Chinese boazi, which is a steamed bun with meat and vegetables in the middle. I know that I will need to find a place in the States that makes these because I am absolutely addicted. Each breakfast consists of a boiled egg, but the trick I learned this morning was that they need to be boiled in tea. Awesome cooking trick, thank you!

I had my first Chinese lessons this week with Echo, who is wonderful and has the patience of Job. I will just say this: Chinese is very, very, very difficult! After my second lesson, I decided Echo is an angel sent from heaven! The fact that she can sit across from me for two hours and not scream at the top of her lungs at my terrible Chinese is a miracle. All she does is smile and nod and correct me, and correct me again, and correct me some more. And after the 15th try at a word and I “nail it,” she smiles, claps and says “xie xie,” which is “thank you.” I am already looking for classes at CCRI to continue my studies with Chinese.

On Saturday, we worked at the school’s “sports day,” which was when the entire school got together and participated in a dance competition, jumping rope, track and field and “drilling.”

On Sunday, I decided to put my own athletic endurance to the test and climb Mt. Laoshan with a coworker. It was unbelievably beautiful, peaceful and serene. I give a lot of credit to the men who worked to create such a fantastic trail to climb up the mountain. I had the opportunity to visit many temples and praying spots—I prayed for everyone back on Walcott Street, especially our seniors who are heading off into the world in just a few short weeks.

On Monday, I went to an outdoor farmers market where I walked around smelling all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things it had to offer. Whenever I saw a chicken about to get its head chopped off, I took that as my cue to move on and find some sort of Pizza Hut or Mickey D’s.

I am running off to class right now… ’till next week!






May 1-May 6, 2018

My coworkers thought it would be a great idea for everyone in the International Studies Office to go out to a Hot Pot restaurant for broth and veggies! We had a great time, bonding and swapping “war stories” in our respective classrooms. It was a great way to start off a 4-day break! 

I am working on a project with my senior classes on studying abroad next year, which is something they are both looking forward to and something they are nervous about. Tomorrow we will add another layer to their Powerpoint presentation, where they have to find a social issue in the country they will be studying in and how it may or may not be a challenge to them.

I started off the class by explaining my life in America and at Saints, and that I was nervous and excited to go abroad like they might be feeling now. They were excited to see the picture of our students and their everyday life at Saints. They loved when I talked about our sports program, and how the majority of SRA students participate in some type of extra-curricular after school. Unfortunately for the Chinese students, there are no activities for them to do after school besides study in addition to their 10-hour school day. Eye-opening, to say the least!

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Principal Ni. His office looks like a mix between the Oval Office and an emperor’s palace. I had never seen anything like it before: the art, the detail in all of the carvings on his walls, and the perfect placement of everything was just breathtaking! I am going to try to set up my office in the basement of Alumni Hall like his.

I found out Thursday that I will be doing another recruitment session this Saturday at a school in Qingdao for students looking to go into high school. I am very excited for this opportunity to meet some potential Saints! I must make sure I put my best foot forward.

Friday was a great day at work! It started with me being “observed” by Maggie, the director of International Studies. She sat through my class taking meticulous notes, which, of course, I assumed was her criticizing my Western way of teaching. However, as soon as I sat down at my desk, thinking that I was too animated and charismatic and struggled with finding a balance between the two cultures, I was surprised to receive a text from her (which was sent to five other “higher-ups” at the school) that complimented my teaching and praised the SRA-Grand School partnership. So, I guess it was not such a bad lesson after all.

I had a little Hot Pot for lunch with the fellas (USA teachers Rob, Manny and Gareth and Sam, who is from the UK). After lunch, which is a two-hour block, we sat on the patio of Starbucks and talked about going for tacos tomorrow evening for Cinco de Mayo. Rob knows the owner, who went to university in So Cal and he has the ingredients imported from Mexico!

On Saturday, we went to a local public high school for the recruitment fair, and there were over 100 schools throughout Qingdao and China there. It reminded me of “speed dating,” where you had about 30-60 seconds with each parent and child, and you had to determine if this student would be a good fit for your school. Although it was a rainy and dreary day, I made a new friend. I interviewed her granddaughter during the day. She said that she gives her granddaughter permission to come to my school so I can be her teacher. She said I was beautiful, and my smile “radiated the world.” Needless to say, we are new friends! 

I am looking forward to another week in Qingdao and am thankful for all the amazing and generous people I have met throughout my adventure.